Nov 25, 2022 - Economy

The hidden cost of Black Friday

Illustration of a small man carrying a giant holiday gift

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Black Friday chaos we used to see in storefronts and shopping malls has moved to logistics centers and warehouses all over the world:

  • Hundreds of thousands of employees work long hours — often in tough conditions — to get through the holiday rush.

The big picture: E-commerce's growing share of the retail market, continued COVID precautions and an extended holiday shopping season means we might see shorter lines and smaller crowds in stores on Black Friday.

  • But the type of strain Black Friday used to place on in-store retail workers hasn't gone away. It's simply moved out of public view.

By the numbers: In-store traffic on Black Friday last year was down a staggering 28% from pre-pandemic levels, CNBC reports.

The stakes: The barrage of holiday orders creates a surge in demand for short-term labor, said Tom Vickers, who leads the Work Futures Research Group at Nottingham Trent University.

  • "The evidence suggests that if anything things are getting worse for workers not better," Vickers said.

What they're saying: Amazon told Business Insider, ""We are proud of the great working conditions, wages and benefits, and career opportunities we provide for our associates all year round."

What to watch: Retailers are rapidly adding cutting-edge automation to warehouses. But instead of making workers' lives easier, the machines could push them to work even faster, experts say.

  • "People have to fit in with the machines," Vickers said. "But human beings are not standardized."

The bottom line: Black Friday sales are projected to hit $942 billion this year, up 6% from last year, per CBS News.

  • As consumer demand for deals and speed grows, online retailers, will continue to mobilize hundreds of thousands of workers and machines to meet that demand.

Go deeper: Amazon can't get enough human workers — so here come the robots

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