Now days, once school shopping is over Halloween takes one side of the aisles and Christmas ornaments adorn the other —an unlikely pair to share the beginning of our holiday season. Thanksgiving, which used to have its own special season, has been edged out in our department stores and has now become a grocery store holiday with food taking the center stage, as it was when the Pilgrims and Indians first celebrated together.
I miss the days when stores took their time with the holidays. Thanksgiving turkey cutouts hung from ceilings and you could find specially designed turkey serving platters and place settings, as well as some wonderfully decorative oven mitts and dish towels. Gone are the days of the beautifully ruffled aprons and table cloths featuring Thanksgiving cornucopia and fall colors.
Today Thanksgivings, the day before Black Friday, has been given little space in our department stores. Out of necessity, at his time of year retailers must gear up for the holidays sales period, which traditionally begins the day after Thanksgiving. Since the holiday period accounts for 40% of their sales and profit for the entire year, the celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday has fallen through the cracks. Much has changed in the world of retail since the greedy, predatory 80″s. However, the importance of the holiday sales period for the retail community, is nothing new. Since before the time of FDR, this holiday period has been crucial for the survival of retailers. So crucial, that in 1939, leading department store merchants convinced FDR to change Thanksgiving from the last Thursday of the month to the fourth to widen the holiday window. Why would our president make such a decision? Simple economics. Retail sales account for 70% of our economy.
The 1980’s were the epitome of greed and a time when we sadly watched some of our finest well-known department stores disappear. To survive in today’s economy, retailers much concentrate on their bottom line. This means that they may entice you to rush from your Thanksgiving dinner to sit in long lines, sometimes overnight to purchase the most covenanted of gifts. Unfortunately, when the doors open and the stampede of customers begins, seeking the same gift for their child or other relative, you may get trampled and delayed long enough to lose the very item you had your sights on. They are sold out. After an employee was trampled to death in a Walmarts last year, retailers have taken extra precautions. (Some open 24 hours, others handing out tickets for early bird specials, etc.)
Not to worry, in today’s market we have what has come to be know as Cyber Monday, for all those items you couldn’t find on Black Friday. There are numerous websites to find the gifts that the department stores just didn’t have enough of. In the past we would have taken a rain check and waited for the next shipment to the department store of our choice. Today’s market is driven by instant gratification, and in many cases rain checks are not available. It needs to be in our hands on Black Friday or ordered over the internet, next day delivery, because we no longer have the time or the patience shoppers once had. We want it, and we want it now, before someone else gets it. You have to wonder if the retailers have trained us to be such frenzied shoppers unwilling to pay full- price or did we train the retailers to cater to our new shopping habits?
Yes, Christmas and the way we shop has changed. I’ll admit I took off work and headed out at 3Am to shop with my daughter on Black Friday, which has been our tradition since she could walk. We hit malls, large and small department stores, discount stores and specialty shops. One thing that hasn’t change – the Christmas cheer. Everywhere we went people were happily purchasing the best prices they could find while Christmas carols blared loudly for our entertainment. We chatted together in line about where the best deals were, and what stores to rush off to next in our quest to find then next gift on our shopping list. Although, at the end of the day, we didn’t have everything we set out for, there was a back up plan – Cyber Monday was just a few days away.
Yes, we rush our holidays, but they still bring families and friends together, and they are a wonderful reprieved from our daily lives. Although we blame the internet for some of our ills, you have to admit when you have reached the end of the mall and can’t find that special gift, Cyber Monday is a lifesaver. So if you are ready to sit down at your key board and find the last of your Christmas shopping, there are tons of sites to choose from. While your shopping don’t forget to order your copy of “Webs of Power”. You will be giving a gift that helps explain just how our departments stores became what they are today, and characters you won’t be able to forget. Luckily, the sequel, “Twisted Webs”, will be available next year.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday!