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Front Page » November 27, 2008 » Business focus » Black Friday: What it is and what it means to merchants a...
Published 2,506 days ago

Black Friday: What it is and what it means to merchants and customers in this uncertain economy

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Emery County Progress publisher

For those who love bargains, it is the thrill of the year.

For those that have to make a profit off sales for the year, it is often the beginning of a month long frenzy to catch up with projected revenues.

For some it is the thrill of the hunt; for others it is a day they will never go shopping.

It is Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, supposedly the busiest shopping day of the year.

But this year things could be different.

The bargains may have already come and gone, profits may already be lost for the year and whether the crowds that flow into stores as early as 4 a.m. in the morning may not be as large as normal based on what a lot of people are saying.

"People are worried and they are scared to spend money," said one downtown Price merchant who asked to not to be identified. "They see what is going on Wall Street and they translate that weekness to Main Street. For some of the businesses in areas like this poor Christmas shopping season could be the last straw."

It has been a fall of disbelief as the stock market has lost almost half its value since last October when it hit a high of 14,000. The three largest American car manufacturers are nearing bankruptcy and are forecasting gloom and doom if something is not done to help them. And despite the draw of the holiday shopping frenzy, dozens of big box and chain stores have either gone into Chapter 11, are nearing it or are closing stores in various places left and right, many before Christmas. Even on-line shopping services like e-bay and Amazon are looking at changing the way they operate due to low sales.

The origin of Black Friday is up in the air when its history is examined. When Macy's Department store in New York began holding its annual Thanksgiving Day parade in the late 1920's people started to see the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas as being the days to "shop." Then sales began to appear on the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally a day that an ever more affluent society began to take off to make for a four day weekend. But then changes began in the 1960's that would make the day after Thanksgiving become something more than just another holiday shopping day.

So for over 40 years the day after Thanksgiving has been called Black Friday with no one really knowing exactly from where the term emanated. Its beginnings, ironic in terms of considering the economy this year, may have come from the term Black Tuesday which is what the day was called when the stock market crashed in 1929, starting the Great Depression. At that time the term black attached to something meant extreme chaos or stress.

Thus in the mid-1960's the day became termed Black Friday because as retailers got ever more savvy about attracting buyers, they began the Christmas shopping season with ever more lucrative deals on merchandise on the day after Thanksgiving.

But that was in the far past, when it comes to innovation in shopping. The next step in the war of bargains between stores was to open ever earlier in the morning on that day, thus attempting to attract the biggest crowds, who would spend their money there first before they could go to a competitor.

Years later the term "black" was related to the yearly profits retailers were making. For many businesses the holiday season is a time when they make so much profit that some of them say they don't go "into the black" until shopping begins on that day.

Thus all kinds of explanations for why the name came to be. But when it comes to sales, this year could be different.

According to a Maritz Research poll conducted in October on 1525 randomly selected adult subjects, the average shopper plans to spend $546 this year, a 14 percent decline when compared with 2007 when they spent $637. And since the average Black Friday shopper plans to spend 45 percent of what they will put out this holiday season on that day, it could well affect all retailers.

The poll also showed that men in particular are going to drop how much they buy more than any other group. The poll showed that men said they will be spending 19 percent less this year than last.

One important aspect of what pollsters from Maritz asked was how many of the respondents expected to shop on Black Friday. In all 41 percent said they would be doing some shopping on that day, while another 42 percent said they would not. The reasons for both these figures probably lie with the individual.

"I did go to one of those sales the day after Thanksgiving one year, a long time ago," said Lynna Twedell of Miller Creek. "People were very rude and some of it was even brutal. One guy ripped stuff right out of my hands. I would rather pay full price than face that again."

On the other side of the equation are those that love going out the day after Thanksgiving.

"It's just a lot of fun," said Daisy Fraughton of Carbonville. "I love the crowds and the energy of that day. The bargains are great even if you can't get to the leader items the stores advertise. I think you just have to ignore people that get too caught up in being aggressive. There's plenty of bargains for all."

In many places it is not unusual to see shoppers lined up in front of a store hours before it opens, even if the doors swing outward at 4 a.m. It is reminiscent of a blockbuster moving opening, except upon the opening it is much less organized in terms of crowd flow. Generally there are a few items that are deeply discounted, and the store has only a limited number of those. But there are often other bargains beyond that, and many smart shoppers head for those rather than hitting the spots in the store where the big electronic or toy markdowns are causing a near riot at times.

In recent years another phenomenon has taken place: people who buy the deeply discounted items and then sell them on-line to make a profit. Usually these kinds of activities are done on large items or highly regarded, low inventory such as certain toys or electronic computer games.

In most towns, and even here in Carbon County that day has also become a traditional day for cities to turn on their Christmas lights and displays. In Salt Lake the day has become synonymous with the lights on at Temple Square and in Carbon County it is the day that Christmas town turns theirs on as well.

Consequently the day after Thanksgiving continues to morph year after year, becoming something a little different than it was the year before. From the day after "the parade" to one of the biggest shopping days of the year with crowds going out at times of the day many people hardly know exist, what has become nearly the second holiday of the Thanksgiving weekend will, regardless of the economy, continue on.

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