Black Friday: Let the Shopping Begin

Stephen DeAngelis

November 28, 2014

If you live in the United States, you know that today is Black Friday. Black Friday always falls the day after Thanksgiving and traditionally marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season. There has been nothing traditional, however, about the holiday shopping season the past few years. Many stores start putting out their holiday decorations and merchandise before Halloween and begin their sales well before Black Friday. In fact, Black Friday is becoming a misnomer since stores begin their Black Friday operations on Thanksgiving evening and run them right through to Cyber Monday.

 

According to BlackFriday.com, “The term ‘Black Friday’ was coined in the 1960s to mark the kickoff to the Christmas shopping season. ‘Black’ refers to stores moving from the ‘red’ to the ‘black,’ back when accounting records were kept by hand, and red ink indicated a loss, and black a profit. Ever since the start of the modern Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1924, the Friday after Thanksgiving has been known as the unofficial start to a bustling holiday shopping season.” Maxwell Strachan (@maxwellstrachan) writes, “It’s totally understandable if you think the term ‘Black Friday’ is a direct linguistic descendant of ‘in the black,’ accounting jargon for turning a profit. After all, the day after Thanksgiving is now one of the biggest shopping days of the year, an annual delight to retailers hoping to give their bottom lines a nice little boost in the year’s final weeks. But the truth is that Black Friday owes its name to the Philadelphia Police Department, which did not have profitability in mind.” [“‘Black Friday’ Originally Meant Something Much, Much Darker,” Huffington Post, 27 November 2013] He explains:

“One thing to remember is that, long before the rest of us started calling it Black Friday, retailers hoped to start the holiday shopping season with a bang by offering ‘can’t miss’ deals right after Thanksgiving. (Note: These days, ‘holiday shopping season’ can begin way before Turkey Day.) People being people, they have long stormed stores, caused traffic jams and been generally terrible to one another in an effort not to miss these deals. In the middle years of the twentieth century, the scene was often particularly bad in Philadelphia, where the annual Army-Navy football game was regularly played on the weekend after Thanksgiving. Lots of cars, lots of traffic, lots of chaos. Sound familiar? So at some point in the 1950s or 1960s — some put the date exactly at 1966 — the Philadelphia Police Department started to refer to the day after Thanksgiving as ‘Black Friday,’ with the unrealistic hope that people would find the whole shebang distasteful and opt out of the collective consumer madness. At a minimum, it was a derisive way to describe an unpleasant day in the life of a Philly cop.”

As noted above, the holiday shopping season now starts well before Black Friday. Beth Jett (@bethjett) reports, “Walmart revealed their deals [two weeks early], including a $250 laptop, a $30 WiFi tablet, a $30 Smartphone and a $330 Xbox One with a Master Chief Collection bundle. Those deals and so many more start up at 6pm on Thanksgiving Day and continue on Black Friday until supplies last. FrugalLivingMom.com put out the Target Black Friday ads, which include HD TVs up to $130 off the normal price; movies that sell for up to $30, on sale for as low as $6; all kinds of toys and household items deeply discounted too. Like Walmart, Target is opening at 6:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.” [“Black Friday deals and steals already released so shoppers can come up with their plans to save,” WHNT News, 17 November 2014] The headline of Jett’s article makes a good point. With so many deals to choose from (and many of those deals being limited to stock on hand), shoppers have to prioritize what is most important to them and plan to hit stores in the order those priorities dictate. That might sound easy; but, there’s a lot from which to choose. Best Buy, for example, has released a 47-page Black Friday ad. [“Massive 47-page ad shows all of Best Buy’s crazy Black Friday deals,” by Zach Epstein (@zacharye), BGR, 17 November 2014]

 

Everybody from retailers to car dealers try to get in on the Black Friday action. Brick-and-mortar stores would like to have Black Friday all to themselves, but online retailers don’t wait until Cyber Monday to try and grab their share of the holiday gift market. Last year, according to comScore, Inc., the online retailers that generated the most traffic on Black Friday were Amazon (7.7 million visitors), Walmart (3.5 million visitors), Best Buy (2.75 million visitors), Target (2.25 million visitors), and Apple (1.5 million visitors). If you’re going to brave the brick-and-mortar scene, what kind of crowds can you expect to find? BlackFriday.com reports, “According to the National Retail Federation’s holiday survey the number of shoppers that visited brick and mortar stores and online websites over the entire Thanksgiving weekend (Thursday to Sunday) in 2013 was 141 million with 45 million on Thanksgiving day and 92 million shoppers on Black Friday.” Those numbers should be about the same this year. So whether you’re shopping out or shopping in, it’s going to be crowded.