Why Black Friday Worker Protests Are Ineffective

Walmart Protest 2012

Black Friday shows American consumerism at its most raw and concentrated, as shoppers vie for bargains at big-box retail stores around the nation. Black Friday ad leaks tip off the shopping anticipation and buyers then wait for the big day. In 2012, the creep forward of Black Friday opening hours reached—depending on your perspective—either a new high or a new low, as big stores like Walmart, Target, and Toys “R” Us opened on Thanksgiving night itself. Retail workers were angered at being expected to rush to work before their own turkey dinners had even settled. They were skimped of one of the major holidays in the year.

The Protests

In response, protesters lined up outside Walmarts across the United States on Black Friday morning 2012. At the one in Paramount, CA, around 100 of the 600 protestors were estimated to be store employees. Meanwhile, protesters against Target’s ever-earlier opening hours took their protest online, posting a petition on “save Thanksgiving” on the website Change.org. The Target protest petition gained some 350,000 signatures from people agreeing that the store should not open on the evening of Thanksgiving itself. Ultimately, though, neither protest was that effective in changing Black Friday shopping patterns or habits. For in-store shoppers at Target, it was relatively easy to miss or ignore the internet-based protest.

The Results

Whichever side people took, however, the protests did little to disrupt the overall momentum and volume of Black Friday shopping. One unavoidable reason why shoppers still visited Walmart, for instance, was the affordability in a rough economic landscape. Whether it was moral or wrong, many families couldn’t afford to shop at stores more expensive than Walmart. Non-strike retail workers still agreed to work on Black Friday, even if they supported the strike, because they could not afford to risk losing pay for that shift or endanger their jobs by joining the protest.

The long-standing tradition of Black Friday shopping also makes worker protests ineffective, as many shoppers really look forward to Black Friday as a shopping holiday that provides a festive start to the holiday season. For many shoppers, Black Friday is as much a part of the Thanksgiving tradition as turkey and green-bean casserole. When people want to shop, it is very difficult for protesters to persuade them against it.

The Unaffected Web

Another thing to consider was the trend away from in-store shopping on Black Friday. Increasingly, a major part of Black Friday’s overall retail sales in 2012 was happening online, as stores continued offering free shipping and other perks when buyers made online orders during the Black Friday weekend. In this way, the strike couldn’t affect this aspect of business and the protests had no impactful way of sending a message to those shoppers other than online protests, which can be missed or ignored. Of course, worker protests cannot effectively disrupt online sales, which are processed automatically, and those working at the shipping and distribution centers for the companies are not seen in the public eye the same way the in-store employees are. Ultimately, though, Black Friday’s tradition has chugged along smoothly despite the protests at Walmart, Target, and elsewhere.

2012 Walmart Protest photo courtesy of Flickr.

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