Guest post: A Retailer’s Thoughts on Buy Nothing Day

Today’s guest post from Max is a bit outside AWH’s usual race/gender/sexuality wheelhouse, but as always, these issues are intersectional. Economic injustices like income inequality, corporate greed affect all of us, but they disproportionately impact people in marginalized communities.

Hi. My name is Max. I’m a department manager for a Fortune 500 retail company and have also been a proud Occupier since the first few days of my local occupation, just under two months ago now.

Since the Oakland General Strike, rumblings have grown steadily about a shopping strike to take place the day after Thanksgiving. The idea seems to be that if we just don’t spend money, retailers will take notice and…something. This plan has bothered me since I first heard it, and I’ve waited to see if my company would say anything about it. Up until this morning, they were oddly silent before finally releasing a brief memo to managers saying some stores ought to be aware of potential Occupy actions but that, at this time, corporate does not think it a significant concern.

In other words: they’re simply not worried.

In the retail world, a lot of stock is placed on the importance of Day After Thanksgiving traffic and its implications for the remainder of the holiday shopping season. Or at least… There used to be. Since the market crash, shopping patterns have changed and retailers study those changes diligently. Our livelihood depends on it.

One thing we’ve learned is that while people are more cautious in how they spend their money (sale shopping, spending within a budget, spending less all at once) they’re still spending. People in this country, by and large, still care a whole hell of a lot about Christmas gifts. But they’re also holding out a little longer. The last three years people have spread out their spending so it’s closer to Christmas or even earlier than Thanksgiving. Retailers respond to this by pushing the Big Window Theory, setting up Christmas displays earlier and earlier in the hopes it will encourage people to shop more before the season ends.

This means that the day after Thanksgiving isn’t quite as important as it once was. If people don’t shop, retailers are likely to interpret it based on past information: either Big Window is really working or customers are just holding out for a little later and we’ll really need to push those last four weeks. We’ll assume it’ll all roll together and balance in the end. (And to be honest? My thinking is it probably will. Only the most die hard activists will want to undertake a total ban on holiday shopping this year. Personally, I love gift-giving. It’s one reason I was drawn to retail in the first place…)

Whether or not this actually happens, however, it will not affect those at the top, in salaried positions. We’ve seen this before, WE KNOW THIS, and it’s one of the whole reasons we’re protesting: those at the top who write the checks will continue to receive their salaries unchecked and will assign their own bonuses at the end of the year.

HOWEVER.

Buy Nothing Day WILL drastically affect many people…just not the people we’re intending.

It will affect small department managers like myself who will be held accountable for why our departments saw decreases and what we’re going to do to fix business.

It will especially affect entry-level employees, the vast majority of our retail work force, who will need to be sent home early when business needs can’t support paying them.

It will affect seasonal employees who, as the bottom of the schedule, will be called out first and may even be told the job they were hired for is no longer needed.

It will affect laborers who, next year, will be paid even less for their product on the grounds that we ”had to” gouge prices this year to get people to buy, i.e. the product was just too expensive to begin with.

Buy Nothing Day will hurt exactly the people it intends to support and, more than that, it will likely be a meaningless gesture anyway.

I propose an alternative: Buy Local and Artisanal Day.

Retailers study buying habits extensively. We know when you shop our competitors and study why that might be in order to draw you back to our stores. If our stores aren’t shopped day after Thanksgiving, trust me, we’ll be looking to see where you DO shop. Rather than buying nothing now then succumbing and shopping late in the season, what impact could we make by changing our shopping habits entirely?

This has much greater potential to send a message to the top. It will force corporate heads to see that it’s not just shoppers got ”scared” or ”need more enticement” but instead, consumers are consciously making a choice to take their dollars elsewhere.

The reason this has power is it’s an unprecedented act. Boycotts are nothing new, but a mass exodus to shopping exclusively with local, recycled, and/or artisanal vendors would mark a fundamental shift in the way people shop. It would force corporations to ask WHY.

Short term it may have some of the same affects as Buy Nothing Day, but hopefully in the long run it will mean more. Additionally, shopping artisanally (especially through vendors like etsy.com) will help more of us than you realize – why do you think many of us took retail jobs in the first place? We couldn’t make ends meet as artisans.

To date, the Occupy movement has had one major, undeniable impact on the sociopolitical landscape. It has gotten people together thinking, caring, and talking about our economy who until now have been silent and complacent. It has shown us that, collectively, we still have a voice, and if we do not insist on using it those in power will do everything possible to take it away again. We cannot let that happen. We will not.

This holiday season presents a unique opportunity to speak to retailers using their favorite language: our wallets. I beg you to consider your options and make sure this opportunity does not drift by ignored or used ineffectively. Let’s make sure they hear us. Together we can, and must, BE the change we were promised.

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3 Comments on “Guest post: A Retailer’s Thoughts on Buy Nothing Day”

  1. […] idea of saying just don’t shop while it sounds great, can actually end up hurting many. I read this piece that really did a great job of explaining the downside of giving up Black Friday. In the end […]

  2. In general, I agree with you. I find the appeal of “Buy Nothing Day” in that I consider a lot of giftmas-related sales etc to be stupid distractions from real life. (See also TV)

    All that said, I do not expect to have the Friday after Thanksgiving off to GO shopping, so it’s somewhat academic for me at this point. But if I DO get it off (and I have Thursday off) it will be the first time I’ve had 2 days off in a row for months. I am NOT going to waste it by going shopping.

  3. Lindsay says:

    I also think that only buying from artisans that don’t support the big corporations is a wise thing to do. Most of my materials are recycled or rescued from friends, relatives or the local thrift store. I think that’s something to look for this season. Instead of the artisans that buy supplies exclusively at Joanns and Micheals – who are getting rich off this craft movement btw – find people who either steer clear of those stores or shop their minimally. I see a LOT of people who dye and spin their own yarn, sell vintage items or even use sustainable resources. There’s no end to what you can find. I think, if you look hard enough, you’ll find those to avoid and those to support. Good luck!


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