BLACK FRIDAY – WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

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BLACK FRIDAY – WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

What is “Black Friday”? What is the definition of “Black Friday”? Why is it called “Black Friday”?

Black Friday is the day following Thanksgiving Day in the United States (the fourth Thursday of November). Since middle 1960’s through the present , it has been regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season in the US, and most major retailers open very early (and more recently during overnight hours) and offer promotional sales. Black Friday is not an official holiday, but California and some other states observe “The Day after Thanksgiving” as a holiday for state government employees, sometimes in lieu of another federal holiday such as Columbus Day. Many non-retail employees and schools have both Thanksgiving and the following Friday off, which, along with the following regular weekend, makes it a four-day weekend, thereby increasing the number of potential shoppers. It has routinely been the busiest shopping day of the year since 2005, although news reports, which at that time were inaccurate, have described it as the busiest shopping day of the year for a much longer period of time. Similar stories resurface year upon year at this time, portraying hysteria and shortage of stock, creating a state of positive feedback.

In 2014, spending volume on Black Friday fell for the first time since the 2008 recession. $50.9 billion was spent during the 4-day Black Friday weekend, down 11% from the previous year. However, the U.S. economy was not in a recession. The Christmas creep has been cited as a factor in the diminishing importance of Black Friday, as many retailers now spread out their promotions over the entire months of November and December rather than concentrate them on a single shopping day or weekend.  Contrary to what many believed, Black Friday did not originate from the sales of slaves on the day after Thanksgiving.

For many years, it was common for retailers to open at 6:00 a.m., but in the late 2000s many had crept to 5:00 or even 4:00. This was taken to a new extreme in 2011, when several opened at midnight for the first time. In 2012, Walmart and several other retailers announced that they would open most of their stores at 8:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, prompting calls for a walkout among some workers. In 2014 stores such as JC Penny, Best Buy and others opened at 5 PM on Thanksgiving Day while stores such as opened at 6 PM on Thanksgiving Day. Yet there are retailers who opted not to open at all on the holiday, so that employees could enjoy the day with their families. More announced they would do the same for 2015.  I have never gone shopping on either Thanksgiving Day or Black Friday, and have no intention of starting now.

The news media have long described the day after Thanksgiving as the busiest shopping day of the year. In earlier years, this was not actually the case. In the period from 1993 through 2001, for example, White Friday ranked from fifth to tenth on the list of busiest shopping days, with the last Saturday before Christmas usually taking first place. In 2003, however, Black Friday actually was the busiest shopping day of the year, and it has retained that position every year since, with the exception of 2004, when it ranked second (after December 18).

Black Friday is popular as a shopping day for a combination of reasons. As the first day after the last major holiday before Christmas, it marks the unofficial beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Additionally, many employers give their employees the day off as part of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. In order to take advantage of this, virtually all retailers in the country, big and small, offer various sales including limited amounts of doorbuster/doorcrasher/doorsmasher items to entice traffic. Recent years have seen retailers extend beyond normal hours in order to maintain an edge, or to simply keep up with the competition. Such hours may include opening as early as 12:00 am or remaining open overnight on Thanksgiving Day and beginning sale prices at midnight. Historically, it was common for Black Friday sales to extend throughout the following weekend. However, this practice has largely disappeared in recent years, perhaps because of an effort by retailers to create a greater sense of urgency.

The news media usually give heavy play to reports of Black Friday shopping and their implications for the commercial success of the Christmas shopping season, but the relationship between Black Friday sales and retail sales for the full holiday season is quite weak and may even be negative.   “Black Friday” as a term has been used in multiple contexts, going back to the nineteenth century, where in the United States it was associated with a financial crisis of 1869.

Many merchants objected to the use of a negative term to refer to one of the most important shopping days in the year. By the early 1980s, an alternative theory began to be circulated: that retailers traditionally operated at a financial loss for most of the year (January through November) and made their profit during the holiday season, beginning on the day after Thanksgiving. When this would be recorded in the financial records, once-common accounting practices would use red ink to show negative amounts and black ink to show positive amounts. Black Friday, under this theory, is the beginning of the period when retailers would no longer have losses (the red) and instead take in the year’s profits (the black).

Despite frequent attempts to control the crowds of shoppers, minor injuries are common among the crowds, usually as a result of being pushed or thrown to the ground in small stampedes. While most injuries remain minor, serious injuries and even deliberate violence have taken place on some Black Fridays.

The day after Thanksgiving as the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season may be linked together with the idea of Santa Claus parades. Parades celebrating Thanksgiving often include an appearance by Santa at the end of the parade, with the idea that ‘Santa has arrived’ or ‘Santa is just around the corner’ because Christmas is always the next major holiday following Thanksgiving.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many Santa or Thanksgiving Day parades were sponsored by department stores. These included the Toronto Santa Claus Parade, in Canada, sponsored by Eaton’s, and the Macy*s Thanksgiving Day Parade, sponsored by Macy*s. Department stores would use the parades to launch a big advertising push. Eventually it just became an unwritten rule that no store would try doing Christmas advertising before the parade was over. Therefore, the day after Thanksgiving became the day when the shopping season officially started.

The sale day has caused a number of controversies over various practices: (1) Making unreasonable demands on staff, including requiring them to work, often long shifts, during Thanksgiving; (2) Health and safety risks due to insufficient staff for crowd management; (3) Selling “derivative” products manufactured just for Black Friday with lower specifications; and (4) Many employees are left with no choice but to work. (Work on Thanksgiving/Black Friday or be terminated).

Kmart began the trend of opening on “Gray Thursday” by opening at 7am, Thanksgiving morning, to appeal to those who wanted to miss any Black Friday traffic altogether, but still be home in time to have dinner with their families. As far back as 2009, Kmart has been utilizing this trend. It wasn’t until 2012, with backlash from the media, that Kmart started only opening at 6 pm on Thanksgiving Day, but staying open straight through Black Friday instead.

In recent years, retailers have been trending towards opening on Gray Thursday, occurring Thanksgiving evening. In 2011, Walmart began its holiday sale at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day for the first time. In 2012, Walmart began its Black Friday sales at 8 p.m. the day before on Thanksgiving; stores that are normally open 24 hours a day on a regular basis started their sales at this time, while stores that do not have round-the-clock shopping hours opened at 8 p.m. Competitors Sears and Kmart also opened at 8 p.m. on Thursday night, while Target and Toys “R” Us opened at 9 p.m. Other retailers, such as Lord & Taylor opened on Thanksgiving for the first time. In 2013, more retailers announced plans to open earlier on Thanksgiving. Kmart planned to open at 6 a.m. Thanksgiving and stay open for 41 consecutive hours until 11 p.m.  Friday. Toys “R” Us opened at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Walmart planned to start Black Friday sales at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving while Best Buy planned to open at 6 p.m. JC Penney, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Sears, and Target planned to open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. In addition Simon Property Group planned to open its malls at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, it had been reported that 15,000 consumers “stormed the entrances” at Macy*s Herald Square for the 8:00 PM opening on Thursday.   The 2014 “Gray Thursday” sales were, a failure, as overall sales for the holiday weekend fell 11% compared to the previous year despite heavy traffic at the stores on Thanksgiving night. In response, a number of retailers decided to go back to closing on Thanksgiving for 2015, and Wal-Mart, although it is holding firm opening on the holiday and holding its sale, also pledged to offer the same deals online for those who wished to stay home.

Some websites offer information about day-after-Thanksgiving specials up to a month in advance. The text listings of items and prices are usually accompanied by pictures of the actual ad circulars. These are either leaked by insiders or intentionally released by large retailers to give consumers insight and allow them time to plan.

The term Cyber Monday, a neologism invented in 2005 by the National Retail Federation’s division Shop.org, refers to the Monday immediately following Black Friday based on a trend that retailers began to recognize in 2003 and 2004. Retailers noticed that many consumers, who were too busy to shop over the Thanksgiving weekend or did not find what they were looking for, shopped for bargains online that Monday from home or work.

The National Retail Federation releases figures on the sales for each Thanksgiving weekend. The Federation’s definition of “Black Friday weekend” includes Thursday, Friday, Saturday and projected spending for Sunday. The survey estimates number of shoppers, not number of people.

The length of the shopping season is not the same across all years: the date for Black Friday varies between November 23 and 29, while Christmas Eve is fixed at December 24th had the longest shopping season since 2007.

Kathy Kiefer

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