Diane talks with Theodore Johnson, a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice and an expert in race and electoral politics.
Guest Host: Susan Page
The holiday season is a critical time for most U.S. retailers. Merchants rack up at least a fifth of their annual sales in the last two months of the year, and sales in stores and on-line are expected to grow this year. The day after Thanksgiving – Black Friday – has long launched a three-day shopping frenzy across the nation. Now, a growing number of retailers are opening their doors a day earlier – on Thanksgiving Day. That has sparked a backlash – including protests from some of the employees who will be working behind cash registers on the holiday. Guest host Susan Page and her guests discuss holiday shopping in America.
- Danielle Douglas Financial reporter for The Washington Post.
- Kathy Grannis Spokesperson for the National Retail Federation.
- Rich Harwood President of The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back on Monday. Target, Kmart, Sears and Toys "R" Us are among the big retailers that will open their doors on Thanksgiving Day this year. After polishing off plates of turkey and pumpkin pie or even before the holiday feast, millions of Americans will flock the stores for special bargains. But not everyone appreciates this growing trend.
MS. SUSAN PAGEWe'll talk about retailers' projections for the holiday season and why some people are protesting the early start of Black Friday. Joining me in the studio: Danielle Douglas of The Washington Post, Rich Harwood of The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation and Kathy Grannis of the National Retail Federation. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. RICH HARWOODGood morning.
MS. KATHY GRANNISGood morning.
MS. DANIELLE DOUGLASThank you. Good morning.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation and to tell us what they plan to do with holiday shopping this weekend. Our toll free number, 1-800-433-8850. You can send us an email at email@example.com or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Kathy, why do we call it Black Friday, and how long have retailers really tried to get consumers to start spending their Christmas dollars on the day after Thanksgiving?
GRANNISThere's a lot of various explanations as to how Black Friday started. And from what we know, you know, there's no question, it's the busiest shopping day of the year. In fact, it's -- in the last few years, it has topped every other day of the year when historically, it was Super Saturday or the Saturday before Christmas.
GRANNISBut back in the late '30s, there was a movement by some retailers in the lobbying group and Congress to move Thanksgiving -- sorry -- the day after Thanksgiving shopping to the, I should say -- I'm sorry -- to move Thanksgiving to the second Thursday of November to mirror all of the people who were heading out that day to shop.
GRANNISIn 1941, I think, Congress and Roosevelt actually ended up moving Thanksgiving Day to the fourth Thursday and the day after, of course, Black Friday, was born in the sense that people were -- family was in town and people were heading out to shop with their friends and family.
PAGEAnd you've surveyed retailers. How good a Black Friday do they expect to have this year?
GRANNISThis year, we're expecting about 147 million people to visit websites and stores from Friday, Saturday and Sunday. There's no question that this has become one of the biggest weekend for retailers and consumers.
PAGEWell, Danielle, you cover this whole industry for The Washington Post. Tell us, how are consumers feeling about spending money this year? We've just come out of this long recession. Do you expect they're going to be spending more money than last year?
DOUGLASIt's an interesting time because there are a couple of things going on in the economy. Right now, there is concern about the fiscal cliff. A lot of analysts don't think that that's going to weigh heavily on consumers' decisions. In general, folks are feeling a little bit more comfortable about their financial standings, and we may see a marginal increase in the kind of spending we've seen in the last few years.
PAGEBut still not a feeling of great confidence. Open -- spend all the money you want.
DOUGLASIt's unlikely. I just -- I don't really see that at this point.
PAGESo, Kathy, one thing that we see, including in some advertising fliers in this morning's Washington Post, there was one for Kmart saying they were going to open early Thursday morning, 6 a.m., Thursday morning on the day of Thanksgiving to shoppers. How many retailers are going to be open on actual Thanksgiving Day?
GRANNISThe concept of retailers opening on Thanksgiving Day is actually not new. Some companies have been opening on Thanksgiving for decades. And many other industries, in fact, have been open on Thanksgiving as well including bowling alleys and movie theaters and restaurants. So for retailers, this is relatively new, and this year, I think we're looking at maybe five or six who say they will open on Thanksgiving.
PAGEFive or six of the big names.
PAGEYeah. Well, Rich Harwood, what do you think about this, this movement by more retailers to be open on Thanksgiving Day?
HARWOODI think a lot of Americans are probably concerned about it. I mean, on the one hand, they want the convenience of shopping. But look, you know, we're moving from Black Friday to what some might consider as sacred Thursday and we're, you know, the one day in the year when we give thanks for what we have, we give thanks for our compassion and things that we look toward others to help support them.
HARWOODAnd here we are, we're saying, as soon as you finish that drumstick, as soon as you finish, as you said, that pumpkin pie, put your fork down, put your knife down and make a mad dash as quickly as you possibly can to your local retail. And I think, you know, what Americans are concerned about right now is that consumerism and a sense of instant gratification is taking over our lives to the extent that it's destroying how we look at things, how we behave, how we even think about our public schools, for instance.
HARWOODAnd I think what people are saying is, we want the convenience of shopping, for sure, but enough is enough. We're crossing way too many lines in our society.
PAGEBut of course, people who feel that way could choose just not to go shopping on Thanksgiving Day.
HARWOODAbsolutely. And no one actually, I think not myself for sure, is saying anything about restricting people's freedom to make choices themselves. I think this is not a question of our freedom to shop. It's more of a question of what kind of civic culture do we want to have in the country in terms of the things that we value, the safe spaces we create for ourselves, the rituals like Thanksgiving and protecting them from all the forces that we interact with on a daily basis.
PAGEWe've already gotten a couple of tweets from people. Here's one from Jodie. She writes, "Making shop staff work on Thanksgiving is awful. Save it for Friday or better yet, shop local Saturday." Here's one from Melanie, "Let's spend one day dwelling on what we have to be thankful for rather than focusing on what we want." And Mary writes in her tweet, "Out of control. Next, food courts will be providing Thanksgiving dinner so folks can just skip being at home with family." Well, Danielle, have you seen some backlash to this trend of shopping of Thursday?
DOUGLASOh, there's been a lot of backlash, a lot of it coming from the workers themselves. You have a Target employee that started a petition that's, I think, gotten about 390,000 signatures at this point to stop Target from opening on Thanksgiving Day. Unfortunately, it has not been successful, unfortunately for them. And then also, there's a Wal-Mart employee who has a similar campaign going for -- to stop the store from opening on Black Friday as well. They have 36,000 signatures.
DOUGLASAnd then there's a whole separate issue that ties into what's going on with the Thanksgiving opening is the Wal-Mart protest that are taking place right now or that are planned. As, you know, many people have probably read at this point, Wal-Mart is trying to stop a lot of its workers from protesting on Black Friday which -- on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, which are, you know, going to be the biggest shopping period for the store.
PAGENow Wal-Mart has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board to try to block these protests by some of their workers on Friday. Where does that stand?
DOUGLASRight now, the National Relations -- Labor Relations Board has decided not block the protest, which means they will go forward. But I think it's important to understand that this is more than about the opening of the store on Thanksgiving Day. These workers are also protesting low wages and high cost of health insurance, and these are issues that have been kind of rumbling up for months now before. But I think the workers see that particular day, one of the store's largest earners, you know, to -- as a prime target for a lot of their angst.
PAGEWe reached out to Wal-Mart yesterday when we decided to do this show today asking if they would have a representative on the show, perhaps call in for a brief 10-minute interview. And we were told this morning that they were not willing to do that. We're sorry about that. And if Wal-Mart has changed its mind and wants to give us a call, we would be delighted to put them on the air to get their side of the story.
PAGEI wonder, Kathy, is there an economic effect to this whole trend? I mean, is there an argument that it's helping the economy by having stores open more?
GRANNISWell, I think the bottom line for retailers is that this weekend is not about their bottom line. It's about getting in front of their customers and making sure they are where their customers want them to be. Last year, we know that 24 percent of holiday shoppers were at stores by midnight. So that means that they were either already in stores by 10 p.m. or -- we saw a lot of 10 p.m. openings last year -- or they were in line for those midnight openings.
GRANNISAnd of course, you know, the year prior to that was about 9.5 percent of people, and the year before that was about 3 percent. So for retailers, this is a very easy answer, you know? There is demand for people, a demand from their shoppers to be open. And it's really not about, you know, the dollars and cents. It's getting out there and making sure that, you know, they are in front of their customers.
PAGEWell, Danielle, what do you think?
DOUGLASI was going to say there is potential for backlash. I think last year, after we saw some of the major stores opening on Thanksgiving Day, there was like a 2.4 percent decline for the two weeks -- the first two weeks in December in terms of shopping. And, you know, a lot of analysts are saying that we may see the exact same thing where shoppers have fatigue. They do all of their spending really quickly and then they're -- they kind of level out. But, you know, it's up in the air at this point what the actual outcome would be.
PAGEWell, Danielle, you've spent the last two Black Fridays doing reporting on some of these shoppers. Tell us what your experience has been.
DOUGLASSure. It's an interesting thing 'cause last year, I went to Best Buy. I was out at Best Buy for about four hours in Woodbridge -- in the cold. They were kind enough to show the "Harry Potter" that night on a jumbotron, so that wasn't so bad. But there, I witnessed a couple of fights as people were in the front of the line, just really anxious to get their flat screen TV. But the year before, I spent it at Potomac Mills, and it was a very different feel.
DOUGLASPeople were a lot more helpful. They're a lot more willing to be patient about, you know, stores not opening all at the same time 'cause not every store in the mall opened at the same time. And there are retailers that are saying, we're not opening on Thanksgiving Day. Burlington Coat Factory actually sent out an email to a lot of its customers saying, we respect the turkey. It's not going to happen.
PAGEWhy the different tone in the two places you were?
DOUGLASI'm not sure. I mean, I think a part of it was that, Best Buy, it was cold outside, you know? At least in Potomac Mills, we were indoors. There were places to roam about. There was some space. At Best Buy, it was just a line wrapped around at the building twice, and it was pandemonium after a while. But I will say the workers were really good about keeping people calm and in line. And they seem to, you know, to be dealing with the fact that they had to come to work right after Thanksgiving.
PAGEAnd, Kathy, there could be even a safety issue to all this 'cause we remember that terrible story from a couple years ago about a person who is actually killed, trampled to death, at a Long Island shopping center.
GRANNISRight. And crowd management is something retailers are very familiar with, not just during the holiday season. You know, if Justin Bieber comes to your mall or your store anytime of the year, that's something you have to take very seriously. So, of course, the holiday season does ramp things up. And retailers are definitely paying attention and making sure to focus on safety for their employees and their customers.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. And when we come back, we'll go to the phones and we'll take some your calls and comments and your plans about holiday shopping this year. Our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio, Danielle Douglas, she's a financial reporter for The Washington Post, Rich Harwood, he's president of The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation and Kathy Grannis, she's spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation. Well, let's go to the phones and take some of your calls. We'll got first to Meagan, (sp?) who's calling us from Takoma Park, Md. Meagan, you're on the air.
MEAGANHi. Good morning.
MEAGANI wanted you to know that my whole family is going to be at the Hyattsville Wal-Mart in support of the workers out on the picket line.
PAGEAnd does anyone in your family work at Wal-Mart?
MEAGANNo. We don't. We're a union family, however. And some of the reasons that the workers are standing up for themselves are because when they have spoken out in the past, they've had their shifts cut or been given very undesirables shifts. Their wages are, you know, historically low, which has really proven to lower the wages in the community as a whole because they're the largest employer in the country. And the other thing is it wasn't just the worker killed last year or the year before. It was a Wal-Mart worker who was trampled to death.
PAGEAll right. Well, thanks very much for your call, Meagan. Danielle, what do you think?
DOUGLASIt's interesting because we are seeing instances where Wal-Mart workers are getting the support of the larger community and especially a lot of unions. But they make it clear to say that this isn't an issue about unionization. This is an issue about basic workers' rights. And I think that's important to make that distinction.
GRANNISThere's no question that retailers take their employees concerns very seriously. And throughout the year, when it comes to schedules and family commitments, retailers make it a point to work with their employees. And, you know, for those who may not want to work on Thursday, there are millions more who do because they love the extra pay. Let's not forget there is overtime and there is, you know, there's time and half if you work on Thanksgiving.
GRANNISAnd we're actually hearing from our members who are hearing from their employees that they like working a night on Thanksgiving because they can go home on Friday morning, maybe take a nap, and then spend the rest of the day Friday doing whatever they want and not being stuck in the store on Friday.
PAGEAnd that -- I'm sure there are lots of workers who feel that way. But I wonder if there are some workers who don't feel that way, but -- and do not feel they have the option to say no to whoever their employer is when they're told or asked to work on Thursday or Friday.
GRANNISWell, you know, certainly, there's a lot of people who may not feel that they have the ability to take off on Thursday. But, you know, like any industry, if you sign up during the busy season, I mean, this is our Super Bowl. This is the holiday season. If you sign up to work retail, if you have a full-time in retail or part-time, this is part of what you do.
GRANNISAnd just like any other industry, movie theaters, again, restaurants, you know, it's important for that company to service the customers who want, you know, who want to shop. And there are, of course, millions of people who want to shop.
PAGERich, what's your perspective?
HARWOODWell, I think this goes to -- I think what Kathy said is correct, that this their Super Bowl, and people who sign up probably know some of the rules. But I think there's a larger issue here that, you know, as I've traveled across the country and engage Americans, it's about really, you know, an evolving social contract in the country about what's the relationship between employees and employers, whether or not employees will really have a voice, whether or not some of these issues can be really worked out in a way that's productive for everyone.
HARWOODAnd I think, you know, this is a fundamental issue that people are struggling with across the country. I don't think this is going to be a simple flashpoint on Thursday. This is -- as Danielle said, this has been bubbling for a while, and I think we're going to see more of this across the business community as we move forward.
PAGEDanielle, do you think that's right that this year, we've got five or six big retailers taking the step of opening on Thursday, and that will just expand a year from now?
DOUGLASI do. I really believe that if you start the trend, it only has to mushroom at this point. I can imagine any of the major retailers drawing back out of concerns that their competitors are going to get an edge over them and also out of concern that the online retailers are going to continue to eat away at their market share.
PAGEAnd, Kathy, your projections are that sales will be up for stores, brick-and-mortar kind of stores, but up even more for online retailers. What do you see happening this year?
GRANNISThat's right. We're -- shop.org, our digital division, is forecasting that online sales will grow about 12 percent this year to as much as 96 billion. And there's no question that online is a bright spot as it has been for a long time. In fact, we know that part of the reason that retailers look to Thanksgiving store openings is because Thanksgiving Day itself has been one of the busiest online shopping days of the year.
GRANNISSo to get out there and make sure that, you know, they answer this demand from their customers, you know, they took it from online to in-store. And I think right now, we're seeing a perfect mix of both of worlds in terms of where people want to shop.
PAGEYeah. All right. Let's go back to the phones. Odie (sp?) is calling us from Miami, Fla. Thanks for joining us.
ODIEThank you so much for taking my call. I just wanted to share. We, this year, have three newly registered teenagers into college, who have taken up a job in their local -- in our local mall. And they will -- we have had to reschedule our Thanksgiving dinner so that now it will be a Thanksgiving brunch because all of them have to go off and be at the store, ready to work by 6 p.m.
ODIESo, in a way, it does make a big difference and it does modify our family tradition and the sacredness of Thanksgiving dinner and sitting down. We've now had to move everything around so that we can accommodate that this is the new reality. They're opening up earlier.
PAGEAnd, Odie, how do your kids feel about this? Are they all right with it? Are they sorry that this is happening?
ODIEYou know, they're sorry. When they signed up for the seasonal jobs, they kind of thought, you know, Thanksgiving should be OK. And then they were called in for a meeting, and they said, you have to be at the store by 7 p.m. And we were all like, oh, my goodness. Now, we have to move everything around, call family members, change everything because we want them to be a part of the dinner. But it's just -- it's definitely changing the tradition that can't go unnoticed.
PAGEOdie, that's such an interesting perspective. Thanks so much for your call. You know, Danielle, I wonder if at a time when unemployment is 7.9 percent, if workers feel maybe a little more pressure to accommodate an employer if they want them to work on Thursday or Friday.
DOUGLASI would imagine they do. But the question is -- and the unemployment rate goes down, you will find less workers who are going to be willing to take on those kinds of positions, and perhaps, at that point, employers will have to change, you know, their overall strategy of addressing this holiday.
PAGEI wonder, though, I mean, if they're responding to a consumer demand, as Kathy says, I wonder if they will care if their employers -- employees aren't happy about it.
DOUGLASI mean, you still need that the folks out there to push the wheel, so that has to be a concern. And it's an interesting and a very difficult position that I guess a lot of retailers are in, in the sense that they want to be able to earn as much as possible. You know, in years past, we've seen retailers earn as much as 30 percent of their annual sales during the holiday season. And they certainly are under threat of seeing that position, I guess, kind of shrink with constant competition. But they have to respect their employers -- employees.
PAGERich, we heard from Odie that her family is changing the timing of their Thanksgiving brunch. It doesn't sound quite the same as Thanksgiving dinner. I wonder, do you think there's a kind of cultural cost to doing this?
HARWOODI think there's a large cultural cost. And I think, you know, while we talk about the numbers and the trends and the number of stores that are opening, all important things for all of us, I think one of the things that we can lose sight of is the ways in which this affects our society. You know, as I was coming to the studio today, someone -- and I told someone when I was going to be on the show for, they said, you know, we're losing our sense of humanity.
HARWOODAnd as I traveled across the country listening to Americans, and they talked about what's wrong with the country, what they said is what's wrong -- fixing our politics, fixing the economy, is not what's going to fix what's wrong with the country. What's wrong, they say, is that so many things are out of balance, that we're running faster and harder and we can't keep up, that we're running in such ways that for Odie's family, it means they've turned Thanksgiving dinner into Thanksgiving brunch.
HARWOODThey're all going to be rushed. It may not have the same dynamics that they once had. And we have to think about yes, we can open as many stores. No one's saying that that's not a possibility. But to your question, Susan, at issue is at what cost and should we, not can we, but should we. And I think a lot of people are saying we've got to start drawing some better lines here.
PAGELet's go back to the phones and we'll talk to Pat. She's calling us from Tamarac, Fla. Hi, Pat.
PATHi. Good morning.
PATHi. I'm calling about the promotion called Small Business Saturday, which goes on this Saturday, and the purpose of it to encourage people to patronize their small, independent businesses in their own communities rather than only the big-box stores, the Wal-Marts and Targets, et cetera in order to help their neighbors who own these businesses, who sell gift items of all sorts, clothing, house wares, you know, anything that you might want to buy and give for gift and also to counteract the trend of so much low-price, low-quality goods coming from China.
PATYou know, I for one really avoid getting stuff from China. And if you go to a lot of large stores, you have a hard time finding anything that's not made from China. And a lot of the other stores, the small businesses, try to go the other way and have more local things.
PAGEYou know -- thanks very much for your call, Pat. We've gotten a similar email from Sheila, who writes, "I've received several requests from buy local supporters to give Black Friday door buster sales a pass and instead support small business shopping and local economies on Small Business Saturday." Kathy, tell us about Small Business Saturday.
GRANNISI'm actually really glad this came up. Of course at NRF, our members run the gamut. We have large. We have small. We have online. We have grocery stores. But I think what most might not know is that the nation's retail industry is 95 percent small businesses. So there's no question that retail is community. Retail is local. It's -- you know, just because you go down the street and you see large stores and people frequenting the large stores doesn't mean, in any way, that the small stores are any less important.
GRANNISAnd we actually know from our friends who are running the Small Business Saturday campaign that there are a lot more people looking to shop on Saturday, and we encourage it. We support any initiative that supports small businesses.
PAGEBut, Danielle, is it hard to convince consumers to do what Sheila says she's being urged to do, which is to pass up sales in order to shop small businesses, local businesses? It's maybe a hard argument to make to consumers who are looking for the best deal they can get.
DOUGLASIt depends on the demographic. I know a lot of younger folks have been heading on to the boutiques recent years and supporting them because they want things that are more unique, more interesting. And so at least in the Washington area, we see a lot of that. And what's also really interesting is that even though American Express started the whole small business movement, there are a lot of really cool communal activities that are going on in Old Town Alexandria.
DOUGLASThey have their own Small Business Saturday. All of the stores band together. They have door busters. Their own version of door busters is you're not going to get a $99 TV or anything, but you can support folks who are in your community and get really great deals on very unique things. So I think there is an appetite there for it, and we're going to see that increase as more of these promotions come to light. And there's more of a campaign now, which is still being led by American Express, to push Small Business Saturday.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls at 1-800-433-8850. Let's talk to Brendan. He's calling us from St. Joseph, Mich. Brendan, thanks for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show."
BRENDANHi. How're you doing today?
BRENDANYeah. I just had a -- I'm talking about Black Friday and Thanksgiving in general. It's hard to realize, as a nation, we put all this emphasis on one day. Can people -- I mean, times are tough. I know we're all looking for sales. Actually, everybody wants -- who doesn't want a $100 TV, nice wide-screen? But two weeks ago, is it that hard to make a long-distance call to your aunt or your cousin that you haven't seen in a few weeks?
BRENDANThis is what Thanksgiving is really about, but it shouldn't be based on this one -- just one day where you have -- everybody has to meet up. Yeah, a few live far apart. Families are spread out. Times are tough. But if we can't take one day a week to call someone that we haven't talked to recently that we care about, farms burn down. People pass. These things happen unexpected. And if we're waiting for one day a year to be thankful and let people know about it, then, of course, it can get -- this one day can get -- other things can pile on top of it -- Black Friday, more sales.
BRENDANIf it's all on one day, then obviously Black Friday can take it over. But if we spread Thanksgiving out to the entire year, let people know how we feel about them, then we wouldn't even be dealing with this problem. Black Friday -- there'd be sales all the time.
PAGEBrendan, thanks so much for your call. Rich, what do you think?
HARWOODWell, you know, it's interesting. In fact, I mentioned this in this new book I just wrote called "The Work of Hope." What people told me, as I interviewed them across the country, is that we need to get back to certain kind of basics that I think Brendan is talking about.
HARWOODThat's not just about Thanksgiving. It's about every day, that somehow or another, we need to introduce a greater sense of compassion back into our lives, that we see and hear one another, as Brendan was saying, that we reach out to that aunt across the country that may need comforting, that we have a greater sense of openness and humility in the ways in which we talk to one another and engage with one another and that we have a greater concern for the common good, not just our own good. And I think what, you know, Black Friday and now Open Thursday, whatever Thursday it might be called...
PAGEGreat Thursday is what I saw it called in one story.
HARWOODGreat Thursday. I think they're not the main point, but they're flash points for larger concerns that Americans have, not that we ought not to be able to go shopping and it ought not to be convenient -- no one's saying that -- but that it has come to crowd out these other basic values that we cherish in our lives and, for some reason, we can't seem to grab hold of and exercise, as Brendan was saying, more on a daily basis.
PAGEWe have an email from Pam. She says, "It's a mercantile arms race," which is a pretty good line. Cilia, (sp?) we're going to your call. She's calling us from Oswego, N.Y. Hi, Cilia.
CILIAHi. I just wanted to make a comment about online shopping. I haven't shopped Black Friday in I don't know how long. I do almost all of my shopping online, and I find that more and more I do my shopping at amazon.com for two reasons. One is that if I want to send an actual item to somebody, they offer free shipping. But even better, I can send a gift card, and then people can get whatever they want from the now very large range of things that Amazon offers.
CILIAAnd this has become a real godsend for me in the last few years because my nephew and his wife and little boy live in Japan, and it is prohibitively expensive to mail things to Japan. So I send them a -- an e-card from Amazon, and then they can do their shopping on the Japanese branch of Amazon without any extra fees or anything like that, and it works out great.
PAGEWell, Cilia, that's interesting. Sounds like a great plan. I wonder, Kathy, to what degree do traditional retailers feel that they're in a real competition with amazon.com?
GRANNISIt -- there's definitely been some competition in recent years. There's no question that, you know, online players have moved into the space and are taking a lot more of customers' attention these days. But let's not forget also that the store is the foundation. It's the foundation of America. Online sales right now are still only less than 10 percent of total U.S. retail sales.
GRANNISThat said, this is the first holiday season we've actually seen a lot of retailers integrate the shopping experience like never before. We're looking at mobile apps that specifically let people shop online in stores. So retailers are really bringing it full circle.
PAGEWe're going to take another short break. And when we come back, we'll take your calls and questions and your comments on shopping, the holiday season, your plans for the Christmas holidays. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio today: Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman with the National Retail Federation, Rich Harwood, president of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, and Danielle Douglas, a financial reporter for The Washington Post.
PAGEHere, we have an email from Carol, who writes us from Fort Worth. She says, "I am a nurse working in a hospital. Like policemen, firemen, public workers, et cetera, we have to work holidays. We divvy them up every year to make it fair. I'm not a Black Friday shopper, so I don't mind working that day. Most people get paid time and a half for holidays, so I don't believe anyone is being treated unfairly for having to work a holiday. Be thankful for a job." But we have other people with different perspectives on this.
PAGEHere's one from Angela, who writes us from Lakewood, Fla., "I'm appalled that stores are encouraging shopping on a day when you're supposed to appreciate time with family. I am protesting and not setting foot in a store. Think of all the people who work at retail stores who'll be forced to leave their family on a family-oriented holiday." Let's go back to the phones and talk to Amy. Amy is calling us from Calera, Ala. Hi, Amy.
AMYHi. I would just want to talk about, you know, the dangerous environment that we are creating by creating this frenzy over getting these deals. In 2007, I was working at a Target store. I worked there for eight consecutive Christmases. And a gentleman was climbing on a shelf, and I went to try to stop him, and he, while trying to pull down this TV for a woman, pulled down a stack of 27-inch televisions.
AMYThey fell on me, and I was in the hospital, had to have physical therapy. And if I had not turned my shoulder into it, I very well could've hade serious neck injury.
PAGEWell, Amy, that sounds terrible. Did you mind working on those holidays?
AMYYou know, the time creeps by incredibly slow because it's so busy, and in later years, it was kind of fun because I was in a position -- kind of a little position over other workers to be able to organize and manage things. But my brother still works in retail, and he have to go in on Thanksgiving. And, you know, I didn't really mind the Saturday -- the Friday after except for, like I said, the dangerous environment, how rude people are. But going in on Thursday night when Thursday, the evening, is an important part of Thanksgiving for my family. I think that's just a shame.
PAGEYeah. All right, well, thanks very much for your call. Here's an emailer, Murielle, who writes us, "Just because people show up at midnight to shop doesn't mean they want to be there. It may simply mean that they are afraid if they don't go, they will miss out on some deals that they will all be gone by the time they get there. It's fear more than desire." Rich, you're shaking your head.
HARWOODYeah. I just want to go back to it and connect that to Amy's point. You know, when you talk to Americans about this, they equate the kind of rudeness that Amy was talking about with shopping with the kind of rudeness and acrimony we see in our public discourse. There's not a division for people on these things.
HARWOODThey're of the same kind which is our society's becoming overly course, we become overly rude. We don't see and hear one another in ways that we need to. This is not about holding hands and singing "Kumbaya," it's about the kind of society, the kind of community we want to create and live in. And this is one of the fundamental concerns that, I think, Americans are really grappling with right now.
PAGEWe talked -- we've talked about Black Friday. How about Cyber Monday? What does that mean, Kathy?
GRANNISCyber Monday is a trend that was noticed in 2005. That was coined by our own Shop.org division. That was a day that online retailers recognize a spike in online sales between the hours of 12 and three, Pacific to East Coast. And basically it started forming its own...
PAGETwelve, probably like noon to three?
GRANNISAnd just -- it started coming together, and we noticed as an industry that people may not have wrapped up their shopping over the weekend, so they were going to their office where they had broadband or high-speed Internet and shopping during their lunch hours. And, you know, the...
HARWOODAre you sure it's the lunch hours?
GRANNISWell, that's -- right, you know, but the spike in traffic was the lunch hours. And we actually have data that shows 72 million people this year will shop from their office during their lunch hours this year, and it just -- it continues to get bigger.
PAGEWell, I wonder of this. There's this practice so-called showrooming that I know has been a concern to retailers in traditional stores. What is that?
GRANNISShow rooming is something really that's come along only with the adoption of mobile devices and the non-stop, on-the-go mobile shopper. Basically, people would walk in to a store, look at a product on the shelf and see -- go straight to their mobile device, look for that same product online for a cheaper, go home or right there and buy it online.
GRANNISAnd retailers, of course, are just trying to get people to stay in their stores. And this year, we're actually seeing retailer's answer their call by letting them shop in their store, the other mobile device, and have that item shipped to them at home and multiple other ways where they're encouraging this, you know, this trend of shopping online. But maybe stay in my store while you do it.
PAGEYou know, Danielle, all of us now -- not all of us but many of us now have mobile devices, have these smartphones that do such incredible things. How was that changed things for retailers?
DOUGLASIt's interesting 'cause I think in one way, it's made it more convenient for their shoppers to get a better sense and be more educated when they're going to the stores. So it can be helpful, but it could also lead to showrooming, of course. But a lot of retailers are being very smart and saying, well, we'll price match, you know, if you find something cheaper online, you can still comeback to our store and get just as good a deal.
PAGESo that means you could go to a store, find what you want to buy, look for it on your smartphone, find a cheaper price, go to the cash register and say, here, I found a cheaper price. Will you sell it to me at this price?
DOUGLASIn some instances, yes.
PAGEIn some instances people do that. Yeah.
PAGEInteresting. Let's go back to the phones. We'll go to Brandy, who's calling us from Cincinnati, Ohio. Brandy, you're on the air.
BRANDYHello. How are you?
BRANDYGood. I am the wife of a firefighter. And the way my husband's schedule of works with his unit day: Out of four years, he works two holidays. Two years he works every holiday: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve. And, you know, there are a lot of us out there that, you know, have to work around schedules for our spouses or our families. And I don't like to sit at home by myself on the holiday, so it's very nice for me to get out and go to stores that are open or restaurants that are open, so I'm actually not lonely at home.
PAGEWell, Brandy, that's a great perspective to have. I'm so glad you called. So will you be out shopping on Thanksgiving?
BRANDYI will because on Friday, I will have the dinner at my home.
PAGEAll right. Brandy, thanks so much for your call.
PAGEA different perspective on that. How about Diane? Diane's calling us from Branford, Conn. Diane, thanks for holding on.
DIANEOh, you're welcome. Let me just say quickly right off the top that I'm just totally aghast by this entire scenario. Frankly, it sickens me and I even feel, oh, vaguely ashamed, by association, to be an American. But the point that I think has been overlooked is that I'm very concerned about how this whole retail brouhaha is grist for the anti-America malice now particularly on the part of the more militant foreign countries.
DIANEThey're just delighted to portray us, if you will, you know, as the ugly American. And it lends credence to perception and then that translates to propaganda that Americans are utterly obsessed with material goods and concomitantly, that they utterly lack spirituality.
PAGEAnd, Diane, I'm gathering you will not be out shopping on Thanksgiving. Is that right?
DIANEAbsolutely not. I am proud to say that, well, I'm 57 years old. It took me 10 years until I could convince family and friends, all of whom are comfortable, nobody needs a sweater. And I am -- I'm not wealthy, but in any event, it took a long time -- I am a retired lobbyist, but -- so I'll get my way eventually. And -- but anyway, I convinced them finally to make a donation to their favorite charity in the amount that they might have spent, and let's do exchange little token gift.
PAGEYou know, I've done that with my family. I have to say there's a difference of opinion at the time. Some people are clearly fine with getting a contribution in their name, and some people do not seem to think this isn't the full spirit that they see of Christmas. Well, Diane makes a point. Is this kind of an American trait? And I wonder, Kathy, do we see the same shopping trends in other countries or is it different?
GRANNISOh, that's a great question. Well, we know that, for example, Brazil is going through a huge boom right now. It's actually very evident. If you come to our big show in January, the -- Brazil is the fastest growing group to come to our convention. They have this new boom with their building malls and stores. And let's not forget that, you know, a lot of companies are opening up in China. And so I -- there does seemed to be a demand across the world in terms of a lot of American brands coming into their space.
PAGEBut, I mean, specifically on like being the -- an American Thanksgiving wouldn't be a holiday that applies, but in being open on holidays that are traditions, have been family oriented. Are other countries moving in that direction?
GRANNISI'm sure it varies from culture. I'm not too familiar with the culture of other countries and continents.
PAGEYou know, it's -- The New York Times has a front page story this morning that talks about some regional differences in this country on attitudes to this. This is a story that's dateline from Plymouth, Mass. And it says, here in the birthplace of Thanksgiving, where the Pilgrims first gave thanks in 1621 for their harvest and their survival, some residents are giving thanks this year for something else, the Colonial-era blue laws that prevent their retailers from opening their doors on Thanksgiving.
PAGEIn Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the stores will sit dark until the wee hours of Friday because of these long-standing New England blue laws. So maybe some regional characteristics, too, Danielle?
DOUGLASOh, certainly. I know in D.C., actually, there was -- for a while, there was a ban on opening any earlier than midnight. And some of our big-box stores had to deal with that as well, whereas in Virginia, that wasn't as much of an issue. But it varies in place to place. I think one of the other thing that's really interesting is how some of the online retailers are going to deal with supply chain slowdown from Hurricane Sandy, which I think is going to be kind of telling.
DOUGLASThere was a bit of a delay with some of the deliveries, and that might be a big impact coming into the holidays. I know Amazon has told their customers, so is Diane Von Furstenberg alerted her customers, that that you might see some delay in your deliveries.
PAGESo you could see some effect. I wonder if -- will Hurricane Sandy put a measurable dent, do you think, in holiday sales generally, Kathy?
GRANNISWell, you know, I should say the first concern, of course, for retailers in the impacted area or across the country is the safety of their community and the health of their community. And retailers have done -- have actually donated millions of dollars to this effort. So when we look at the holiday season, we do know now it's a little too early to recognize if the storm is going to have overall impact on the holiday season.
PAGEWe know there are a lot of people in New Jersey, and Long Island particularly, still affected by the aftermath of that superstorm. We hope their holiday goes well. I'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We've got a caller from Helsinki, Finland. So let's get the international perspective. Roy, thanks for giving us a call.
ROYYes. Hi. Greetings from Finland where it's already evening. I'm just calling because of the fact that isn't there anything sacred in the United States? The only day when people of -- from all the states can get together and spend time with their family and have a peaceful, quiet Thanksgiving dinner.
ROYI really think that it's a shame. For example, here in Finland -- I don't like to compare countries because Finland is a much smaller country -- we have Christmas peace declared on Christmas Eve at 12 noon, and we don't go back to work until the 27th of December. Everything is closed. So I really feel that this shopping on Thanksgiving is absolutely wrong.
PAGEAll right. Roy, thank you so much for your call. We appreciate hearing from our international listeners. Rich, what do you think?
HARWOODI think Roy's raising, again, an interesting point, which is, again, this is not about whether or not we can shop and have the capability, but what are the things that we actually value in our communities, in our daily lives that creates certain kinds of spaces for us? I think Thanksgiving is one. I think certain kinds of ability to come into the public square and engage in productive discourse is another.
HARWOODPeople are deeply concerned about what's happening with their children, and whether or not they're spending way too much time with video games and not being able to interact with other individuals. You know, this continually comes down to essential issue for people, which is, what kind of society are we going to create together? How are we going to engage with one another? What are the kinds of things we're going to protect that we really value?
HARWOODThose don't have to be at odds with shopping, but there needs to be room for them. And what people are feeling right now as those things have been squeeze out, and we've got to find a way to pry open spaces where we can reclaim them.
PAGELet's go to Justin, calling us from Madison, Wis. Justin, you're on the air.
JUSTINHello. Good morning.
JUSTINI worked at a big factory for the last 10 years. And I just want to give a perspective of how the employees at least at my big store are feeling. And a lot of them actually don't mind coming in and working. And in my specific store, they're extremely flexible of when you're scheduled. And in fact for the week leading up to the schedule, they're asking all the employees what shift they prefer to work.
JUSTINAnd so the people that do pick those 9:00 p.m., 10:00 p.m. shifts are the ones that want to work there because maybe they can get the weekend off or get an earlier start on the weekend. But they do offer the option of working, you know, late Friday night if you are planning on going home and spending time with your family. And, in fact, I think one thing that I really don't talk about is the store need to prepare for the Black Friday point.
JUSTIN(unintelligible) has done that Thanksgiving this morning. And we actually put up a sign-up sheet at our store for team members to sign up who wants to come in and prepare and set of things. And we get hundreds of people that want to come in and, you know, make some good money doing it. And that they'll have to work, will spend some time with their family.
PAGEYou know, Justin, that's interesting. And I'm glad to hear that it's -- people are able to -- employees are able to volunteer what shift they want to work. I think that addresses some of the concerns that we're hearing. Well, tell me about your own shopping plans, Danielle. Do you -- you're going to be out there on Friday morning or Thursday night at midnight doing your Christmas shopping?
DOUGLASActually, I have to work this Friday. I do not have to do shopping because I have to be in at the office this Friday. But while I'm on my break, I'll probably do a little bit of shopping, maybe the next day. I'm not a huge fan of the massive crowds, so I'd like to try to avoid that. But I imagine I'll do a hybrid of in-store and online shopping.
PAGEAnd, Rich, what about you? What do you plan to do?
HARWOODI'm going to wait. I'm going to wait for the crowds to go away. And actually, as we're talking about before, I'm going to try to go to as many small businesses in this area that I possibly can.
PAGEAnd, Kathy, what about you?
GRANNISI do work on Friday. I'll be in the office. I actually have started shopping already. It's the first time in my life I've ever started before Thanksgiving. I think Friday, when I get off work, I'm fortunate enough to work around a bunch of stores. So I think I'll check it out when I get off a little early Friday.
PAGEI have one shopping tip on the weekend after Thanksgiving. I shop during the Redskins' game because the stores are not nearly so crowded. Well, I want to thank our guests for being with us. Kathy Grannis from the National Retail Federation, Rich Harwood from The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, Danielle Douglas from The Washington Post. Thanks for being with us on "The Diane Rehm Show."
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn and Jill Colgan. The engineer is Erin Stamper. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is email@example.com, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.
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