Did the Boycott Matter to Black Friday Retail Sales?

Holiday shopping sales were dramatically down nationwide, but economic analysts aren’t talking about the boycott sparked by the Ferguson grand jury’s refusal to indict Darren Wilson in Michael Brown’s killing.

Protesters for justice in Ferguson, Mo., and worker rights demonstrate outside Macy’s in New York City Nov. 28, 2014.
Protesters for justice in Ferguson, Mo., and worker rights demonstrate outside Macy’s in New York City Nov. 28, 2014. Yahoo screenshot

Getting in the black got a bit harder for some retailers this holiday season, thanks to everyone from the retailers themselves to nationwide protests related to Ferguson, Mo.

In figures released Sunday by the National Retail Federation, sales were down 11 percent this past Thanksgiving weekend. That’s a nearly $7 billion drop in revenue since last year—from $57.4 billion to $50.9 billion.

Why the drop? Some blame stagnant wages in our recovering economy. Others credit online retailers with edging out Black Friday. But could it also be the nationwide protests over the nonindictment of former Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson? After a grand jury did not return an indictment against Wilson in the shooting death of teen Michael Brown, activists across the nation continued protests, including #ShutItDown, a series of protests targeting major retailers, shopping malls and areas of transit throughout the U.S.

One organizer does feel that the protests had an impact on declining sales.

“Boycotting Black Friday was something we’d been pushing for a while,” said T-Dubb-O, 26, a St. Louis-based hip-hop artist and activist who participated in Black Friday protests and was at the White House on Monday with several other Ferguson-related activists. “It wasn’t just something pushed locally. … It’s something we’ve been pushing [nationally]. The fact that other communities looked up and joined that fight, I’m not surprised.”

Saying that those involved in the Black Friday protests “wanted to make a bigger impact,” T-Dubb-O also said that retailers were specifically targeted as a way to bring the plight of communities of color to those least affected by police brutality: Madison Avenue and the consumers it targets.

“This country focuses on the power of the dollar more than anything, and corporations influence a lot of policy changes,” T-Dubb-O said, adding that organizers wanted retailers to know that they could not “continue to be fed from our pockets.”

Also contributing to the decline of Black Friday? Retailers desperate for dollars who have extended Black Friday sales from one-day YouTubed waffle iron fights to weeklong sales.

Wrote Annie Lowrey for New York magazine’s Daily Intelligencer: “At Walmart, Black Friday has officially become a ‘five-day event.’ And really, this year, it has become an eight-week one. Target started pushing out its Black Friday deals on November 10, and Walmart on November 1. Stretching out the traditional Black Friday shopping window has reduced the pressure on families to shop on Black Friday itself—as evidenced by the deflation of the weekend’s sales numbers.”

But the reality that our economic bounce back isn’t being felt by all may go even further than weeklong sales and the power of protest. Matthew Shay of the National Retail Federation—which predicted a big sales season this holiday—struggled to explain the dip. The best answer he could come up with when speaking to the New York Times was, “There are a significant number of Americans out there for whom the recession is not yet over.”

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