Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Green Tuesday: Did you camp out in front of stores, run through the aisles or click your way through online deals, hunting for free shipping and other perks?
The annual ritual of “holiday shopping” is upon us. This year’s revenue so far has been phenomenal — a total of $59 billion, not seen since 2006, with more than $1 billion in cyber sales for the first time ever on Black Friday and almost $ 2 billion on Cyber Monday itself. These numbers were echoed by the highest consumer confidence index since February 2008 that was released this week.
Foot traffic in stores declined slightly in favor of online shopping, which could reach 10 percent of overall holiday sales for the first time this year. And if Thanksgiving weekend did not put enough purchasing pressure on consumers, November 27 has been declared “Green Tuesday,” a day to buy eco-minded gifts.
That said, 45 percent of Americans admit they would gladly skip Christmas all together. Why? Shopping fatigue. According to a TIME magazine poll, “78 percent of consumers say they wish stores would not play Christmas music until after Thanksgiving, 75 percent say that stores shouldn’t put up Christmas decorations until after Turkey Day and 34 percent get stressed out by Black Friday shopping because the thought of that many people in one store is scary.” Still, according to National Retail Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay, "Thanksgiving shopping has really become an extension of the day's activities. Whole families are going."
According to the National Retail Federation, 139 million consumers went shopping this Thanksgiving weekend, which turned out to be a bit less frantic than last year; they spent an average of $423. But since the shopping frenzy starts even before the last pumpkin pie slice has been digested, many consumers say that they have had enough. Store clerks voiced reservations, many of whom earn minimum wage and had to report to work at the crack of dawn just before Black Friday to attend to the mass of camped-out eager shoppers waiting in line to snatch up the best deals.
“As holiday shopping shifts into high gear, many workers face ‘blackout periods’ when they are not allowed time off under almost any circumstance,” writes Maggie Freleng for WomensEnews, a website covering women's issues. “Surveys indicate that over half of workers from non-union national chains earn less than $10 an hour, about 34 percent of retail workers surveyed rely on public assistance and more than 70 percent don't obtain health insurance from their jobs.”
Retailers, however, rejoice. About a quarter of their annual revenues come from these pre-holiday sales. Amazon.com was the most-visited retail website on Black Friday, and it also posted the highest year-over-year visitor growth rate among the top five retailers, followed by Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target and Apple. Sales traffic hasn’t been as high since 2006: “We’re back to pre-recession numbers,” proclaims Bill Martin, founder of ShopperTrak, a traffic data management company. No fiscal cliff anxieties yet; nevertheless, only one third of shoppers use their credit cards for purchases.
In stark contrast to past weekend’s all-out shopping days, today is “Giving Tuesday,” a day for giving back. It’s a campaign to create a national day of giving at the start of the annual holiday season that celebrates and encourages charitable activities in support of nonprofit organizations. But for many consumers, those small private rebellions to counter the season’s blatant consumerism aren’t enough: Some even pledge to restrain from purchasing gifts all together; they are calling for a day of resistance under the mantra “Buy Nothing Day,” which had its debut in Canada in 1992.
There is also the “Occupy X-mas Movement” for the even more die-hearted anti-shoppers. And don’t forget the musings of the stage persona “Reverend” Billy Talen and his “Church of Stop Shopping,” who uses satire to protest against consumerism: “We shop for products and power that poison the Earth. Our common sense (and our education) is dumbed down by shopping. We are in danger of not having the intelligence to save ourselves from Earth, which will defend herself. Sandy's made that clear enough.”
Yes, Sandy is a much more serious reason for a self-imposed shopping blackout: The lingering devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast have caused many consumers here to think twice about what they really need.
“Nationwide, a protest is developing against Thanksgiving Day sales,” writes Katherine Q. Seelye in The New York Times. “Workers at some stores have threatened to strike, saying the holiday openings were disrupting their family time. Online petitions have drawn hundreds of thousands of signatures protesting the move.” Especially towns in New England, Maine, Rhode Island and Massachusetts refuse to open their stores on Thanksgiving: For them, it’s not a national tragedy if Wal-Mart can’t open at 8 am on Thanksgiving Day.
“These days, consumerism doesn’t just creep. It kicks the front door open, pulls up a chair, and eats your Sunday pork chops,” bemoans Susan Campbell in Connecticut’s The Register Citizen. “Imagine what you can do with all the time and money you’ll save.”
And Jon Carroll writing for the San Francisco Chronicle adds: “Stop the cycle of shame! Buy less stuff, give less stuff. Don't throw money after thoughtlessness. By next Black Friday, no one will remember who gave what, unless the present was very popular. So give the popular present. The amusing tchotchkes, the one-trick ponies — give yourself a break on trash day. Or give someone else a break.”
But in an economy where fiscal growth is measured by the spending habits of its citizens, millions did come out to shop. The holiday spirit was out in droves.
By mail.com editor Tekla Szymanski