How you choose to spend your free time is up to you. If you choose to spend part of Thanksgiving Day shopping at a big retail or consumer electronics store, however, you'll be giving in to an ugly trend that's spoiling the holiday for millions of relatively low-paid employees who are forced to work.
It's a trend that started just a few years ago, when some national retailers decided that while offering discounts on Black Friday is a good idea, it is an even better idea to start the shopping marathon a day earlier. There's already a long list of major stores that will open on Thanksgiving Day, including Walmart, Macy's, Sears, Kohl's, Gap, Target, Staples, JCPenney, Best Buy and RadioShack.
Don't think for a minute that the chains that will open a week from Thursday are doing it for your convenience. In a memo obtained by Bloomberg News, RadioShack CEO Joe Magnacca explained that the decision was driven by sales. "Last year we took a very different approach and only opened stores required to open per leasing agreements," he said. "The result was disappointing sales for RadioShack, not just on that day but for the entire Thanksgiving weekend, due to non-competitive operating hours."
After getting some bad publicity and pushback from employees, Magnacca backed off a bit and said the stores will be open only part of the day. RadioShack will open at 8 am, close from noon to 5 pm, and then reopen until midnight. What a swell guy.
Ironically, Black Thursday may simply steal sales from Black Friday -- which is exactly what happened in 2012, according to Bill Martin of mall-traffic tracker ShopperTrak, who spoke with MarketWatch.
A few of my friends suggested that working the holiday means overtime and that only volunteers have to work. But that's nonsense. Overtime in many workplaces is only voluntary in the sense that you can say no and then get in trouble or even fired. That's a fact of life in the world of retail and service.
Sure, overtime is something low-wage workers often need, but if you're a single parent forced to seek childcare on Thanksgiving, an awful lot of that slightly larger paycheck will go to the babysitter -- if you can find one.
I'm obviously not talking about public safety or transit workers or many others who essentially work every day of the year. I have nothing against bargain hunting, but the trend of turning Thanksgiving Day into Black Thursday is simply obnoxious.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, because it's mainly about good food and family and gratitude. Of course, you don't have to feel the same way to skip shopping on Thanksgiving. Give a thought to the clerk who is selling cut-rate merchandise at RadioShack. They'll be there this year, but if you refuse to shop, they just might get next year off.