Picture the scene: It’s 3:48PM and the lines are steadily building under the bright lights of your favorite shopping center. Your stomach is still full from turkey, stuffing, rolls, and oh the gravy and mashed potatoes, but you must press on. 4:21PM: the line now stretches down the front of the building and around the back. You’re starting to wish you packed your more comfortable shoes. Do people still sprint into the store toward the hottest deal, you wonder. Am I going to get trampled? 4:41PM: A nap sounds so nice right about now, as you stretch and thank God for yoga pants. 4:53PM: you can feel it in the air. It’s time. The crowd is starting to twitch with excitement. 4:58PM: it’s close enough now. They can let us in right? 5:01PM: you cross the threshold with a scream of joy like a baby passing through the birth canal. It’s Black Friday deal time!
Or at least that’s how I picture it. I’ve never actually been.
This year, local news and media outlets boasted record breaking post-thanksgiving sales, and between Black Friday, Small-business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, I don’t doubt it. According CNBC, Adobe Analytics is predicting online sales alone will total $143.7 billion dollars this year, with approximately $7.6 billion of that predicated to be spent online on black Friday, and $9.4 billion to be spent online on Cyber Monday (Thomas).
I chose to spend black Friday at the Grocery store (a wonderful choice by the way – it was a ghost town) followed by visiting my parents to bake Christmas cookies and set up their Christmas tree. My goal this year was to buy as many gifts as I could local, or in the physical brick and mortar stores. I’ve cancelled my Amazon Prime subscription and tried my hardest to resist that online shopping itch, but yes, I did spend a fair amount of change online shopping Thursday night and Friday morning. It’s hard not to. As I sit here now I’ve received two text notifications. “MantraBand Cyber Week Deals are here! 25% off + free shipping + daily free gift with order.” Since Thanksgiving morning, I have received eighteen text messages from stores advertising their best deals of the season. That doesn’t include emails, social media advertisements, push notifications, television commercials, or the paper circulars. I guess I’m just a glutton for punishment.
And it turns out I’m not the only one. In 2017 Brad Tuttle, a writer for Money magazine, compared Black Friday shoppers to zombies, and described the day itself as “a hellscape like none other” (Tuttle 75). So why do we keep coming back? And what started this tradition? Where did Black Friday even come from?
The term “Black Friday” is not reserved solely for the day after Thanksgiving shopping binge. Initially the term was meant to be derogatory, and described dips on the stock market that occurred on Fridays, as in 1869 or 1873 (“A Brief History”). The first hint at our “Black Friday” of today can be dated back to the 1950s as factory workers were “habitually failing to show up for work the Friday between the holiday and the weekend” (“A Brief History”). Eventually it developed a holiday-like feel as employers began to grant the day off, but it wasn’t until the 1980s and a growth in consumerism that businesses began to use the day, and the term, to their advantage and “kick off” the holiday shopping season (“A Brief History”).
So what is it about Black Friday that keeps us coming back for more? Why are my friends and family members getting up way earlier than necessary when they can find, and probably will find, the same deal online? According to Tuttle, research has found that Black Friday is a “phenomenon.” Customers are seeking the experience and not the prices (Tuttle 76). In a survey recently completed by DealNews.com, Black Friday shoppers aren’t looking for anything in particular, they’re just going to go. Tuttle goes on to compare Black Friday to the “shopping equivalent of the Super Bowl: They [shoppers] look forward to it not necessarily for the game itself, but because of the desire to be a part of the action” (Tuttle 77). Additionally, several shoppers see Black Friday as a family tradition, and an opportunity for those of all ages to walk off the carbs and bond over textiles, televisions, and shoes where shoppers can “lower their guard and just buy some stuff” (Tuttle 77).
And the trends are still changing. Black Friday has spread out from its boundaries to Thanksgiving day. A new term, the “Christmas Creep” describes Black Friday level promotions that begin as early as October and sometimes September (Tuttle 76). The July online shopping event, Amazon Prime Day, “rivals Black Friday and Cyber Monday with consumers looking to other retailers to compare prices in pursuit of the best deal” (Valassis Research 1). This new shopping phenomenon made an estimated $4 billion in sales in 2018, even though a portion of those shoppers say that they don’t save much money, and some of the items aren’t “overly exciting” (Valassis Research 2).
Whether you chose to shop online, or in-store, this past Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I’m sure your gift recipients will be none the wiser. A gift is a gift, no matter how small, and a gift from the heart is the greatest of all! (Gotta throw some cheese in there.) But as an end to this curious shopping adventure, I ask you to please support your local stores. If we all changed one online order to a custom product from a local small business, think of what we could do to support our local economy, local families, and maybe even the world.
“10 Things You Didn’t Know About Black Friday.” U.S. News & World Report, 27 Nov. 2009. Academic Search Premier.
“A Brief History of Black Friday.” Hardware Retailing, Nov. 2018. Gale General OneFile.
Thomas, Lauren. “Shoppers Have Already Spent a Record $5.4 Billion Online on Black Friday: Adobe Analytics.” CNBC, CNBC, 30 Nov. 2019, http://www.cnbc.com/2019/11/30/shoppers-have-already-spent-a-record-5point4-billion-online-on-black-friday-adobe-analytics.html. Accessed 2 Dec. 2019.
Tuttle, Brad. “The Psychology Behind Black Friday – And Why It Will Never Go Away.” Money, Dec. 2017. Academic Search Premier.
“Valassis Research: Amazon Prime Day Now the Black Friday of Summer.” Entertainment Close-Up, 11 July 2019. Gale General OneFile.