Opinion Columns & Blogs - INACTIVE

Erika D. Smith: REI has it right – bah humbug to Black Friday

REI has announced it will buck Black Friday 2015 and close its 143 stores on the day after Thanksgiving. The co-op told members the plan in an email Oct. 26, saying instead of working they’ll pay their employees Nov. 27 to be outside.
REI has announced it will buck Black Friday 2015 and close its 143 stores on the day after Thanksgiving. The co-op told members the plan in an email Oct. 26, saying instead of working they’ll pay their employees Nov. 27 to be outside. The Associated Press File Photo

I remember the first time I muttered, “I hate Christmas.”

I was sitting in my car watching the snow fall in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a Black Friday. The sun had just come up and I was trying to find a parking spot – the third stop on my tour of shopping plazas to interview sleep-deprived shoppers. My feet hurt from getting stepped on by moms desperate to buy that year’s hot toy, and my ribs hurt from getting elbowed by a burly man closing in on a stack of video games.

Yeah, I hate Christmas. Years of covering holiday shopping will do that to a person.

So, like a lot of people, I was thrilled to hear that REI is boycotting Black Friday this year and wants other retailers to do the same. “We believe a life outdoors is a life well lived,” it tweeted Monday. “Retweet for inspiration to get outside on Black Friday.”

Unsurprisingly, the co-op’s online rallying cry, #OptOutside, was trending last week. “REI will be getting lots of my business for the courage to close on #BlackFriday to thank their team,” one guy tweeted. “Huge respect for REI, which will close for Black Friday and give employees a paid holiday,” another posted.

That’s great, but when did our expectations get so low that we use words like “courage” to describe a retailer that shuts down on a holiday weekend? And since when do we “respect” a company for telling its employees that they don’t have to skip Thanksgiving dinner to stock shelves? When did Americans become this crazy?

In my mind, it happened 11 years ago.

That was the first time I saw a pregnant woman – and I’m talking third trimester – get knocked down and trampled by a mob of Black Friday shoppers rushing into a Best Buy outside of Akron, Ohio. Notice I said the first time.

A close second was the brawl that broke out inside of a Coach store just south of Indianapolis. A dozen women started swinging on each other after they all tried to grab the same marked-down purse at the same time. The employees called the cops, who decided to kick everyone out. After that, only five shoppers were allowed in the store at a time.

This is what Black Friday is all about. Sure, there are cheerful mothers wearing reindeer antlers who make annual pilgrimages to Target with their daughters. But for the most part, Black Friday is consumerism at its worst.

For every scuffle you see on TV, there are a dozen more that no one stops to record because they’re too busy trying to snag that doorbuster deal.

Sadly, in the end, REI’s campaign, no matter how successful it is online, won’t do all that much. Black Friday will remain as it always has been: the kickoff to the holiday shopping season and a major day for retailers to make money.

Don’t expect Walmart to stop opening its doors at 5 a.m. and don’t expect shoppers to stop lining up at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

What the campaign may do, though, is deter retailers from going any further. Some stores already open their doors on Thanksgiving. Spare us from Warm-Up Wednesday doorbusters, will you? #OptOutside.

Erika D. Smith is associate editor of The Sacramento Bee. Email: esmith@sacbee.com; Twitter: @Erika_D_Smith

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