Thoughts on the tradition of Black Friday

Today is the day that has come to be known as Black Friday, the Friday after the fourth Thursday in November (American Thanksgiving), which has come to be known at least symbolically as the first shopping day of the holiday season. Curiously, it has held this distinction even as some stores have began decorating for the winter holidays earlier than Thanksgiving.

Among one of the more interesting recent developments, REI has chosen to close the doors of its retail outlets, and even urging customers to go outside instead with the #optoutside campaign. I see this as quite the bold and commendable move, and may well be the lead in an inevitable wave of backlash against the Black Friday tradition.

Now, I’m not against Black Friday by any means, but the reality is that many shoppers are seeing Black Friday for what it is: consumerism for the sake of consumerism, and in many cases, marketing for the sake of marketing. Like anyone with an interest in the profession, I admire good marketing, but I just can’t shake the thought that Black Friday as a marketing/sales tool has run its course.

Part of what is starting to kill Black Friday is the decision of many retailers, for better or worse, to open for part of Thanksgiving (typically from 6pm or so) when they would not in years past (the so-called “Gray Thursday”). The backlash from this has grown each year, with many refusing to shop on Thanksgiving in protest. Part of the backlash is due to retailers not giving employees the option to freely opt out of working on a holiday. While I can understand the retailers not wanting to do this, the effects of the bad PR will often more than offset whatever sales totals come up for a holiday. There was a time when a store opening on a holiday was a flagrant taboo, something that Just Wasn’t Done. We’ve changed to a 24-hour society, where even on a holiday there are things that need to be done, and things happen like running out of aluminum foil or Aunt Ethel’s favorite diet soda on Thanksgiving morning.

The reality of it is, I don’t see Black Friday going anywhere soon. The actual term for the post-Thanksgiving shopping rush has been with us for a good four decades. Even with Christmas creep, it will take a lot to fully take down this tradition; in fact, it may be the key to ending “Christmas creep” which I personally think is much worse than one day of flagrant consumerism and marketing. Yes, Nordstrom is on to something by refusing to decorate for Christmas until after Thanksgiving, and I wish more stores would follow Nordstrom’s lead. It’s bad enough when Halloween items are out in early September, right after the back-to-school promotions conclude.