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The real Cyber Monday was a month ago

Fully Charged
Bloomberg

Hey y'all, it's Austin. Today is Cyber Monday, but if you're looking to get a jump on holiday shopping, you're too late. Many retailers started their online deals long before Black Friday. Some, like Amazon.com Inc., Best Buy Co. and Target Corp., even rolled out discounts last month. For the vulnerable workforce plucking products off warehouses shelves, this is a good thing.

Workers for Amazon and Walmart Inc. are bracing for an onslaught of purchases during a holiday season expected to generate $189 billion in U.S. sales online. In the age of Covid-19, the risks extend beyond overwork and exhaustion. Americans' need for near-instant shopping gratification is, for warehouses, a potential super-spreader event.

The Monday after Thanksgiving was invented as the internet's answer to Black Friday. Over the last decade or so, stores online and off have pushed sales earlier, but Cyber Monday remains a big event. Spending that day was $9.4 billion in the U.S. last year, up 20% from the year before.

The sale window opened even wider this year. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Amazon postponed the annual Prime Day event, which is usually in July, to mid-October. That made it a viable option for very early holiday shoppers. Target rivaled the pre-Halloween sales event with its own Target Deal Days. Analysts are calling these extended discount periods "Cyber Month" or "Black Fall."

Retailers are going earlier this year in part to ease pressure on their delivery infrastructure and avoid capacity crunches closer to Christmas. Early sales give consumers an incentive to shop sooner, in turn reducing stress on retailers to fulfill orders at the expense of employee welfare.

E-commerce companies had already struggled with health protocols and social-distancing rules earlier in the pandemic. Amazon recently said almost 20,000 of its U.S. workers tested positive for Covid-19 between March and September. The company added a whopping 427,300 employees this year to keep up with skyrocketing sales demand.

Unions and worker advocacy groups are pushing retailers for more hazard pay and employee protections as post-Thanksgiving Day shopping escalates. "America's essential workers are facing a holiday season of unparalleled danger," Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, told reporters recently.

Pandemic aside, serious safety issues have existed for as long as we've come to expect same- or two-day shipping. It's easy to forget people are behind every purchase, roaming expansive distribution centers for goods, packing them and delivering them to our door. Covid-19 is changing that, shining a light on the industry's challenges through each warehouse outbreak.

Shoppers should take a cue from the radio stations playing Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You" earlier and earlier. Let the holiday season begin whenever.Austin Carr

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