Why The Christmas Shopping Season is Worse Every Year

By Shamus Posted Sunday Nov 2, 2014

Filed under: Random 117 comments

Like all old codger stories, this one begins with the phrase, “When I was young.” I realize this is cliche, but it’s probably less annoying than using, “Before you were born” as an opening.

In any case, when I was young the Christmas shopping season began much more gradually. There was no “Black Friday” shopping blitzkrieg the day after Thanksgiving. The process took time and not everyone did it at once.

But today Halloween is over, and suddenly the Christmas decorations are out. The Christmas sales have begun. We roll our eyes. We joke. We grit our teeth. But but it still happens this way every year. People write op-eds about how ugly and consumerist America has become, because it wasn’t like this in the “Good old days.” Unfortunately our current grotesque, soul-crushing orgy of prolonged and rapacious spending was unavoidable. We all hate it, even as we participate in it. It’s nobody’s fault, really. It’s just the unintended consequence of a couple of perfectly understandable forces.

Get the Sims 2: Creepy Christmas Cult DLC now!

Let’s set aside the whole Birth-of-Jesus / religious holiday thing and agree that lots of people like to celebrate Christmas. Maybe they like the lights, or the food, or the family, or the notions of peace and harmony, but just about everyone enjoys the exchanging of presents on some level. Even if you don’t like shopping for racist Uncle Walt – who you only see every other year when he shows up to the Christmas party to complain about politics with his mouth full and drink more than his share of the booze – there’s an undeniable charm to seeing a kid’s face light up when they find a box with their dreams in it. Keeping the gift-giving to once a year ensures the proper level of delight and appreciation from the little ones. And it always feels good to get that one present for your friend that you knew they would love but would never think to buy for themselves.

Depending on what goods they sell and what statistics you believe, retailers move something like one-third to three-quarters of their yearly goods during the “Christmas shopping season”. If we split the difference and say halfYes I realize that’s not splitting the difference. But look, the numbers are all over the place. You can justify any figure you like, provided that figure is really large., then that means that half of everything you sell will be sold in the last month of the year. This creates some really annoying throughput problems. Assuming that business is evenly distributed throughout the rest of the year, it means you suddenly need your store to handle over ten times the normal monthly volume.

Stores have finite storage space. There’s only so much crap you can ram into the back area. And there’s an upper limit on how fast you can have more goods delivered, particularly if the weather is bad and everyone else is also trying to get huge volumes of stuff delivered. If you run out of goods – or if you just run low enough that it becomes inconvenient for people to shop at your store because they have a long list of stuff they want to buy and they want to make the smallest number of stops possible – then shoppers won’t want to come to your store. Losing out on a week of sales in August is worrisome. But losing out on a week of sales during the Christmas season is brutal. If Christmas accounts for half your sales, then missing a single week of Christmas sales will cost you a heart-stopping 12% of your annual income. To be clear, that’s more than the profit margins of some retail chains. Like, a 12% dip in income means you have to fire a few thousand people and maybe close some stores. And nobody wants to do that kind of stuff right after Christmas.

Ho ho ho! You see Jenny, the TRUE meaning of Christmas is that you are an avatar of rapacious consumerism!

(This is usually where people start complaining about executive salaries. Look, I understand that it’s really upsetting to some, and I can understand if you oppose huge salaries on some sort of moral grounds, but executive salaries aren’t even worth discussing here. Wal-Mart made almost half a trillion bucks last year and the CEO got 25 million. If you took all his pay away and gave it to the employees, it would add up to just $10 per person, per year. The CEO salary accounts for less than 0.0052% of the company profits. If you made every single executive put double their salary back into the company coffers, it wouldn’t increase revenue by a tenth of a percentage point. Maybe you don’t like the idea of people making twenty five million bucks for a cushy desk job, but the truth is that on the scale of global mega corporations their incomes just do not matter. So please don’t sidetrack this with stuff about salaries. Let’s just forget that for now and focus on retail throughput, which is a much more interesting problem.)

The point is: Retailers hate this as much as we do. The Christmas shopping season is rife with risk and unwanted expense. They have to hire a bunch of temp workers and pay to train them. So they’re paying more and getting lower quality work. They have to pay a premium to have huge volumes of goods delivered at a time where everyone else is also having massive goods delivered. The influx of stuff means everything is packed tighter. Goods get crushed, broken, stolen, and lost, on both a macro and micro scale. From the shipment that got left in the warehouse an extra week to the USB speakers that fell off the pallet and got crushed under the boxes of plastic Christmas lights, the uptick in volume results in a broad range of financial losses.

Retailers would love it if our business was spread evenly over the entire year. But the mess we’re in now was as inevitable as the seasons. It began innocently enough…

Early 80’s

I’m running Stuff-Mart. On the other side of the shopping plaza is my hated rival, AmeriGoods. I know that Shoppers are going to show up in December and buy tons (literally!) of goods. Now, I can order those goods in November like I normally would. However, those assholes over at AmeriGoods are going to do the same thing. Since we carry a lot of the same stuff, we’re both talking to the same wholesalers. Those wholesalers are going to crank up their prices when the demand spikes. Worse, the cost of shipping is going to also spike in November, both because gas prices always go up then and because truckers want to spend the holidays with their families. Oh, and also because AmeriGoods is shipping stuff too. Jerks.

But! I can get those same goods way, WAY cheaper if I’m willing to order them just a couple of weeks sooner. Maybe have the stuff arrive in mid November instead of early December.

It works out, and my profits go up. I pay less for the goods and I sell them for the same price. The only cost is that the back storage room of my store is kind of overstuffed for a couple of weeks.

Late 80’s

AmeriGoods has caught on to my plan and they’re ordering their stuff a couple of weeks earlier. So I have to order my stuff even sooner to stay ahead of them. After a couple of years of this we’ve got Christmas goods coming in at the tail end of Halloween. We literally don’t have room for it in storage. The best we can do is shove it out on the sales floor and maybe catch some early sales.

Early 90’s

Both my store and the filthy shysters over at AmeriGoods are both starting our big Christmas sales right after Thanksgiving. We tried moving it sooner than that, but consumers hated that. Heck, they hate seeing the stuff on the sales floor that early, so putting it on sale and advertising it just pisses them off even more.

But still. The back room is so stuffed we can barely function. I need to front-load as much shopping as possible to get us some breathing room. My plan this year is to have a huge sale right after Thanksgiving. I’ll put a couple of limited quantity loss leaders in the paper. I’m hoping two hundred people will show up looking to buy one of the VCR / television hybrids that I’m selling at a loss. I’ve only got 50 of those, but the other 150 people will probably stick around the store and do the rest of their Christmas shopping here. That should free up some space for the customers in December.

It turns out my idea worked better than I could have dreamed. I didn’t get 200 shoppers, I got a thousand. I think I’m onto something here.

Late 90’s

This whole “Day after Thanksgiving” thing has caught on. They’re calling it Black Friday now. People are expecting huge deals. If I don’t have some insane sale to draw them in, then they’ll all go to AmeriGoods and I’ll end up drowning in all this stock. I’ve already lined up my December shipments. (Just like shoppers are starting earlier every year, so am I. I have to line up deliveries way in advance, before the prices spike.) If I don’t move literal tons of goods on Black Friday, then when the December stuff arrives I won’t have room for it in the building. Then it will sit in the loading bay until it’s stolen or ruined by weather. So I have to move these goods.

Hm. You know, consumers won’t stand for the big sale before Thanksgiving, but what if I just opened early on Black Friday? It wouldn’t have to be super-early or anything. I just need to be open an hour before AmeriGoods.

Early 2000’s

I guess I should have seen this coming. We now open at 5am on Black Friday. The crowd of early shoppers is large enough to be a physical danger. The employees don’t want to be here, the shoppers say they hate it but show up anyway. The news is always parked outside getting footage of people standing in line and blaming S-Mart for this mess.

This is the same throughput problem I had in the 80’s, except now more concentrated.

Today

♪ ♫ ♬’tis the season to be jolly!♪ ♫ ♬
♪ ♫ ♬’tis the season to be jolly!♪ ♫ ♬

Before we heap blame on “evil corporations” or “dumb consumers”, we ought to note that this is actually a pretty natural result of consumer demand: People want to buy HUGE quantities of goods at the end of the year, but they don’t like doing it before Thanksgiving. This wave of shopping is so huge that a company can thrive or perish based on how well they perform. This entire mess is the result of retailers trying as hard as they can to distribute those sales as much as possible without having their competition ninja the first sales (the best ones) away right at the start.

My hope for the future is that the wave of online shopping might save us. I’m willing to bet it’s more efficient in terms of time, cost, and fuel burned to have dedicated delivery vehicles bringing stuff to our door as opposed to everyone driving to the mall, fighting over parking, and standing in line for hours to get the same stuff. (Yes, those UPS delivery trucks are fuel hogs, but if you distributed its payload among fifty cars and had them all compete for driving and parking space, my guess is that you’d end up burning a lot more fuel and a lot more hours of human time.)

Just like the rise of Black Friday didn’t happen overnight, I think the rise of online shopping will take a few years. I wonder what will happen to retailers. They’re already struggling, and even having a third of their Christmas business vanish is enough to kill some of the smaller chains. Plus there will be residual damage to secondary markets: Fast food places will make less money if there are less hungry shoppers.

Anyway. Happy Halloween. Remember: Nobody in this mess is really evil. This is not a conspiracy. We’re all victims of limitations to throughput and infrastructure. Be good to those clerks, be patient with the other shoppers, and remember that the executives don’t know how to fix this either.

EDIT: Boy howdy! I sure am glad I said, “please don’t sidetrack this with stuff about salaries.” Otherwise we might have fallen into the old Keynesian vs. Austrian economic debate tarpit. Man, that would be crazy, right?

Comments closed. Too much politics.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Yes I realize that’s not splitting the difference. But look, the numbers are all over the place. You can justify any figure you like, provided that figure is really large.



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117 thoughts on “Why The Christmas Shopping Season is Worse Every Year

  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “We all hate it, even as we participate in it. It's nobody's fault, really.”

    I disagree.I dont participate in it.But all of you that do,its your fault.Things would be much better if all of you were to follow my example.

    EDIT:And there is empirical proof that consumers are the root of all evil in this case.

    1. Shamus says:

      * That is not “empirical proof”.
      * That’s all shopping, not holiday shoppers, and thus not really part of the throughput problem I’m discussing. Even JC Penny’s “Fair Pricing” system would still have the problem of trying to get 10x the goods through the store in a month.
      * That’s not evil, it’s human nature.
      * “Just stop celebrating Christmas” is a solution in the same way that a gunshot to the head is a cure for cancer. You get no credit for smugly refusing to take part in something you don’t care about.

      Yes, it’s a bummer, but if you’re going to slap a label like EVIL on people for doing what people always do, then you’re looking to start a fight I don’t care to moderate.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        “That is not “empirical proof”.”

        That was a joke label.I know what rigor actual proof requires.

        “That's all shopping, not holiday shoppers, and thus not really part of the throughput problem I'm discussing. Even JC Penny's “Fair Pricing” system would still have the problem of trying to get 10x the goods through the store in a month.”

        Wrong part of the video.I was more talking about peoples reaction towards sales,which the video points out.If it werent for that,people wouldnt try to buy so much stuff in a single month(presents account for only portion of the sales that go on in that period).

        “That's not evil, it's human nature.”

        One could argue that human nature is evil,but thats not what I was going for.It was another joke label.

        “”Just stop celebrating Christmas” is a solution in the same way that a gunshot to the head is a cure for cancer.”

        Equating celebration of any holiday with life itself is just as wrong as labeling human nature evil.But,since I was not serious about that,Ill assume the same in your case.

        So,joking aside,Ill refine what I was originally saying,only in a serious fashion:

        Human nature relies a lot on self deception.Like the extra credits video says,buying a $20 pair of jeans for $20 is ok,but buying a $60 pair of jeans for $20 is awesome.Everyone knows(or they would know if they ever thought about it)that sales have become a lie most of the time,but they still go for them because it feels great.Even if the same exact thing is being sold for the same exact price in two stores next to each other,people will prefer to buy it from the store that has that SALE sticker on it just because that false value feels good.

        And that same principle is behind the “no ones fault” fallacy.When a bunch of people share the same amount of blame for an event,its not no ones fault,its everyones fault,yet we prefer to use the first phrase because it absolves us.Just how we like to use the “its human nature” to excuse bad things in the society and our unwillingness to try and change them.Even though countless times before we did change human nature in order to improve(on average,at least)our society.Its human nature to wage war,for example,to take from the weaker tribe in order for our tribe to prosper,yet we overcame that(somewhat)in order to start the creation of a larger,global tribe.Its human nature to take revenge when someone does us wrong,yet we made effort to establish and enforce laws that go contrary to that.Its human nature to have multiple sex partners in order to maximize the chances of spreading our genes to the next generation,yet we have also gone against that in establishing marriage.Etc,etc,etc.

        If we collectively perceive the rampant consumerism and ridiculous season sales as something bad,then its our collective fault for not trying to change it.And its not some nebulous thing that cannot be changed,it is just our human nature which can be changed,albeit not easily nor quickly.But it sure wont be changed by doing nothing other than grumbling about it.

    2. syal says:

      One thing you’re forgetting in that; JC Penney changing their practices to be less manipulative is JC Penney acknowledging they’ve been manipulating you up until that point. Folks don’t take well to that.

      1. bloodsquirrel says:

        The thing about the “manipulative” practices of department stores is that it’s a welcome manipulation. Those kind of stores are catering to people to whom the items they’re purchasing are not as important as the act of shopping, and making them feel like they got a good deal is what they’ve come into your store seeking.

        It’d be like if diamonds started selling for $2 a pop. Nobody would want them anymore, because you’ve taken all the fun out of paying way too much money for sparkly rocks.

        1. Peter H. Coffin says:

          There is a huge factor for this — One of the things I do when I’m not playing video games is that I help organize an annual cruise for a bunch (like 50-75) friends, and part of that work is keeping up with what the various cruise lines are doing. And the AMAZING AMOUNT OF WORK that people will put into saving $50 on a vacation that they’re spending $2500 on already is really stunning. They’ll research websites, they’ll set SMS alerts to watch for price changes, they’ll call and see if they can cancel reservations and rebook a half dozen times in two months. The only reason that that I can possibly line this up with the concept of “holiday” is that it must be gloriously fun, somehow, for the people that do it. And there seem to be a lot of them.

          1. Matt Downie says:

            People enjoy thinking about and anticipating holidays. Therefore, the more time they spend planning and shopping around for their holiday, the better.

        2. syal says:

          That’s the point; you can run a department store that has honest pricing, but you can’t switch over to that from one that has whimsical pricing, because your long-time customers are there for the whimsy. JC Penney decided to dump their existing customers in favor of people that didn’t shop there.

          1. Patrick the Reluctant capitalist says:

            When your an existing customers have an expiration date, and your company hasn’t done anything to develop “new” customers, drastic measures are necessary.

            That’s not to say they will work. It’s that they knew standing pat and “business as usual” would defiantly not work.

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Actually,folks adore that.Remember how people have praised bioware for just admitting that they did wrong,even though they didnt actually improve a thing in their shoddy story.Or how people were quick to forget all the dumb shit microsoft said in defense of their always on kinect just because they decided to double back on that idiocy.People love it when big companies admit to their mistakes,even if they dont do anything to improve.

        1. syal says:

          1) The entertainment consumer is a frivolous breed. I would compare them to gamblers with regard to how little they actually care about their investment. It’s all about the thrill of the moment.

          2) What would fans say if Bioware announced that every game after Baldur’s Gate was poorly written? I doubt it would go over half as well; most of their fans like what they’d be deriding. Shooting down a new idea is a lot different than shooting down an entrenched one.

          EDIT: More specifically, imagine that Bioware said their next game would have no dialogue, basing itself purely on the RPG mechanics their fans play their games for.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Not quite the same.But if they announced that something actually terrible about their games(for example,romance)was bad,and that they would improve it(say replace it with something similar to new vegas thing,or better yet alpha protocols),it would go over pretty well.

            1. Felblood says:

              As truly, horribly awful as it is, bioware romance i still some of the best videogame romance on the market, and it has some really rabid fans.

              Is there any reason for Bioware to give up those customers for the sake of a PR stunt?

            2. syal says:

              You don’t think the illusion of choice is a bad thing? So dropping all the dialogue eliminates a problem with the games by eliminating all those illusionary choices, allowing you to enjoy the game in a more honest setting.

  2. SmallIvoryKnight says:

    As someone who will be going to work at six pm on thanksgiving:
    Yuck.

  3. lostclause says:

    As a foreigner who’s always found the Black Friday thing weird, this helps it make a lot more sense. I mean it’s still crazy but at least I can now see how we got to crazy.

    1. Matt Downie says:

      So why doesn’t it happen in other countries? Apart from ‘we don’t have Thanksgiving’ I guess…

      1. Mormegil says:

        I think the thanksgiving thing may be it – it creates a convenient psychological sign post that just doesn’t exist over here.

      2. Torsten says:

        Lack of a major celebration during autumn is probably one reason. Another is that in places where christmas is celebrated, the religious aspect is holding back the consumerism side. And where it isn’t celebrated they dont have need for major sales campaigns.

        1. Cerapa says:

          In most places (in europe at least) christmas doesn’t have anything to do with religion.

        2. Felblood says:

          Actually, it’s because Charles Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol” in English.

      3. Joe Informatico says:

        They started doing it in Canada a few years ago, probably because Wal-mart, Best Buy, and Target et al are following the dictates of their American corporate parents, and Canadian retailers have to follow suit to remain competitive. But it’s not as big a deal, probably because:

        1) Our Thanksgiving is in early October, and you might start seeing Christmas stuff in stores soon after then anyway. (If it’s Michael’s or other arts & crafts stores, I can understand, because handmade stuff will take time to be ready for Christmas. But when other retailers do it, it drives me nuts.)

        2) There’s nothing particularly special about the last Friday in November on most Canadians’ calendars–it’s not remotely close to a holiday and most people are working that day, so lining up at 5 am for sales isn’t happening. We do that on Boxing Day (December 26th) instead, usually for big ticket electronic items.

        3) Our sales are usually not as great as south of the border.

        4) For years, Black Friday has been associated with mob insanity and American excess, so there might be a stigma there.

        *5) Most Canadians live within a few hours’ drive of the US border. If they’re really keen on taking advantage of Black Friday, they’re better off going south of the border anyway.

        *Edited to add this because Daimbert’s comment below reminded me of this fact.

  4. ehlijen says:

    Obvious* solutions:
    -Invent a new consumer holiday for the easter-christmas gap
    -Make easter about gift giving too
    -Institute designated breeding seasons so every birth (and thus all future birthday parties) will occurr in the june-august window
    -Move christmas in the southern hemisphere to July 25th (that is their winter, after all)
    -If everyone starts selling super early, maybe one day there’ll be profit again in ordering and selling later (because no one else is)?

    *read: impractical

    1. syal says:

      But if you make Easter about giving gifts then you’ll put all the egg farmers out of business.

      1. ehlijen says:

        I meant in addition. The chocolate industry already rewraps many Christmas leftovers for easter, might as well share the gifting aspect.

    2. Primogenitor says:

      The last one works – there is a shop I know (in the UK) that sells Xmas stuff all year round, and I assume they stock up in December/January with all the leftovers no-one else wants.

    3. kmc says:

      I’m going to nix the breeding period idea, because it sucks to be that pregnant in summer. I do like the idea of a new gift-giving holiday in between, because I bet it would turn into another day off work which that period needs.

      1. ehlijen says:

        lol I sure hope that’s not your only objection to that plan :p

        1. Joe Cool says:

          I, for one, would welcome a designated sex day.

          Other than Valentine’s day.

      2. syal says:

        I’m sure we would already have another Summer holiday if July 4th wasn’t so soon after the Solstice.

    4. Zak McKracken says:

      Slightly different solution:
      Offer a thing were ordering christmas stuff early reduces the price, but allow for delivery to be scheduled to be close to Christmas. That gives both the shop and the delivery chain more planning safety (and therefore more efficiency).

    5. ET says:

      So…couldn’t we, as a society, just encourage people to do their shopping year-round? Like, I personally bought my brother and sister-in-law’s gifts some time around August, because I saw them randomly in Canadian Tire, and on Amazon. Like, I can buy camping lanterns, socks, and the other miscellaneous items year-round. Plus, I have all year to find a good price from sales, end-of-season camping gear, etc. Am I insane for using this obvious solution?

      1. Matt Downie says:

        Bah! Humbug! The whole point of Christmas is so that we don’t have to think about other people for eleven months of the year!

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Nah,thats basically what I do.Instead of waiting for birthdays,christmases or anything else,I buy gifts for someone when I see a good gift for them.

    6. Torsten says:

      The first three points on your list, that’s Valentine’s Day

      1. ehlijen says:

        Isn’t that between Christmas and easter, still leaving that half year gap between easter and thanksgiving?

  5. Primogenitor says:

    Online shopping kind of has similar problems. Amazon’s cloud computing was the result of the capacity needed to cope with Holiday Season just idling the rest of the year.

  6. David says:

    Just chiming in to agree on the sale-distribution pattern: I have a friend who has managed a Lush in a major mall. She tells me that the Christmas sales period makes something on the high end of the annual-sales distribution you mentioned for them (because fancy bath products? Gift gold!), and basically justifies keeping the store open while making a handful of sales a day for January-through-June.

    Madness. Or, in fact, total-individual-rationality in a bad outcome of the Prisoners Dilemma kind of way.

    1. Ingvar M says:

      There’s a similar pattern in (at least some) tourist areas, where the majority of sales are done in June and July. Fair enough, it’s two months, rather than, what, month-and-a-half, but a frightening amount of the business is done in that period.

      For a bar or restaurant (that’s open year-round) in the one tourist-income-dominated place I know of, you’re looking at about 80% of the annual income being done in those months. And about half of the establishments open late May and close down tail-end of August, because being open longer isn’t cost-effective.

      I can almost see stores being open just for Halloween/TurkeyDay/xmas sales.

      1. Felblood says:

        There are actually a lot of Halloween stores that just pop up in whatever stripmall spaces are available to rent, for the month-or-so prior to Halloween.

    2. Patrick the Reluctant capitalist says:

      The reality of most (that word is key, MOST) reatilers is that a large chunk of their SALES occurs at other times during the year, depends on their type of retail, but a substantial amount of their margin comes in the final 2 months of the year.

      Christmas sales (again, depending on type of retailer) can make or break a company, profit wise.

      Additionally, since the vast majority of products sold during the season are purchased a YEAR ahead of time, the company HAS TO SELL them. It projects what will be hot/fashionable 12 months before they even hit the shelf. If you guess wrong…

      This also ties into the pressure put on a manufacturer/designer/programmer. As it relates to this blog, it’s why there is such a crush on development teams to get games done before Oct Xth/November Xst or whatever. Publishers have already SOLD X number of units to every retailer in the country far, far in advance. Some retailers pay a premium to get more units than another, other depend on the traffic those units bring to sell other products that they also paid for in advance, like console systems and accessories. Gamestop for example, increases the number of X-Box they have on the shelf for the newest Bro-shooter. If that game is 2 weeks overdue…that means those extra units are also, just sitting there. Guarantees that those games will be on the shelf by Oct. Xth is written into the agreement when the order is placed a year ahead of time. Penalties exist for both parties. It’s why that game MUST be on time….even if it isn’t ready.

      It’s all related. It’s all connected. It’s how a simple flu-bug among a small team of programmers 6 months before release could bring down a company. This scenario exists for people that make software, design jeans, make cell phones…..it’s all connected.

  7. Kavonde says:

    I am so, so very glad to be out of retail.

  8. Jez says:

    With regards to the CEO salaries you mentioned, I think part of the problem that people have with them is that one often reads about executives or board members reaping large bonuses, even in cases where the company itself was making losses or laying off lots of employees.

    Or even if the company is making profits, if the bonuses are tied to quarterly or yearly profit levels, it encourages those in charge to pursue the absolute shortest-term business strategies they can, once again at the expense of employees.

    And while the executive salaries may only make up a fraction of revenue for the whole company, the wage disparity between employees and executives has grown pretty massively.

    Do people even get paid extra for working on Thanksgiving anymore?

    1. Not to mention that several megacorps have finally started acknowledging that the salaries paid to workers are a huge part of the problem. In case one isn’t aware, they’re way too low.

      Naturally, those admitting this aren’t doing so because they horror at poverty or the things families must do to make ends meet. They’ve realized that by eroding what used to be a living wage, stagnating take-home pay, benefits, etc. for decades, the consumers they relied upon for their bottom lines can’t support the consumer-based economy their businesses rely on.

      None of them seem willing to start raising wages, naturally. I’m sure Burger King thinks Wal-Mart needs to do more first, and Wal-Mart would rather wait until McDonald’s took the plunge, and so on.

      This doesn’t even get into other huge problems like continually falling taxes for corporations (that’s the loopholes, not the 30% or so tax people like to trot out), their ability to influence legislation, etc.

      1. krellen says:

        Wal-Mart has to go first. There is no other possible solution. As the single entity with the largest workforce out of the bunch (and the largest private workforce period), systematic change will never happen unless they do it first.

        Unfortunately, this would require Wal-Mart to take a fairly stiff hit to their profits for at least several quarters, and there is no way any publicly traded company in the US would ever do that.

        1. Peter H. Coffin says:

          Walmart’s go a further disincentive to be first, and that is that paying their employees more money means that their employees could afford to shop for housewares, food, furniture and clothing someplace other than Walmart, which means one of the larger segments of their customer base risks vanishing.

          Presuming that there is anyplace else to shop where those employees live, at least.

        2. Veylon says:

          I hate to say this – as someone who works at Wal-Mart and would gladly take a raise – but they only make up a fraction of total retail sales. If they raise wages, they need to raise revenue to pay for it and that means raising prices. Which then drives customers away to any of a dozen other big box retailers. My store, for instance, has a Target, a K-Mart, and a Shopko within a mile or so. Not to mention Office Max, Best Buy, Menards (becoming more retail-ly by the day!), and Hobby Lobby in the same radius.

          Which is why I feel this has to be some sort of government thing which we agree upon as a society and enact through the usual legal channels. If the big W does the right thing all on their lonesome, they risk taking a tumble.

          1. krellen says:

            No, Wal-Mart does not HAVE to raise their prices to raise their employees’ salaries. They would HAVE to take a hit to their profits to do it. I would wager that Wal-Mart could easily afford the hit, but that their shareholders (especially the Waltons, whose votes are all that matter) would not approve of their own pay cut.

            1. Patrick the Reluctant capitalist says:

              Taking a hit in profits (margin) isn’t just something a company can do. Everything on this scale his a ripple effect.

              The % of margin is compared to several other stats (like overall merchandise turnover) that large banks (think AIG big) look at when lending money. Almost ALL purchases Wal-Mart and others this size make are not bought with cash, but credit. Theonly cash transactions for retailers this size are for local purchases, like gardening plants and groceries. Cutting margin lowers key metrics across the board, meaning your purchasing power is reduced, meaning lower in-stock position, which directly affects future sales, lowering margins even further….one particularly bad winter with harsh weather could doom an entire franchise. Remember how bad last winter was? Have you heard that Sears and Kmart are teetering on extinction? Because the numbers are so fine, so precise, that if you cut them too close one snow storm can bankrupt your whole company, even one as big as Wal-Mart.

              It’s all related. It’s international business with numbers that barely look real to the normal person.

          2. DaveMc says:

            Some sort of “minimum wage”, you might say.

          3. Patrick the Reluctant capitalist says:

            The government does NOT need involved. That’s the LAST thing workers need.

            Unlike most other countries in the world, Americans have the privilege of forming labor unions. It’s the thing that saved the American worker from the Carnegie’s and Morgan’s 100 years ago, and it’s what will save them from Wal-Mart now.

            The US government is barely capable of managing it own business, much less anyone elses. It’s butchered and mangled every single program they have enacted in the last 50 years. Asking them to intervene on behalf of a lazy workforce that doesn’t want to put forth the effort to defend their own best interests is the very definition of modern day American laziness and sense of entitlement.

            Nobody is forcing anyone, to work anywhere, for any wage. You want to make more? Go find someone else that pays a better wage. Or learn a skill that pays more. Or maybe,just maybe, get over the idea that the basic American lifestyle MUST include cable TV, name brand clothing, the latest I-Phone, big screen TV, blah blah blah….

      2. Joshua says:

        Sounds like your classic prisoner’s dilemma.

        It’s not just companies paying low wages to American (or whoever) workers, it’s outsourcing to save money. If this were to keep up perpetually, eventually no one in the country would be able to afford our own products, because almost everyone would be unemployed or make too little to afford things.

      3. Ivan says:

        “Companies are required by law to list all possible risks to their businesses in their 10-K, so you’ll find all kinds of worries in the filings.” (Quoted from the article)

        Does this include asteroids…?

      4. Joe Informatico says:

        So it’s taken them 30 years to figure out what Henry Ford knew a century ago?

        1. Patrick the Reluctant capitalist says:

          And what James Madison knew 100 years before him.

      5. Xapi says:

        I once heard a Keynesian economist explain in the simplest terms the solution that corporations have found to this problem (not a verbatim quote):

        “Credit (as in consumer debt) is the tool the corporations have found to sustain large volumes of sales without actually altering the distribution of wealth.”

    2. (not really a reply to anything, but sine CEO and salaries was mentioned…)

      If one compare the CEO wage to the wage of the poor smuck working the register or stocking the shelves or cleaning up after the shoppers the disparity is huge.

      Payout vs Actual work load/type done is hugely disproportionate.
      A floor worker may risk injuring their back, a mine worker may risk their life, but a CEO is payed many times more than their actual work, add to that free company car, jet, paid expenses and it makes you wonder who makes up these numbers, oh wait it’s the CEO (and Execs/board) obviously.

      Now one might say that a CEO has much more responsibilities, yeah, but cutting costs/wages and then giving yourself a bonus or not cutting your own wage is bordering on criminal behavior IMO.
      Also consider jobs like that of Firemen/Police/Ambulance drivers/Health workers, their salaries are really low yet they hold peoples lives in their hands, and IMO have much more responsibilities than a CEO, heck a CEO is dependent on those low paid workers and not the other way around.

      Why isn’t there a checks and balances rule on salaries such that the smallest wage and the highest wage must be within x % apart.
      That way a CEO getting an increase in salary would also mean a increase in floor worker salary (or vice versa).

      Rampant capitalism is basically a pyramid scheme (everything below carries the top). The opposite would be a upside-down pyramid but such a economic structure does not exist (in practice at least). Socialism and Communism all use the same pyramid scheme as Capitalism.

      The ideal utopian solution would be a flat line, where everyone are paid the same base wage, and are then paid a bonus based on amount of work done the load of the work, and the hazard level of the work, skill rarity and so on.
      This means that a space station engineer, or deep sea diver or high power line worker or a full-time deployed soldier would be very well paid for example.

      Though on the other end of the spectrum are cash registers workers, if you ignore potential crazies and the odd robbery bleeping the groceries is hardly a high skill or rare skill job. It does however bring a rather high repetitive strain/injurity potential just like assembly line work and should be paid accordingly to compensate for that.

      The whole financial system is completely out of whack in the world, and that pyramid is growing taller, but at one point the stones at the bottom will start turning porous, and when that pyramid collapses it ain’t gonna be pretty.

      1. syal says:

        “heck a CEO is dependent on those low paid workers and not the other way around.”

        If they actually aren’t dependent on the CEO they shouldn’t be working for them.

      2. Retsam says:

        “… everyone are paid the same base wage, and are then paid a bonus based on amount of work done the load of the work, and the hazard level of the work, skill rarity and so on.”

        People who rail against CEO wages don’t seem to get the reason they’re paid that much: it’s not just “greed” it’s because the ability to successfully run a company is an incredibly SUPER valuable skill.

        Taken on the whole, your workers productivity matters, but at an individual level, it really doesn’t. A single non-productive worker, or a single super-productive worker isn’t going to make or break a multi-million dollar company. An effective vs. ineffective CEO? That can mean the difference of many millions of dollars of profit or loss.

        That’s why companies are willing to put out such massive money to try to get a good CEO; because having a bad or mediocre CEO is going to cost a company FAR more in the long run, than any amount they pay them in wages. (Again, a couple hundred thousand dollars is nothing to a big company)

        At the end of the day, the fact that CEO’s get paid millions doesn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, any more than the idea that professional athletes get paid exorbitant amounts of money for their ability to put a ball in a net, or a hole, or across a line, does; but it’s just how it works; and it’s really not the corrupt terrible system people make it out to be. (Not that there isn’t corruption in business, but high CEO salaries aren’t it)

        1. bloodsquirrel says:

          “Rampant capitalism is basically a pyramid scheme (everything below carries the top).”

          No it isn’t. A pyramid scheme, by definition, does not produce anything. The US economy is actually exactly the opposite: those at the top are bringing in production that is done elsewhere in the world and the rest of the economy is based around servicing them.

          The increasing wage gap is not a result of “rampant capitalism”, it’s the long-term result of creating a business environment where companies don’t want to operate in the US if they don’t have to, leading to little need to compete for workers with higher wages. Service-based jobs have survived, since they’re location dependent, but there’s only so much need for them, and a lot of them are low-skill jobs where an individual can’t do much to justify paying him a higher wage over someone else.

      3. Veylon says:

        The CEO is just another employee. They can be canned and tossed out the door just like the janitor. In the world of EVIL they’re like the slave labor camp commandant. They may seem like God to the slave labor peons assembling widgets for the war in freezing temperatures on starvation rations, but they still answer to Der Fuhrer and his political court. Who, in this EVIL analogy, would be the owners. If the camp commandant starts running up the bills on real bread that isn’t made with sawdust and coal to warm up the barracks and other luxuries, he’ll get the boot pretty darn quick.

        You think the CEO a lot of money makes a lot of money? It’s the Waltons, who own Wal-Mart, who really reap the profits.

      4. Patrick the Reluctant capitalist says:

        Capitalism is supposed to be, supposed to be, a self balancing system.

        In theory, in theory, companies that fail to consistently produce a better product/service or larger income/margins is supplanted by someone who can. Old ideas replaced by new, new business models replacing old paradigms, ect….

        The global economy has thrown both traditional capitalism AND communism for a loop. Neither the US (last bastion of capitalism) or China (largest “communist” market) actually run a pure version of either one. Both China and the US operate hybrid economies that borrow philosophies from each other. Part of this is due to the close relationship they have, and there needs to be some common language. E-commerce is further blurring these lines.

        With Alibaba going public the day when the US consumer will be able to directly connect to a Chinese factory is even closer.

        Basically, poorly run or poorly managed corporations aren’t being swallowed or eliminated, merely replaced with another version(s) under a different banner.

        Failure, and the fear of it, is what keeps capitalism in line. It’s the whet stone. When failure is removed as a possibility (See: They’re to big to fail!) the checks and balances that you elude to are effectively removed.

    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

      “With regards to the CEO salaries you mentioned, I think part of the problem that people have with them is that one often reads about executives or board members reaping large bonuses, even in cases where the company itself was making losses or laying off lots of employees.”

      That is correct.One would expect that when a company does bad,its the top management that is to blame,and they are the first to get a cut in salary/being replaced by someone else.I mean,that kind of responsibility is what they are given the huge salary in the first place.But somewhere down the line this got warped,and they have more job security and less responsibility,which makes no sense.

      1. Patrick the Reluctant capitalist says:

        The CEO answers to the Board. The Board answers to shareholders. Shareholders only care about their stock value.

        When stock loss is mitigated through government interference (See: They’re to big to fail) then the whole thing falls apart. If the company can’t be allowed to suffer consequences, then essentially there aren’t any.

  9. Corpital says:

    It makes sense, I guess. Seeing all this Christmas stuff in shops here in the Europes still confuses me, especially as early as mid-September.

    1. DrMcCoy says:

      Aldi Nord in Germany had Christmas candy, gingerbread and all that jazz in the last week of August this year.

      1. Zak McKracken says:

        Yeah, the sweets situation is crazy and has been for some time: The factories making chocolate Santas start making them precisely at Easter, then switch to Chocolate Easter bunnies _before_ Christmas (because there’s less time to make those). The makers of the less expensive ones never change, they just make universal shapes that can be interpreted as either, depending on what you wrap them in.

        Just makes most sense: Who would run a factory that runs at 150% for 4 months per year and then has almost nothing to do for the rest? Luckily, chocolate doesn’t spoil so fast.

        I personally avoid Christmas-y stuff before December (or else I have enough of it by the time it’s actually Christmas) but that only increases the problem for the stores … oh well, there are still enough people who can use the money from some seasonal work…

      2. ehlijen says:

        Germany doesn’t really have Thanksgiving or Halloween as a big thing, so there wouldn’t be any similarly defined ‘before this point is silly’ line in the sand as to when Christmas sales become acceptable.

        The only holiday that involves any shopping between easter and Christmas is St Nikolaus day,which is comparatively small, in December and pretty much just a Christmas spinoff.

      3. That’s the nice thing about fruitcakes. They made all we’ll ever need in 1985, and they just keep recirculating the things.

      4. Corpital says:

        Huh. I guess I’m lucky then, that my Aldi Sà¼d waited till the first week of September. Anyway, I can understand it with Aldi: they can cut down on their weekly specials by half and just store their sweets there for a few months.

      5. Mark says:

        That’s awful. But the solution is obvious: you guys need to have Thanksgiving too.

        Don’t worry, it’s a pretty fabulous holiday, you’ll love it (other than all the crowding in airports.)

        1. Matt Downie says:

          Not being American, we have nothing to be thankful for. Also, while Thanksgiving dinner sounds nice, it’s pretty similar to what we already eat at Christmas, and would make Christmas dinner seem less special.
          So what we need is something different, like a Complaining Day, where we take turns telling everyone our problems, and then eat a mountain of sushi.

          1. Ivan says:

            “Not being American, we have nothing to be thankful for.”

            Damn man, I’m sorry.

            Hey! Tell you what, send me your address and I’ll mail you a box of freedom.

            1. Patrick the Reluctant capitalist says:

              Contrary to what most people are taught, freedom is not an American product, nor are we the sole owner of it. Lots of countries are “free”.

              Depending on your definition, some countries have more of it than we do.

              1. syal says:

                Ours tastes better though, as long as you get it while it’s still fresh. Don’t refrigerate that freedom, Matt!

  10. Daimbert says:

    Well, part of the driving force behind the “Black Friday” issue is that your Thanksgiving is close to the Christmas shopping season AND is on a Thursday, which encourages people to use vacation time to take the Friday off as well. But since you spend the Thursday with family, there’s absolutely no guilt in going off and spending that day shopping, and, hey, Christmas IS coming after all. The Boxing Day rushes are kinda the same way.

    Canada doesn’t have that problem at all after its Thanksgiving … but oddly enough is now picking up the Black Friday deal because of competition from across border shopping trips.

    Also, the end of November is about the time when most people are willing to start thinking about Christmas shopping, so you can’t really move it earlier by much. That being said, people DO tend to think holiday to holiday, so Thanksgiving being there, again, doesn’t help. Most people will be focusing on Thanksgiving and getting ready for that and so aren’t ready to think about Christmas yet. This would mean that online sales won’t help spreading the Christmas and Christmas present type things out any further. Especially since if you’re shopping for kids you definitely want to leave some time for them to decide that the thing they couldn’t live without isn’t what they want anymore …

  11. Steve C says:

    Everything you said makes sense with one exception: If it were truly a natural business logistics/throughput problem that it would apply evenly across all western countries. Except it doesn’t. The Christmas Shopping issue is far more pronounced in the USA. The rest of the world doesn’t have Black Friday or even Thanksgiving.

    If everything was even, a month of sales would account for 8.33% of annual sales (1/12). In Canada, December accounts for 11%-12% of annual sales and the slowest month (Jan) accounts for 6%. So Christmas shopping is 50% more than the theoretical average month and a 100% more than the slowest month. So there’s a noticeable and pronounced effect but it’s still not like it is in the USA.

    Canada is an exceptionally good comparison country for this effect. Many of the same companies. Many of the same ads. Many of the same distribution networks. Plenty of cross border retail purchases online. And plenty of people watching US TV etc. And still Canada doesn’t go nuts for Christmas shopping like the USA.

    There’s something much more inherent in US culture that intensifies Christmas Shopping. Something not explained by the natural progression Shamus has laid out.

    1. BeardedDork says:

      Fair point, It is likely a combination of the aforementioned throughput problem, combined with a culture that practically deifies (occassionally almost literally) consumerism and the “free market”.

    2. syal says:

      …is that with a comparable annual income?

      1. Patrick the Reluctant capitalist says:

        *DING DING DING

        (Though the exact answer would have been comparable annual disposable income.)

    3. Zak McKracken says:

      Living on the other side of the big pond, I’d say that the mechanism Shamus describes does apply here as well, though not as badly as it seems to in the US.
      There’s no “Black Friday” here, and most of the Christmas madness does happen in the few days before Christmas, with the last-minute shopping.

      Maybe the amount of stuff that people are buying for Christmas is less here compared to what they buy for birthdays or for other opportunities (or without) during the rest of the year?

      Christmas stuff has been in stores here for more than a month now, but it’s not very prominent (yet), rather phasing in slowly.

    4. Mephane says:

      Well here in Germany, Halloween is still a niche holiday, and thus there exists no concept of a “Black Friday” and thus this progression of every-earlier Christmas sales is still ongoing unhindered. I guess the limit over here might be Easter.

    5. Sijov says:

      I find it really interesting that Canada is so different to the US. In New Zealand, the big shopping time isn’t actually before Christmas, but after it, with large Boxing Day sales running from the 26th to the 28th, right in time for the New Years sales to start on the 29th. This was almost certainly started from a couple of bad years when sales were down, so there were ridiculous loss leaders just after Christmas (or maybe NZ has more of a gift voucher culture), which has gone down the vicious cycle in much the same way the US has with Black Friday.

      Amusingly, this has reached the point where the Boxing Day sales start a day or two before Christmas itself, as people opt to give gifts after Christmas itself to take advantage of the good specials.

      1. SmileyFace says:

        A-hah, the answer to the Canada issue is probably Boxing Day, we have it here as well, but the Americans don’t because it originated as a British bank holiday. I suspect a lot of people shop for gifts earlier, probably around Black Friday now that those sales are migrating here, then shop for themselves on Boxing Day. I buy gifts for others whenever, probably because Black Friday’s fairly new here, but we’ve had Boxing Day forever, and I always go out on the 26th to buy all the books and video games I’ve put off buying until a sale came up.

        As for the online retail thing, I can say from experience that in terms of books, it is ludicrously cheaper for me to order them shipped to my door than for me to walk into a store and buy one. I just bought and had delivered GRRM’s World of Ice and Fire and Patrick Rothfuss’ Slow Regard of Silent Things for $42, rather than the $70+ I would have had to pay for walking into the physical retail outlet. Same company too. Ludicrous.

    6. Henson says:

      I was under the impression Canadians drove to the States to do their major shopping. We get quite a lot of them here in upstate New York.

      1. SmileyFace says:

        Many do, historically we’ve liked to drive down and take advantage of when you guys have Black Friday sales. To counter that, many Canadian retailers have started doing Black Friday Sales of their own, despite the fact that Canadian Thanksgiving is around a month earlier than American Thanksgiving, so Black Friday really is just “Buy your stuff here day”.

    7. Moridin says:

      I don’t know about INTENSITY, but here in Finland retailers started putting up Christmas-related things late October.

  12. Warrax says:

    It finally makes sense. All this holiday-consumer madness can be traced directly back to cheap TV/VCR combos. I always knew they were rotten, but I never before realized they were actually evil.

  13. Amarsir says:

    Now let’s also layer on the issue of fads. Every toy company would like to have the latest-and-greatest. But manufacturing a million of something that flops will bankrupt even the biggest players. So they make medium-small amounts while trying to promote sales the best they can. And every store that carries them is doing the same.

    So now your throughput problem not only compresses the sales to a tight period, it also delays the manufacturing until after sales are proven. This means lines outside the shipping docks on days when the stores get their deliveries, for a mini-Black Friday experience that repeats 1-2 times per week.

  14. Zak McKracken says:

    “when I was young the Christmas shopping season began much more gradually.”

    You know? Technically, you are still Young, and will stay so.
    (SCNR)

  15. Phantos says:

    A sick part of me wonders if maybe spreading the Christmas Shopping thing EVEN FARTHER BACK might be the solution. Maybe encouraging some people to get that out of the way in October might mean fewer people to tackle in the Wal-Mart aisles in December?

    Or maybe this really is just the natural outcome to an increasing population with some disposable income.

    Nonetheless, I don’t participate in Black Friday just on moral grounds. I’ve actually found inspiration for the villains in a novel I’m working on based on the horror stories I’ve heard of the destructive selfishness of customers in Black Friday checkout lines.

    1. Veylon says:

      Considering that Black Friday starts on Thanksgiving now, I totally expect Christmas shopping to spread further backwards with the only limit being the amount bled off by the internet.

  16. ehlijen says:

    I’m wondering, how do gift certificates (and the apparently inevitable returns madness) figure into this?

    As an aside, I think gift certificates ruin the fun of gift giving (the bit where you forge personal connections by trying to guess what your friends and family want), but how would they affect this scenario?

    All the actual shopping for goods would be moved till after the holiday; all you need before hand is a piece of paper/cardboard/plastic and someone to sell it. You’d still need the staff and there’d still be plenty of people, but would it let you save on storage needs? Or do you, in order to have stuff for people to trade the certificates for on boxing day, need to shop just as early? Do certificates exacerbate or alleviate the problem?

  17. Mersadeon says:

    I really wonder, though, why that problem didn’t become that extreme in other places. Maybe because Halloween isn’t really celebrated as much? I mean, we get early Christmas stuff and every year we complain that the Christmas stuff is out earlier, but the Black Friday thing is completely unheard of – we just have every news channel making a thing about it going “wow those Americans sure are capitalists, amirite?”.

    1. Patrick the Reluctant capitalist says:

      Cultural isolation has a way of magnifying cultural behaviors. That’s not just an American capitalist phenomenon, it’s true since there became more than one culture separated by water/mountains/whatever.

      In some countries it has created unique languages or religions. In the US it has made us absurdly materialistic.

      The ridiculous amount of household disposable income helps, too.

  18. Groboclown says:

    One problem with this story. U.S. Thanksgiving (nod to our Canadian friends) has been the beginning of the holiday shopping season for a long, long time. This even goes back to before World War 2 – FDR tried moving the day of Thanksgiving to give U.S. retailers another week of Christmas shopping. It didn’t really change the number of sales, but note that it was still considered the start of the Christmas shopping season.

    1. Hitch says:

      Yeah. It’s not really new, it’s just blown up a lot in the last few decades. But America has a long-standing tradition of a “Christmas Shopping Season.” When I was a kid (oh, so long ago), there weren’t the massive Black Friday sales, but around Thanksgiving stores would start posting a countdown of “25 (24,23,…) shopping days until Christmas” in their stores and advertising fliers.

  19. Anonymous says:

    If online shopping was going to save anything, I think it would have happened already. Amazon’s been around for well over a decade and black friday hasn’t gotten any better.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Online shopping was unwieldy for a long time,and its still settling into the groove.

    2. Patrick the Reluctant capitalist says:

      Alibaba. Its the Chinese version of Amazon…sort of. Its not quite as user friendly or offer the same products, but it will.

      It will be the link between the American consumer and the Chinese factory. Imagine what happens if/when Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Amazon (See: The Middle men) are eliminated.

  20. Jonathan says:

    I’m in the transportation industry, although not retail.
    It’s “pallet” as in a wood or plastic forkliftable container for shipping goods in bulk; not “palette” as in a selection of colors for drawing or painting.

    1. Shamus says:

      Thanks. Fixed.

  21. Joshua says:

    Plus add in the fact that a number of people are getting their Christmas bonuses, whether it’s fifty, several hundred, or several thousand dollars in the week or two just before Christmas.

  22. Joshua says:

    “Wal-Mart made almost half a trillion bucks last year and the CEO got 25 million. If you took all his pay away and gave it to the employees, it would add up to just $10 per person, per year. The CEO salary accounts for less than 0.0052% of the company profits.”

    I think you meant to say company revenue or sales, not profits. Profits (as shown below), were a much more modest $16 billion. Still only .16% there, but a huge difference between sales and profits.

    Fiscal 2014 results

    Consolidated net sales for the year were $473.1 billion……Consolidated net income attributable to Walmart was $16.0 billion

    1. bloodsquirrel says:

      Well, you should be comparing it to revenue, as it’s an expense that has to be paid before there are profits.

      1. Matt Downie says:

        The comparisons seem about equally relevant. If you were making $25 million profit on $25 billion sales, and the CEO wants a $25 million pay rise, that is either a tiny proportion of your revenue, or ALL of your profits.

        The thing that should matter to an investor is, will increasing the CEO salary somehow pay for itself? The thing that should matter most to society as a whole is, where are those $16 billion of profits going?

        1. Incunabulum says:

          It shouldn’t matter to society as a whole at all.

          The value to society that a company provides is in the goods and services it provides – not with the money it makes.

  23. Allen Gould says:

    While I can follow that argument, that doesn’t change the fact that my local WalGet (or TarMart?) is in Holiday mode 24/7/365. At some points in the year they’re advertising multiple holidays ahead. Christmas stuff started showing up before Thanksgiving *or* Hallowe’en. My daughter freaked out because the Back To School sales popped in June – she was still *in* school, for Pete’s sake. We’ve started joking that the stores are starting so far in advance, this is actually sales for Christmas 2015.

  24. Jeff says:

    A little number clarification/correction for you – yes, Walmart made almost half a trillion dollars in REVENUE in FY2014 but they “only” made about $16.02 billion in profit (e.g. net income – see here).

    So the CEO compensation of $25 million is equal to about 0.1561% of their profit, not 0.0052%. Still a relatively small portion of the pie – but about 30x more than you said originally.

    Still, if one wants to look at wealth distribution issues, one would do much better to look at the Walton family, not Walmart’s CEO – I don’t have current numbers, but as of 2010, the Waltons had a collective wealth equal to the that of the the bottom 41.5% of US families combined. source

    1. Incunabulum says:

      If wealth redistribution is a concern of yours, keep in mod that you are likely in the top 60% of earners worldwide.

      1. krellen says:

        Compared globally, my apartment has interior walls and doors. I live in a freakin’ mansion, on a global scale.

        But the world can actually afford to have everyone live to the standards I do (or the standard I was living in for the past year, anyway). Taking purchasing parity into account, global per capita income is about $12K a year, which is pretty much what my living expenses are.

        So yeah, I live in a mansion comparatively, but it’s a mansion everyone else should also be able to afford.

      2. Xapi says:

        So?

        Someone has to be in the top X%, when someone talks about distribution, the problem isn’t that inequality as a concept exists (otherwise they’d be talking about comunism), but that the gap is so big.

  25. mookers says:

    I hate to say it, but you’re still Young.

    (runs away)

  26. Dragmire says:

    I’m told we ordered $100,000 in chocolate this year for the Christmas season. The bulk purchase brought the cost down a bit though so we got more for that amount than we otherwise would. Our backroom can’t take it so we rent a large storage bin to store it outside for this season. We’re not even that large of a store.

  27. Incunabulum says:

    To be nitpickpy – according to the link you posted, Walmart increased *net sales* to almost half a trillion. That’s *turnover*, not profit.

    Net sales are how much they sold “. . . after the deduction of returns, allowances for damaged or missing goods and any discounts allowed”.

    Their *net profit* (ie, how much they actually made after taxes and operating costs) is usually 3-4% of that half trillion.

    And I probably should have read *all* the comments before posting this, as others have already pointed this out.

  28. Vermander says:

    I tend to think of “presents” as something someone “wants” rather than “needs”. Helping out someone in need falls into a different category for me than buying Christmas presents. We’ve done things like buy new winter coats or kids toys for people we know can’t afford them, and it makes us feel good, but I generally prefer to do that stuff semi-anonymously. I’d feel really akward making them unwrap it and try it on in front of me on Christmas morning.

    That’s part of the reason why it’s so hard to buy gifts for adults. Little kids can’t buy the things they want themselves, but adults can. It’s wierd to ask another adult to purchase something for you.

    My family and my wife’s have both settled on a policy of focusing on mostly buying gifts for the kids. Adults in our family generally don’t buy gifts for each other except for small humerous or novelty items. Our parents still insist on buying something for their adult children, but we usually convince them to do something like buy us a family membership to the zoo for one year.

  29. newdarkcloud says:

    It’s strange for Shamus to say, “when I was young.” After all, he’s always been Young.

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