In honor of what’s left of Black Friday and the retail employees forced to work this Thanksgiving, we’re rounding up the best and worst retailers. Consider it your list of the most ethical places to shop for the holiday season – and the stores that might not really deserve your business.
Black Friday is creeping ever earlier, and to many would-be shoppers, it’s a sign that retailers’ behavior is getting out of hand. Gone are the days of waking up at midnight after your turkey dinner and lining up outside major retail stores in the dark in anticipation of a 3 a.m. “doorbuster.” Now we do our shopping before the turkey. Or instead of the turkey. You’ll have to at least skip dessert if you want to make that 5 or 6 p.m. sale. If you happen to work in retail – not a small possibility, since more than 4,668,000 people do – chances are that this year, you’ll spend your Thanksgiving on the clock. Once upon a time, employees who were about to be swamped for the duration of the holiday season could at least count on this one day to spend with their families.
Starting Black Friday when it’s actually Friday? That’s so 2011. There’s even a term for the new phenomenon of Thanksgiving sales – Gray Thursday. Photo Credit: Clare Lovell, Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons license).
The 4 Worst Thanksgiving Retailers
4th Worst: Macy’s
Mall anchor stores have a lot of influence – and Macy’s stores seem to have decided to use theirs to make employee exploitation mainstream.
It’s not just that the company decided to open at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day – even earlier than freestanding and strip-mall stores Walmart and Target, which in recent years have become notorious for cutting Thanksgiving short. In 2014, headlines were made when Macy’s announced its early (then 6 p.m.) opening, prompting a mall manager near Buffalo, New York, to mandate 6 p.m. Thanksgiving openings mall-wide, The Huffington Post reported.
Stores that refused to open were faced fines of $200 or more an hour – a steep price for even big businesses that want to give their employees the holiday off. For smaller retailers, especially, the $1,200 it would cost them just to open at midnight rather than six could stand in the way of sticking by their convictions – if only to make sure they were able to make payroll.
Dishonorable mentions: J.C. Penney plans to open at 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving, even earlier than similar mall anchor stores like Macy’s. In the past, J.C. Penney has planned giveaways and activities – including meals – for employees working Thursday into Friday, but whatever happened to the retailer’s conviction, announced in 2012, that “spending Thanksgiving with family is one of America’s greatest traditions”? Then there’s Kohl’s, opening at 6 along with Macy’s, Target, and Walmart in its quest to become “the most compelling shopping destination for the entire family.”
3rd Worst: Toys ‘R’ Us
Major toy retailer Toys ‘R’ Us is facing backlash this year for its plans to remain open for a 30-hour shopping marathon over Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, Parade reported. The retailer will open its doors at 5 p.m. on Thursday and keep them open until 11 p.m. Friday evening – because who wants to spend the holiday with the children, anyway?
Dishonorable mention: Electronics store Best Buy plans to open at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving – definitely early enough to cut short the turkey dinner.
2nd Worst: Walmart
Of all major retailers, Walmart has possibly the worst Black Friday reputation. The Valley Stream, New York, store was the site of a deadly 2008 trampling. Since then, Walmart shoppers have physically fought over $1.28 towels, pepper-sprayed each other to seize sought-after video games, and shot each other in parking lots. Besides being notorious year-round for the company’s low wages for workers, many Walmart locations will be open all day on Thanksgiving, according to the International Business Times, and will start the first wave of staggered sales at 6 p.m. Despite criticism – and the fact that the company’s Sam’s Club stores chose to close because of “member feedback” – Walmart has in the past called the move “absolutely appropriate.” Even worse, the store stopped paying employees time-and-a-half for holidays like Thanksgiving years ago. Instead it uses its own special “holiday pay” rate, which could easily be manipulated, Daily Tech reported. With Walmart stretching its Black Friday sale over five days, it’s a safe bet that employees won’t get a break anytime soon.
Dishonorable mention: Target, too, is opening at 6 p.m. this year. These stores are depriving their employees of the opportunity to salvage much of Thanksgiving – remember, these workers are in for long, hectic shifts, many of them overnight. Just because they’re working Thanksgiving doesn’t mean they won’t be back in the store when it officially becomes Black Friday. They’re missing out on family trips, cutting visits short, or spending what precious little time they have off sleeping.
There’s no way around it – Kmart is the worst offender this Black Friday. The retailer is, once again, opening at 6 a.m. Kmart’s plans this year are better than previous years – in 2014, for example, the store drew harsh criticism for its plans to remain open for 42 hours. But though the store “closes” at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving, it starts its “Black Friday” sales just two hours later. Kmart workers everywhere will have to wait until the doors finally close Friday night to enjoy their turkey dinner – and I’m sure they’ll be thankful for the well-deserved break. Then again, Kmart has a long history of opening on Thanksgiving Day (though not for a 42-hour shopping marathon), so at least it’s not a complete shock. The company is following a 25-year tradition of its own – that of ruining workers’ holidays.
Dishonorable mentions: Until a few years ago, Kmart’s sister store, Sears, has traditionally been closed on Thanksgiving Day. This year, the store will open from 6 p.m. to mindnight on Thanksgiving and reopen at 5 a.m. on Black Friday. Big Lots! is another store that has a tradition of opening on Thanksgiving and taking workers away from their families.
It’s a shame how many retailers are opening its doors before many families have even finished putting the leftover pie away.
The good news? Not every retail chain is depriving their employees of a happy holiday. Read on for the biggest companies taking a stand for workers’ and families’ rights by staying closed this Thanksgiving.
The 4 Best Thanksgiving Retailers
4th Best: DSW
When retailers began the race to be the earliest to open, DSW has historically been one of the first to take a stand against Thanksgiving shopping. For years now, the Designer Shoe Warehouse has stood its ground and remained closed on Thanksgiving Day even as more and more retail chains announce that they’re opening early.
Honorable mentions: Most of the big-box and department stores seem to be opening on Thanksgiving, but a lot of specialty stores are choosing to close for the holiday, such as video game store GameStop, bookstore Barnes & Noble, craft stores Hobby Lobby and Joann Fabrics, home improvement stores Lowe’s and Home Depot, recreational equipment store REI, home décor stores Pier 1 Imports and Crate & Barrel, and outdoor clothing store Patagonia.
3rd Best: Nordstrom
In case you thought every mall anchor store had to open on Thanksgiving, Nordstrom has set itself apart from the likes of Macy’s, Sears, and J.C. Penney in recent years by waiting until Friday for its Black Friday sale. The company’s rationale is two-fold, and you’ve got to admire both reasons: not only does closing for Thanksgiving allow employees to spend time with their families on the holiday, but also, “we just like the idea of celebrating one holiday at a time,” Nordstrom said. No argument there.
Honorable mentions: Another major department store, Dillard’s, is also closing for Thanksgiving, proving that retailers don’t have to ruin the holiday just to make a profit.
2nd Best: TJX Stores
Discount chains TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, and HomeGoods – all owned by TJX – are a triple threat on the workers’ side of the War on Thanksgiving. Even when the stores’ after Thanksgiving sales start – on Friday – most stores won’t open until 7 a.m., pretty reasonable for Black Friday. Some stores will open at 5 on Friday, but that’s still better than opening 12 hours earlier.
Honorable mentions: Burlington Coat Factory, based here in New Jersey, has announced that it will close Thanksgiving for the good of its workers and open at 7 a.m. on Black Friday. Bed, Bath & Beyond will open at 6 Friday morning.
Costco has a reputation for being one of the best retailers to work for, sort of the anti-Walmart. The retail chain pays employees unusually high wages for the industry and even offers health insurance benefits to some of its part-time workers. While Costco is among the best employers in the retail industry year-round, the retailer has also led this year’s fight against Thanksgiving shopping.
Honorable mentions: Other membership stores, like BJ’s Wholesale Club, will also close for Thanksgiving. So will Sam’s Club, but don’t give that one too much credit – it’s owned by Walmart, which won’t be closing the rest of its stores for the holiday.
Retailers are trying awfully hard to lure shoppers into their stores on Thanksgiving, so much so that many Black Friday sales are barely recognizable compared to the major shopping events they once were. But critics say that the Gray Thursday phenomenon isn’t even profitable. In fact, more retailers are starting to reverse their decisions to open on Thanksgiving Day, shortening hours or closing entirely for the holiday, The New York Times reported.
If Thanksgiving Day sales are merely robbing Friday’s profits, why bother ruining workers’ holidays at all? Maybe the retail chains who are continuing to open on Thanskgiving despite evidence that the practice isn’t profitable see it as just one more way to exploit employees, along with tactics like promoting workers to exempt positions to avoid paying them overtime.
My hope is that this Thanksgiving, would-be shoppers stay home and enjoy the holiday with their families and wait until Friday to shop. The only way to drive home the point that our nation isn’t okay with taking Thanksgiving away from workers is to hit these companies where it hurts: their profits. Ethical shopping means shopping at a time that’s fair to workers and supporting companies that treat workers right.