How to Piss Off Consumers: Kmart and Thanksgiving

kmartThere’s a natural human tendency to focus on what seems immediately important. It’s easy for businesses in retail, and the online world in general, to get disconnected at times with the broader picture of how they are perceived, especially when things are going well (or not going well, for that matter). Kmart’s recent holiday plans are a fine example.

Kmart’s Thanksgiving Day Hours

It’s unfortunate, but many businesses get stuck focusing on a way to make as much profit as possible. Sometimes they forget that there are lots of other factors to consider besides just how long the business can stay open and sell products.

I’ll admit, this news story made me incredibly happy. I’ve always believed that employees should be treated above profits, especially during the holidays, and that it makes good business sense to do so. Apparently tons of consumers on Kmart’s social media pages agree with me.

Here’s what happened in less than twenty-four hours beginning yesterday. According to Emily Jane Fox at CNN Money, Kmart announced its decision to open at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day and remain open for “41 hours straight.” Queue the social media backlash from consumers who share the same opinion I mentioned above.

Social Media Backlash

Americans really love Thanksgiving. It’s a holiday that transcends religious, cultural, national, and ethnic affiliations. To me, it’s one of the truest American holidays. We’re a strange bunch when it comes to how forward and openly thankful we are in comparison to many other cultures, but that’s part of what makes us American. Kmart’s decision struck a nerve in American consumers, and they hit back on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere.

Part of the outrage stems from the fact that last year, Kmart closed during late afternoon so its employees could spend time with their families. This year it’s a different story – 41 hours straight. One angry consumer wrote, “I realize you are a corporation and your goal is to make money…but sometimes you need to show and prove that people are important, too,” which essentially captures the motivation for many other consumers to voice their criticism.

Others called the decision “heartless,” “greedy,” “shameful,” and “disgusting.” Some even pronounced “shame on you” and claimed to never again visit their stores. Not exactly the type of social media buzz a company wants before the holidays! If you want to see more of these reactions, check out Huffington Post’s article.

Has the Damage Been Done?

In response to all of this criticism, Kmart has been informing critics and employees that, as Bill Chappell writes on NPR, it “will try to staff its stores with seasonal workers” so that its employees can have some time with their families. They’ve also said that many workers enjoy the opportunity for overtime. But, I wonder, with the speed that rumors and low-context information can spread through social media, has the damage been done for Kmart’s holiday season?

There’s a lot of valid criticism about Kmart’s decision this Thanksgiving. I think it’s deserved, and maybe the backlash will help them change their minds. It’s an important lesson regardless of the size of your business or agency. Some things are more important than profits – and consumers know it.

Imagine how different this would be if Kmart announced a family-friendly schedule and told customers the reason it would be closed for a large chunk of time during Thanksgiving was to give its employees some well-deserved time with their families. I guarantee it would have brought about a much different, and much more positive, reaction.

What do you think about Kmart’s decision? Is the criticism warranted?

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Patrick currently lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, where he is studying for a Master's Degree in Intercultural Relations. Upon graduation from Penn State in 2008, he spent two years overseas in Kyrgyzstan with the U.S. Peace Corps. While writing is currently his chosen way to put food on the table, he loves fitness and exercise, which he believes makes up for his avid computer gaming habit.

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