A Neuroscientist's Plea To US Retailers
Dr. Tedd Roberts generally approves of commerce and enterprise. He is however disturbed by the ever-earlier opening trend on Black Friday:
The frank truth is that lack of sleep produces many of the same mental effects as being drunk or high, and Black Friday will be staffed by employees operating on too little sleep. The busiest retail day of the year is also the day when clerks and shoppers both are at the greatest risk of making serious judgmental errors at potentially high costs.
The factors that could lead to serious lapses in judgment include:
- Sudden shift from working during the day to working during normal sleep hours.
- Long work hours
- Difficulty in sleeping during the day
Many stores are opening at very early hours on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Shops which normally open at 8, 9 or 10 AM will open at Midnight, 3 or 4 AM. The employees will have to report to work 5-8 hrs early than normal, in fact, they will start work during the times of the day when they are usually asleep and all bodily functions are at a minimum. It is as if they had suddenly traveled from the U.S. to Europe, with all of the symptoms of jet lag, without the elapsed time.
After quoting some studies, he asserts that:
When sleep deprived, it is difficult to form and use short term memory - such as ringing sales and making change. It is also difficult to make critical decisions, such as identifying shoplifters or when to allow exceptions to sale terms.
Essentially, people who are sleep deprived show many of the same impairments of a person with a legally impaired blood alcohol level even though they do not show the same physical effects [Citek at al., Journal of Forensic Science, September 2011, volume 56, number 5, pages 1170-1179]. While factories, shops and offices that normally operate evening and night shifts have employees who are accustomed to working in the dark hours of the morning, most retail employees (and shoppers) are not. Thus, not only are your employees working impaired, your customers are shopping and driving while impaired. The increase in traffic incidents and police responses on Black Friday is commonly attributed to the size of the crowds, however, the increasing trend of early opening and sleep-deprived public has to be be compounding the problem.
While I don't think he has any chance at all of being heard, not in a year when retailers are being simultaneously squeezed between the recession and competition from online stores, perhaps I should note that having retailers stumbling around and not quite able to engage the customer as they should, besides having sleep-deprived customers finding themselves back home with two hideous sweaters and a pint of Castor oil and wondering how this happened, will only push people to shopping on line more. Sometimes, perhaps the response to unfavorable results shouldn't be to do more of what brought those results about.