Memorial Day Introspection: Why Stores Leverage Consumers’ Shopping Obsession Around the Holidays

A few hours ago, I had a lovely dinner of hamburgers, hot dogs, baked beans, coleslaw, and salad.  Today was Memorial Day, a day when we remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in serving our country during times of conflict.  It’s a day full of barbecues, parades, baseball games, flag-waving…and sales.  Not just sales for cars, carpets, and mattresses, though.  

Around every conceivable store and commercial center in the United States, stores are tapping into the national pastime of consumers shelling out money, particularly on a holiday where people may not want to stay home and relax like others.  Of course, Memorial Day is not the only holiday on which this activity takes place; there’s the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Veterans Day, and I’ll just drop the bomb here – Thanksgiving.  Speaking of which, I don’t know what I’m going to write about come late November, seeing as what I’ll discuss in this post will definitely need to be restated around that time.

And what I have to say is this: I feel stores need to be closed on major national holidays.  Period.  There is no reason why stores should be open on those days, and I believe the only reasons they remain open are to maximize their profits and to cater to consumer demand.  I know what they say, “the customer is always right”, but I don’t think that’s always the case.  I feel that closing stores for major holidays would not only keep consumers from clogging major highways on days when many other people are relaxing at home, but it would improve the brand image of the retailer.

For example, take last Thanksgiving when major retailer Costco refused to open their stores on Thanksgiving Day, opting instead to open on Black Friday.  This obviously was a break from what practically every other store in the nation was doing, as some opened Thanksgiving evening, others in the middle of the day, and others at the crack of dawn.  However, as Paul Latham, Costco’s VP of Membership and Marketing, stated, “[Costco’s]  employees work especially hard during the holiday season, and we simply believe that they deserve the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with their families.  Nothing more complicated than that.”

This is an incredibly noble move from a public relations standpoint, and one to which I feel a personal connection.  It wasn’t too long ago that I was working in retail, and in the ten months I worked at the store, I had to work almost every holiday, including Christmas Eve, New Year’s Day, and Easter.  So from my experience, I can tell you that working on a holiday sucks.  But although closing on a holiday garners good media attention, from a financial standpoint, it may backfire.  Wake Forest University marketing professor Roger Beahm was quoted as saying, “There’s a PR benefit to holding out, just as there’s a PR benefit to opening early.  We know that there is a consumer backlash to this.”¹  Indeed, if a store isn’t open on a major holiday, they will lose sales whilst other stores are gaining a share of the day’s total profit from their willingness to cater to shoppers’ demands.

Still, there’s something to be said about being closed on that day.  When I was in Italy ten years ago on Easter Sunday, everything was closed.  No exceptions.  Then again, I don’t think European shoppers maintain the same demands and consumer culture as exist in America.  Also, it’s about recognizing the true worth of a holiday.  Memorial Day is a day of remembrance.  Labor Day is about giving thanks to everyone, and I mean, everyone, that works.  And Thanksgiving is about expressing gratitude for all the blessings in a person’s life, so in that way, it’s sacred.  The way I see it, if a store recognizes that both its employees and consumers should be home celebrating a holiday, and closes on that holiday as a result, it’s simply the best situation for several reasons.  Those people can stay home with their families, the stores will improve their image because they’ll be seen as sympathetic toward the needs of their publics, and the holiday can return, somewhat, to its original intention. 

After all, back in the nineteenth century when Memorial Day was first created, there were no major retailers competing for market share.  😉

 

¹ Berman, J.  (2013, November 13).  Costco, Nordstrom Refuse To Ruin Thanksgiving.  The Huffington Post.  Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/13/costco-thanksgiving_n_4262774.html.

 

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