Black Friday will not go away until Black Friday goes away

In the 1940’s, Franklin Roosevelt changed the date of Thanksgiving from the last Thursday in November (as it was established by Abraham Lincoln) to the 4th Thursday.  It essentially expanded the ‘holiday’ season by a week and it was undeniably a move to boost the economy and retail sales.   While the holiday was borne of traditions celebrating the final harvest, Thanksgiving has been the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season since early in the 20th century.

We may have Macy’s to blame for making Thanksgiving the kick-off of the shopping season when the store first mounted its parade in 1924, with the arrival of Santa at the end of the parade, signaling shoppers to take out their wallets.  The words ‘Black Friday’ are traced to the 1960s (in terms of the selling season – although it had been used earlier in regards to financial crises going back to the 1860s).  For the retail world, ‘Black Friday’ has been considered the day when companies move from being in the Red (losing money) to the Black (profitability).  It may or may not be true that a retailer’s profits are exclusively made in the last 5 weeks of a calendar year, but that is what we are told.

For many years, Black Friday was the day when retailers offered special sales, lower prices and other incentives for shoppers to shake off the turkey and head to the mall.  It took a while for them to abandon their usual operating hours and open earlier….and earlier…and earlier…and of late, on Thanksgiving Day.

The retailers are not blame.  At least not all of them.

Imagine that you own a store.  Your biggest competitor is across the street and you both sell essentially the same stuff.  For years, you both open every morning at 9:00 AM.  You both have sales.  There really isn’t much to differentiate you from the guys across the street.  You fight the battle for customers by offering a better deal, a better price or a better product.  (But let’s be honest, most of the stuff highlighted in Black Friday/Thanksgiving sales is far from the best stuff.  For the most part, they aren’t selling quality, they are selling price.  But that’s another argument for another time.)

So one year, the store across the street opens an hour earlier than you.  So, the next year, you open an earlier than they do.  And the next year, and the next year and then you are both opening at 3AM, then at midnight, and then on the night of Thanksgiving day….

And you do it for two simple reasons: 1) because your competition is doing it, and 2) because people are showing up.

Neither of the above is likely to change.  People like a bargain, people like the deals….and many people truly enjoy Black Friday!

Drive by almost any major retailer a few hours before they open on Black Friday or Thanksgiving day.  There is a line outside.  Folks bring chairs, some have tents.  Some bring food and drinks.   Some order pizza.  (“I’m the 45th person in line outside of ‘Cheap Stuff’.  Can I get 3 pies with everything and 2 liters of soda?  Do you have beer?”)

These folks are going to be there every year, whether the store opens in the midnight hours or at dawn, or before the last piece of pumpkin pie has been passed around the family table.

This is not going to change until it changes.

And it is changing.

Retailers, from national chains to local businesses are starting to expand Black Friday beyond even Thanksgiving day.  They are promoting Black Friday prices over a number of days leading up to Thanksgiving.   They really aren’t being nice guys, they really just want you to open your wallet…in their store.

And that is why Black Friday may go away.

It’s not really up to us.  We can pledge not to shop on Thanksgiving day or Black Friday, but plenty of others will.  We can profess our disapproval of Thanksgiving day openings (some polls say 90% of us object to it.  For example: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/poll-retailers-remain-open-thanksgiving/.)

Protests and petitions will not make most retailers alter their plans and operating hours.  But things like Cyber Monday and Shop Small/Shop Local efforts are having some impact.

Black Friday/Thanksgiving openings will only end when they no longer make sense.  When they no longer have a competitive advantage.  When they no longer have an impact on the bottom line.

It will happen.

It won’t happen next year or the year after.  But it will happen.

It will happen when being a part of the ever encroaching opening times no longer make sense for the retailers.  It will happen when retailers see a competitive (or image) advantage to NOT opening on Thanksgiving day (and that is starting to happen this year).

This is not to say that any individual boycott of shopping on Thanksgiving day doesn’t have an impact.  In its own small way, it does.

As does shopping local, at small businesses in your neighborhood.

But you were not likely to stand in line for hours for a cheap TV from a brand you’ve never heard of.  And you probably already shop at that boutique in your town.   If not, you should.

Yet, if you enjoy the mayhem of the lines, the bargains and spending Thanksgiving day in a retail environment with a bunch of strangers, go ahead.

Enjoy it while you can.

Black Friday will, someday, go away.

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