A Thanksgiving Plea from a Former Retail Employee

My name is Alex, and I’m a recovering retail employee.

Anxiety. Night sweats. Irrational fear of plastic bags. Inability to not straighten merchandise.

Debilitating, I tell you.

This is the first Thanksgiving that I haven’t had the big, gray, grumpy cloud of I-Have-To-Work-Black-Friday Blues in 10 years. I got my first job at age 15 and have worked every Black Friday since. In previous years, the week of Thanksgiving has been filled with dread, knowing I’d be braving the cold at wee hours in the morning to find a spot in the already-filling mall parking lot and spending 10 to 12 hours waiting on cranky, impatient, ungrateful shoppers.

Seriously, what is it about Black Friday that makes people think they must shop? They drag themselves out of bed at ridiculous hours – some of them even sit outside in the cold all night – only to elbow their ways through crowds to get their turns at the troughs of picked-over merchandise. If the only injury of the day is a spilled coffee, it’s a success. Don’t know about you, but that sounds miserable to me.

As if that’s not bad enough for everyone involved, in the last decade or so, retailers have moved opening time forward earlier and earlier, further encroaching on retail employees’ holiday time, and further encouraging shoppers to prioritize consumption over family. Consumers are taking the bait. When I was a kid, most stores opened at five or six in the morning. When I was in college, more and more stores were opening at midnight. Here’s lookin’ at you, Walmart.

This year, the first year, as an adult, that I’ve had the option, I’ll be staying far away from retail. This year, I’m deeply troubled by the trend of consumerism that’s quickly taking over the entire spirit of the holidays.

As of the second decade of the 21st century, for some retailers, opening time has moved all the way up to Thanksgiving day. So now, American Consumers, we have taken a day that’s meant to celebrate the things we’re grateful for – to be generous, compassionate, and content – and we’ve handed it over to retailers as another day for them to make record breaking sales. Somehow, being thankful for what we have has morphed into the most obvious demonstration of our obsession with more that I can think of. On top of it, retail employees, many of whom would much prefer to be spending precious time with their families, are required to miss dinner to serve you greasy food court “food,” sell you things you don’t need, throw away your abandoned Starbucks cups, and tolerate your abuse when you don’t get exactly what you want.

I can hear it now, resounding like the chorus of a thousand mosquitos: “But…the SALES!”

I have three words for you. Prioritize, reduce, and budget.

The holidays didn’t sneak up on you without your knowledge; you’ve had a full year to plan for this, and you’re likely spending more than you can afford, regardless of the sales. The only difference the sales make is that you’re giving more people more crap they’re never going to use than you otherwise would have. Retail merchandizers and marketers are smarter about your money than you are, and that’s why you’re up at two in the morning, not because you want to be, or because you have to be in order to be responsible with your money. They let you think you’ll spend less if you do it all at once on the biggest shopping day of the year. News flash: they are only there to take as much of your money as possible, not to help you save it. You’ve been tricked. Sucks, doesn’t it?

Young adults, who often find the most hardship in obligatory generosity around the holidays, are also the largest group of self-gifters, with 71.5% spending Black Friday money on themselves. So drop the martyr act. I don’t buy it. (That pun was on accident, but I’m going to pretend it was on purpose.)

I can’t force you to stay home in your pajamas watching Christmas movies with your friends and family or make you spend your afternoon volunteering at the soup kitchen, but can you at least give me this? Can you seriously – I mean seriously - reconsider your plans to go shopping on Thanksgiving, and behave with intention if you must go out on Black Friday? You’re not the only one who’d rather be elsewhere – in fact, you chose to be there. Treat an employee you see on a break to a coffee, smile at your cashier and thank him or her for serving you, treat merchandise and displays with respect, don’t expect anyone to move a mountain for you, give your server a little extra tip, and when it’s closing time, get out.

For those of you who didn’t need any convincing, join me as I shop in my underwear on Cyber Monday, where we can find exactly what we’re looking for instead of settling for something we don’t really want because it’s only on sale for five minutes and the lady with the stroller is giving us the stink eye. Solidarity.

Above all my ranting and rambling, and regardless of your shopping choices, be sure to stop and take the time to be grateful for and content with what you have, and find a way to bless someone else. I, for one, am thankful to have the holiday to reflect, recharge, and spend time with my family. If you have to work, I sincerely hope that customers and co-workers are kind to you and that  you find time during this busy season to experience whatever it is that brings you joy. Also, I feel your pain.

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