Staples Wants Employees to Eat Turkey
Staples wants their employees to eat turkey and take a nap this Thanksgiving. That is, before coming in the next morning to work on Black Friday. They are the first to make a statement that they will remain closed on Thanksgiving this year, breaking the trend of many large retailers to open after holiday dinners and remain open overnight into Black Friday. Retailers are seeing increasingly more customers camp out at their doors overnight for entry prizes and limited availability discounts, and have decided to open on Thanksgiving evening to make early sales and compete within the industry.
Staples’ North American president, Demos Parneros, made the statement: “We want our customers and associates to enjoy Thanksgiving their own way.” Being the first to pledge their allegiance to the traditional Thanksgiving evening, Staples is trying to differentiate themselves from their larger competitors, and perhaps they really do care about their employees sleeping a few hours before their morning opening at 6AM.
Staples’ action, however, begs the question: Are there brand loyalists on Black Friday?
Does Staples really have a unique client base? I cannot think of one person I know who is a brand ambassador for Staples, nor can I remember the last time I ventured into the store. At least not before checking Walmart for office supplies and Best Buy or HHGregg for technology. And if they do have a unique client base, are these customers willing to miss out on bigger sales at other stores that are willing to open on Thanksgiving?
In 2014, Walmart reported 22 million customers between the hours of 6 and 10 PM on Thanksgiving night. They attribute these numbers to sales on high priced tech items, such as TVs and laptops, items that may not usually be bought exclusively at Walmart. Some items sold may be available at other stores, such as Staples, and likely with better employee interaction and less of a crowd. But to Black Friday consumers, these preferences do not matter.
Other than pledging to do the right thing by closing on Thanksgiving evening, where does Staples stand with their customer base? The company announced that they would close 500 stores nationally in Spring 2014. CEO Ron Sargent attributed this to an increase in online sales and the fact that in-store retail sales had seen a steady decline. Because of online retailers like Amazon, Staples has fallen into the same conundrum of many office supply retailers that are now extinct. Even the slightly more technically based Circuit City dissolved its storefront after being bought out in 2009.
So the question is, was Staples even going to compete this Thanksgiving? Furthermore, is it worthwhile for Staples, or similar stores, to remain open on Thanksgiving, or should they relinquish their small amount of sales to the larger retailers that attract customers?
Are consumers loyal to companies or brands on Black Friday?
I would argue that they are not. Black Friday is the least rational shopping day of the year. In the holiday’s creation, it was intended to be a day of family shopping, sneaking away from one’s party to buy Christmas gifts and to save a few dollars on discounted items. As with most trends, the commercialization of the day led to massive crowds, and retailers responded with discounts, door prizes, and daybreak openings.
Consumers responded by lining up earlier and earlier, and have since abandoned Thanksgiving evening rituals to stand outside overnight in order to beat other consumers for opening deals. Furthermore, consumers no longer buy only gifts for loved ones, but as encouraged by retailers, come out for large items of high value such as TVs, computers, and other tech. Black Friday, if it ever was a holiday steeped in family tradition and selfless gift procurement, is now about consumer and retailer greed.
When I worked in retail on Black Friday, I came in at 9PM Thanksgiving night, and left the next day at 5PM, only breaking for an unplanned nap in the food court. I was astounded by the amount of customers who came to the popular retail clothing store, as opposed to other stores with more expensive items, or even better retail outlets. Perhaps parents were putting their wants aside for their children’s, or our midnight opening time was the earliest they could buy something that they needed.
Are these consumers shopping at Walmart or Best Buy because they are company loyalists? No, they are a blend of regular and irregular customer-opportunists that are seeking the best deal on what they want or need. More so, advertisements and news stories are telling these consumers where to go in order to get prizes and limited quantity sale prices. Company loyalty is no contest under these circumstances.
Staples will open at 6 AM on Black Friday to a potential line at their storefront. Maybe they will serve customers that have avoided the mania at Best Buy and Walmart, or perhaps they do have true company loyalists that appreciate their delayed opening and the chance to get discounted items. However, as we have established that customers are not loyal on Black Friday, the needs of Staples’ customers will have already been met by stores that opened hours earlier. By remaining closed on Thanksgiving night Staples is doing the right thing by their employees, but it may not be the right thing for business.
In Summary: As stores choose to open earlier on Thanksgiving evening to provide doorbuster deals to Black Friday shoppers, should other companies follow suit? Brand and company loyalties are not a factor on Black Friday, consumers are chasing deals. Considering the early opening times of stores such as Walmart and Best Buy, if you sell something they sell, you may as well not open.