Thoughts On the Season (Gwen Moritz Editor's Note)

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Dec. 9, 2013 12:00 am  

I’ve got a few things on my mind, none of which deserves much ink. Here goes:

• I feel sorry for the retail workers who had to work on Thanksgiving Day. Not because it’s tragic to have to work on a holiday — lots of people work on holidays. I just feel sorry for anyone who has to face the madding crowd whipped into a frenzy by the idea of shopping as contact sport and artificially induced scarcity in stuff that they probably don’t even need.

One of my newspaper friends posted a picture on Facebook of a reporter at his desk. He was wearing headphones, presumably transcribing a taped interview, one of the underappreciated miseries of our craft. The caption: “No one cries for the journalists who have to work on Thanksgiving.”

True enough. But unless a journalist is in a war zone, a holiday shift is generally pretty boring. I’d work 10 Thanksgivings in a newsroom before I’d volunteer for one Thanksgiving evening at Wal-Mart or Best Buy.

• I do regret that Thanksgiving Day has been turned into the start of the Christmas shopping season, although I suspect it’s too late to go back. That train has left the station, that genie is out of the bottle, the toothpaste is out of the tube. It’s clear that a lot of people are eager to shop on the holiday, even if I’m not.

The retail analytics firm ShopperTrak reported that sales on Black Friday were down more than 13 percent compared with last year, cannibalized by sales on Thanksgiving Day. Sales for the two-day period were actually up more than 2 percent, which is not impressive when you realize that Thanksgiving 2013 was as late as it is possible for the fourth Thursday of November to arrive.

I know that’s a hardship for retailers, who count on every day of the Christmas season in order to make the rest of the year worthwhile. The competition for the disposable dollar is frighteningly fierce, and that may never improve — not even when employment picks up and middle-class wages actually start to gain ground.

The only thing that may bring sanity to the Thanksgiving season is e-commerce. A lot of those limited-supply, door-buster deals that bring the crowds to the big-box stores were available online, often with no sales taxes and free delivery, weeks before turkey day. And more and more people are going to start realizing that.

• It really is time for online retailers to collect and remit sales taxes like the brick-and-mortar stores.

• In my heart of hearts, I don’t blame Sarah Palin for trying to make a buck while she can, and writing a book is a time-honored method for politicians. And releasing a Christmas-themed book at Christmastime is Marketing 101.

I do wish she had chosen something more original than perpetuating the ridiculous idea of a “War on Christmas.” Bill O’Reilly has been manufacturing this outrage for years — I first opined on it in this space in 2005 — and it hasn’t become any more substantive with the passing of time. But it does seem to have given certain people permission to be total jerks.

A friend of mine was at the Starbucks in the airport terminal in St. Louis last week when a woman came in and greeted the barista with a hearty “Merry Christmas!” That, my friend said, would have been nice enough if the woman had stopped there. “But instead, she turned around and announced to everyone behind her that she was proudly saying ‘Merry Christmas’ and none of that ‘Happy Holidays crap.'”



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