The Bleakest of Black Fridays?

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Casey Bacon, Senior Head Editor

We’ve once again reached and passed that time of year in which you get to “enjoy” time with family you visit with three times a year at the most, where going up for fourths is excusable, while blessings and thanks are recounted, and when it’s accepted and in fact expected that one sits back and watches television after eating more than they should have. Or, more concisely, Thanksgiving. Due to the stark piling of holidays that’s become characteristic of our market-based society, this is also the time of year that we become acutely aware of- usually with a significant shock- that Christmas is a month or less away. Thus, the last Thursday of the month has also become known as the unofficial kickoff to the season of holiday shopping- with the doorbuster deals of Black Friday (beginning the spill over from Thanksgiving day itself) to start the weekend and coming to a close with the online steals of Cyber Monday. Though this has been the trend for decades of shoppers, is this custom slipping further into the dark with each passing year?
Finding its origins in the busy city streets of 1950’s Philadelphia, police began fondly referring to the day in accordance with the mobs of shoppers who raced into the city in the days after Thanksgiving, when the city advertised the shopping season heavily with major sales and festive decorations. City merchants also reportedly began using the term for the day due to the long lines and shopping mayhem at their stores.
“It was a double whammy,” says Bonnie Taylor-Blake, a researcher for the University of Carolina. “Traffic cops were required to work twelve-hour shifts, no one could take off and people would flood the sidewalks, parking lots, and streets. It became a comical reference to downtown Philly following Thanksgiving.” (A more recent theory connects to the ink used on records and ledgers kept across the year for stores- red ink indicated a loss for the year, while black showed a profit. This day, then, stood as the real switch for the majority of records remaining in the year to an inky black. However, most researchers discredit this in favor of the former.) Ever since, the trend of offering seismic savings and discount deals for a single day has become a staple to the holiday season, providing many with the mark of when to start all of that essential shopping, and has leaked not only around the rest of the nation but also to similar annual sales across the world.
black friday 2 (photo credit to- BBB)
For many years, the idea has persisted that this is most definitely the day you want to spend the entirety of shopping- the 133,700,000 annual number of shoppers who come out, and average of over $50 billion spent in the weekend alone have helped to stimulate that continuing notion. But according to the National Retail Federation (NRF), spending suffered an eleven percent plunge from the 2013 to 2014 Black Friday weekends. More than six million shoppers that were predicted to hit the stores never did, marking the second year in a row that sales declined in the post-Thanksgiving weekend and dropping accumulative sales to their lowest point in four years. Is this notorious shopping day dropping off? And if so, why?
Well, where to start? Maybe at the backing of this idea by many economist and analysts alike. “I think what you’re seeing now is the start or middle of a trend where Black Friday decreases in importance,” claims emarketer analyst York Wurmser. “It’s probably still going to be a significant shopping day, but at the same time it’s probably going to lose its singular significance in the season.” Or, in a more drastic light: Bill Tancer, head of global research for Experian Marketing, professes that “we are seeing the eventual extinction of Black Friday.” In a survey conducted by retail researcher Conlumino, forty-five percent of participants said that they planned to spend less in Black Friday shopping than they had last year, while a solid thirteen percent of people said that they didn’t shop last year, and had no intent or interest in doing so this year.
Many analysts attribute this to the problem created by the retailers themselves: deals are being released far earlier, making the super-saver day’s deals almost pointless. Though it’s stereotypically seen as the premiere of the hottest gifts and the start to the holiday season, retail giant K-Mart released its first Christmas ad in September last year, while contemporaries like Target, Walmart, and Toys R’ Us published their “Hot Toys” lists around the same time. The sales and drops on cost were soon to follow: this year, Walmart’s cutting prices on 20,000 items- many in-demand gifts- on November 1st, and a “Black Friday”-esque event kicked off at Target on November 10th that allowed customers to grab deals early. On top of this, the deals that are released are proving to be no more enticing than previous years’. A BestBlackFriday.com survey found that eighty-one percent of participants said that “Black Friday deals are not improving from previous years.” Identical deals between 2014 to 2015 in an assortment of stores on back this up further. Big names like J.C. Penney, Khol’s, Sam’s Club, Sears, and Target have all been pinned down for reposting deals; Macy’s has been exposed for a repeated sixty deals, and Belk’s is noted for more than eighty. Both names have suffered financial concerns within the last year, but it isn’t just retailers who have felt the strain of the economy. After the ups and downs of the market over the last seven years, analysts judge that the majority of consumers could spend more if they wanted, but are choosing to hold back due to lingering reserves about the economy. “The data overwhelmingly portrays consumer financial positions as improving,” confirms Richard Price, a senior economist at Ameriprise Financial, “and in pretty good shape overall. The question is around their willingness to spend…” He alleges that high student loan burdens for younger Americans could be holding them back, and adds that “millennials appear to be less materialistic than prior generations- at least for now.”
Equally as guilty for this deterioration is the rapid growth of online shopping- beginning its take over for faster, better-stocked, lower maintenance, and certainly less stressful accessibility. According to the NRF, 103 million people flew to the web to do their shopping this past holiday weekend, edging out the 102 million who camped out and stayed up flock to do in-store shopping. This follows their initial holiday forecast, where consumers reported on average that forty-six percent of their shopping this season would be conducted online, up from reports last year. Amazon has proved itself a worthy competitor for all retail aspects this year: the electronic catch-all market began its Black Friday sales nearly a week before the actual date itself, and the move paid off. While the company withholds from releasing exact sale figures, Slice Intelligence, a digital commerce tracking service, reports that Amazon’s sales dominated online sales for November 27th at a solid thirty-six percent of all e-market purchases.
It’s no question that the ease is a huge driving force for the online sales rise, but is it also out of a fear for their safety? Well, okay, we digress: the shopping itself isn’t inherently dangerous, so long as the amount you spend doesn’t give you a fright; it’s really the mass of crowds that can erupt into chaos. In 2008, a 34-year old employee was trampled when 2,000 people stormed a New York Walmart at its 5 a.m. opening, while there were 2 people fatally shot in a California Toys R’ Us altercation. 2011 saw twenty people injured to varying degrees after a “competitive shopping” pepper-spray dispute; a Target store saw a 61-year old pharmacist, who collapsed while Black Friday shopping and later died because of the fact, ignored and stepped over as people continued to look for the deals on items they wanted. Tallahassee, Florida witnessed a shooting in 2014 at a Walmart in a dispute over a parking space, and there was a brawl outside of a a Khol’s in California in which three Black Friday shoppers were arrested. The surprise shouldn’t be a great one, either: throw together determined and harried shoppers, exhausted and detached employees, and a limited supply of merchandise on sale- you’ve the makings of a retail melee.
The pandemonium that strikes on this day has influenced shoppers to wait and seek out these deals earlier and earlier. According to the 2014 NRF survey, consumers who said that they planned to shop over the Thanksgiving holiday said that they would do so on Thursday. As a recurring theme every year, retailers have been influenced to abide by this and push Black Friday into Thanksgiving- some by the morning of such. Despite this, some stores are nevertheless turning their eyes towards a more meaningful, less materialistic idea- closing stores on Thanksgiving and insuring that employees are able to spend the day of thanks uninterrupted with their families. Today, an affiliate of NBC News, reports that many notable stores are taking this route, with names that include BJ’s, Barnes & Noble, GameStop, Marshalls, Pier 1, Home Depot, T.J. Maxx, and HomeGoods, among others. Outdoors store REI took it a step further this year to close altogether on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday. “The reality is,” admits Tim Spangler, REI’s senior vice president of retail, “there are plenty of days to shop for the holidays. We felt like taking a break on one of the busiest days of the year sent a really clear message about what matters most.”
What this says for the future? Still unclear. The numbers that analysts estimate from this shopping year are still nothing to scoff at. Research firm ShopperTrak estimated that Americans spent $1.8 billion on Thanksgiving Day, with another $10.4 billion on Black Friday. RetailNext, a firm in the same vein, shares that brick-and-mortar sales dropped 1.5% in customer traffic, as average spending per shopper fell by 1.4%- all while online sales jumped by twenty-five percent on Thanksgiving Day, from the accounts of Adobe Systems. Whether or not the “holiday” after the all-American holiday will go on into the future, only time will tell. A good sign for shoppers, maybe, and a poor one for retailers? Well, for the markets, anyway; a gradual exodus of this hectic, full-blown holiday could just bring about an allowance of the real intentions of the holiday weekend: not vying for and valuing the best prices for the materialistic you’ve just got to have, but stopping to relish in that which you can’t put a value on- good fortunes, accomplishments, achievements, and those we hold closest.