eCommerce On Saturday: What Should Jews Do?

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B&H Photo and Video, one of the largest non-chain photo and video equipment store in the United States closes their doors to observe the Jewish day of rest. Simply put, WHAT ARE THEY THINKING?

I first heard about this in Webtribution.com’s article “E-Commerce: Religion Versus Revenue“. The author of the blog, Kieran Hawe, was on the hunt for a camera this past Saturday and came across the following message:

Please note that B&H does not process web orders from Friday evening to Saturday evening!

Kudos to B&H for religious observance, but what about the 100’s of other Jewish eCommerce sites that happen to keep their online stores open on weekends. I decided to do a little research of my own… I am quoting sensitive opinions so please, read this with an open mind…

Jewish Weekends 101: What is Allowed On ‘Shabbat’?

Shabbat (Hebrew: shabbat; Yiddish, shabbos; “rest” or “cessation”) is the day of rest in Judaism and lasts from sundown Friday until Saturday night. About a month ago, someone posted the following question on TheYeshivaWorld.com: “Does anyone know what’s a Jew to do about selling via an e-commerce website on Shabbat?” Overall, the response remained consistent. “The website can be available for browsing, but NO buying,” but this was no a universally shared opinion.

On the other hand, Nicholas Zamiska, previously a staff writer for the Wall Street Journal, provides an opposing opinion. He published an article on Hashkafah.com in which he concluded that “Technically speaking, the vendor’s monetary acquisition, happens on a weekday so there is no issue”  (Rabbi Heinemenn). Web sites don’t process transactions on Saturdays…no money changes hands, so the sites should be able to remain open.

These are simply 2 different opinions. It all boils down to the companies choice and the ability to rationalize “religion vs. revenue” when a company could potentially be missing out on millions of dollars.

What Is There To Lose?

Some websites simply can’t give up selling on Jewish holidays. “One of my hottest business days was on Rosh Hashana,” says Rabbi Mayer Pasternak, creator of JewishMusic.com. Considering it’s one of the most important holidays of the Jewish year, this wasn’t an easy decision for him. “I felt a twinge of guilt, coming back and there were a couple hundred orders.” (Hashkafah.com) But that’s simply not the case with B&H Photo and Video. Owned by Herman Schreiber, an observant Jew, they decided to close both their store and website purchases on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. Of the 1,500+ employees, Jews and non-Jews both support this decision. Richard Spiess, 34, a salesman at B&H for 2 1/2 years, said there are some advantages to being non-Jewish in such a heavily Jewish environment. “We get a lot of nice holidays off,” he said. (Post-Gazette.com) The employees may be happy about this, but this is still a huge loss for the company.

I had the chance to speak to one of their employees earlier today. Joshua Grashin, a Search Engine Marketing Optimizer at B&H for the past 2 years also agress that “it’s great to have holidays off”, but adds that he believes Herman’s decision actually improves the companies image in the public eye. “At first I thought that is must hurt them in some way becuse they’re literally closed for a 7th of the week which can add up over the course of a year. But the more people I talk to, the more I realize its something that people universally respect. People are fine with it because they still know they’re getting the best service. They respect their religious decision to close, to the point that they view B&H as a respectable company –  a company that has ideals! And any company that has ideals will directly relate to the business as a whole.”

To get an idea of what they’re missing out on, B&H serves over 11,000 customers daily, while a considerable amount of the company business comes from their website (sales, affiliate ads, etc.)  “The amount of money lost during the 24 hour +/- time period of Shabbat is significant, however it is obvious the owners of the business could care less about the lost revenue and focus more on their core religious beliefs and principals,” says Kieran Hawe, Co-Founder of Hawe Digital and  previously Sr. Director of Online of Online Marketing at Folica.com. This does wonders for their repuation. In fact,  Sergey Brin, President and co-founder of Google, said that B&H “happens to be my favorite camera equipment store.” (Google Q3 Earnings Call Transcript) Whether he relates to their ideals or not, there’s no doubt that this is a decision everyone respects.

In Coclusion

It’s apparent there are two strong opposing opinions. Based on Nicholas’s article, you can remain open without worrying about fiscal transactions occuring on Shabbat. On the other, you can maintain a stricter approach. Simply shut down and in return, come off as a business built on strong convictions and values. The choice is ultimately yours to make.

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Posted under Blogs, Events, Jewish Marketing, Online Marketing

1 Comment so far

  1. Noah Robinson May 28, 2009 5:03 pm

    You’ve got to respect people who put faith before profits.

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