The Audacity of the American Consumer

Thanksgiving Day found me folding onesies in the maternity section of a large clothing store. To say that I was filled with gratitude for the futility of my task would be a broad hyperbole, but there were people lining up at the Best Buy next door and two poor policemen tasked with overseeing this line that I felt inclined to keep folding those onesies with all the vigor of a turkey roasting in the oven.

“Oh my gosh, you poor thing,” gushed a lady in line after asking me when my shift ended. “I hope you get some Thanksgiving!”

The irony of this situation prompted the simple smile and nod trick from me, because what else can one do in the face of such bold facetiousness.  Also, she did ask. I handed the customer her ironically-clad purchase over the counter and waved the next person forward.

I now feel moved to note that the first draft of this was 60% rant and 40% cynicism. I scrapped that first draft and started over in the hopes that this – my second draft – would lay relatively even claim to both sides, noting with adequate graciousness, the positive qualities of retail therapy and a good ol’fashioned bargain, but in the eloquent words of teenage girls laying claim to large scarves on the afternoon of a national holiday, I simply put: cannot even.

So what is it exactly that I “cannot even” come to terms with?

Is it the fact that people feel the immense need to line up for hours on a day that is supposed to be spent “giving thanks”?

Or perhaps it’s the injustice of working around the clock, with the vague promise of “time-and-a-half” wafting in through the rafters, tantalizingly close and yet so far removed from the reality of the situation?

Maybe it’s the coldness of corporate America that I feel so strongly at the advent of this holiday season, or better yet, my excessive use of quotation marks in the last three questions that indicate my disbelief for the audacity of the American consumer.*

Call me a Scrooge, sure. I’ll gladly be the first to don that title, but I hope that the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future come back to haunt those who stood in line for three hours on Thanksgiving Day just to buy that new TV set.  Also, these people, because that Nike Store could actually be the set of a horror movie: “Consumerism Strikes Again.”

In support of my Scrooge title, may I offer my full congratulations: you got a new TV and a bag of new clothes, and we, the employees, got time-and-a-half and no time off.

Winning is fun.

After Black Saturday and back-to-back shifts on Sunday, I finally had the chance to sit down and think about the week. I hoped, ultimately, to pinpoint a certain feeling in my gut that had nothing to do with the queasiness of excessive holiday meals or my discontent over working on the holiday. No, rather, it was the feeling that something wrong has become deeply entrenched in American mentality.

My questioning led me to a number of issues. Namely, I couldn’t decide if there is fault at hand and if so, where does the fault lie?

Is it the retailer’s fault for offering so-called competitive prices around the holidays? Is it the shopper’s fault for responding in high volume and thus furthering this mentality? Is it the idea of constantly needing more to be happy?

More is Sneaky, states the first line of a poem printed on the inside cover of REI’s Holiday Guide sent out this past week. More makes you believe you do not have what you need, it goes on. The page beside the poem shows a group of people, snuggled together in a tent in sleeping bags with the words, “All I need,” framed in white on the picture.

Last year, in a move that defied tradition in the retail industry, REI decided to close its doors on Black Friday, instead paying its 12,000 employees not to work that day and instead offering the message to its customers and employees to #OptOutside on the holiday weekend. REI repeated the move this year. I think it is such a beautiful statement and decision, and ultimately, I believe that it places the company in a respected light, thus creating more customer support, engagement, and loyalty with the company.

Jerry Stritzke, the CEO and president of REI, stated that, “As a member-owned co-op, our definition of success goes beyond money. We believe that a life lived outdoors is a life well lived and we aspire to be stewards of our great outdoors.”

He added, “We think that Black Friday has gotten out of hand and so we are choosing to invest in helping people get outside with loved ones this holiday season, over spending it in the aisles. Please join us and inspire us with your experiences. We hope to engage millions of Americans and galvanize the outdoor community to get outside.”

I could not agree more with his second sentence: that success goes beyond money.

Yes, there are more pressing issues than mass consumerism that America faces currently and must address, but one way of pinpointing the ugly side of American consumerism is illuminating it during the holiday season.

Companies that are driven by consumerism only hold little empathy for their employees. As a customer, why would you support a company that offers little respect for its employees?

As an employee, I wish to ask the corporate office why they view money as the only fundamental value in their company’s philosophy. In other words, isn’t there another way to gain customer support and loyalty than pushing for more sales on a national holiday?

Employees should have the right to have a national holiday off. Better yet, to have four days off. Four days total out of the whole year.

Thanksgiving.

Christmas Eve. Christmas.

New Year’s Day.

Five days out of 365 is not a large percentage. It’s 1.4% of the year, to be exact.

I realize that I’m coming from an ironic place myself as an employee at said unnamed clothing store, but trust me, I’m doing some serious reconsidering of what companies have my support. I would love for my work to go towards a company that I admire and respect because that company chooses to respect and empathize with everyone: customers and employees alike.

So in honor of Thanksgiving, I’m giving thanks for this experience because it has demonstrated to me the importance of transparency and honesty in company values.

We are in need of something. We need to evaluate what more equates with: money, material possessions, or time better spent – for everybody involved. I urge the latter. I don’t believe regret has ever been attached to time better spent.

 

 

Photo Credits: One, Two, Three, Four 

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