I remember hearing the phrase “Black Friday” in the early 1980s when I first began covering the toy industry. Few outside of the retail industry were familiar with the term back then.
In fact, in those years, when my wife and I began our annual tradition of hosting more than a dozen or more family and friends for Thanksgiving dinner, I got up very early the next morning (the store opened at 9:00 a.m.) to go to the opening of the old A&S store in downtown Brooklyn to see what the crowds were like in the toy department before hitting a couple of toy chains.
All this sounds quaint by 2009 standards.
Today, even grammar school kids know what “Black Friday” means since just about every consumer in the U.S. seems to be an insider about retailing, especially CE retailing. You can find out about the latest deals all over the Web; in fact, on TWICE.com you can trace the action on the Black Friday Watch by IFR Group.
Of course, CEA’s Shawn DuBravac and Steve Koenig are right: Black Friday has already begun. For instance, since the World Series ran past Halloween, we saw holiday shopping ads in between innings.
Starting holiday sales early this year is completely understandable. The biggest shopping season of the year is the fourth quarter; the biggest retail traffic day of the year is Black Friday, and since we are ever so slowly coming out of the biggest recession since the Great Depression, why not take Black Friday and make it “Black November?” (Or, for you online shoppers out there, morph Cyber Monday into “Cyber November?”)
Last year the frenzy of ugly crowds on Black Friday took one deadly step forward when a temporary worker at a Walmart in Valley Stream, N.Y., was trampled to death.
That tragedy has resulted in new safeguards to manage crowds. As part of that strategy, Walmart stores will open at 7:00 a.m. on Thanksgiving and remain open through Black Friday, while Walmart Supercenters, which are regularly open around the clock, will continue to do so through the holiday weekend. Originally I thought Kmart was going to be open for Thanksgiving for the second year in a row, but I stand corrected by the chain - it is the 16th year in a row it has been open on the holiday. Given market conditions, more retailers will probably be open this Thanksgiving than ever before.
I know the reasons, but I think holiday shopping on Thanksgiving is a lousy idea on a variety of levels.
On the business side, instead of having one day to cut your margins to little or nothing, you now have a whole month to do it. And if you don’t have enough inventory on all the specials you are advertising, you’d better have some skillful sales associates at your stores to possibly “up-sell” consumers - a hard task in these lean times. If not, you’re going to have plenty of disgruntled consumers leaving your store.
You would hope that new crowd-control guidelines from the National Retail Federation and measures by Walmart and others will help avoid the usual ugly scenes of shopping frenzy on this Black Friday - especially during a time of economic distress and war.
One hopes that for consumers and those in the retail industry, being able to count your blessings with family and friends over a holiday meal, or going out and volunteering at a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving, will not be considered quaint old-time customs in the future.
This blog originally was published as a column in the Nov. 23 print edition of TWICE.