Monday, November 22, 2010

I Wish It Could Be Black Friday Every Day

I’m working on a new song for the season. A new holiday song. I’m calling it “I Wish It Could Be Black Friday Every Day.”

I am inspired by retailers’ increasingly bold efforts to expand the observance of Black Friday, the unofficially designated U.S. shopping day that falls every year on the day after Thanksgiving. And this is no mere “Pre-Black Friday Savings,” or “Cyber Monday,” the attempt by online sellers to get people to do all their shopping online on the following Monday, or “Black Friday II”, the Friday a week later where retailers gamely attempt to sell the merchandise left over from the real Black Friday.

No, the new approach is for retailers to declare day after day of Black Friday. At Barnes & Noble, “It’s Black Friday Week!” according to the note they sent me this morning. Some people think of this week as Thanksgiving week, which makes a certain kind of sense, but a “Friday week” of any kind or color raises deep philosophical questions about the nature of reality, questions such as, “What day is it, really?” and “How do you know?”

At pro audio dealer Sweetwater you can find “Eight Days of Black Friday,” from today till next Monday. The Beatles had a famous song, “Eight Days a Week,” and Sweetwater is boosting the time pressure sevenfold by creating their own version of “eight days a day.” Visual-design software publisher Corel is nearly as ambitious, insisting Black Friday “starts today” (and continues through Sunday). At Forbes, Marianne Bickle explains that Black Friday now starts on November 1, and is called “Black November” — and this is a good thing:

Retailers are still smarting from the brutal beating they took in 2008. Smart retailers have learned from their lesson. Instead of waiting for Black Friday, retailers are aggressively promoting merchandise, services, box sets, and the holiday season starting November 1st.

Another Forbes writer, though, is not so sure a 54-day “Black Month” benefits retailers:

Since when is slashing prices to the bottom considered a “strategy?”

Most U.S. Walmart stores will be open Thursday, on Thanksgiving, for people who want to spend an official holiday shopping, perhaps to avoid the Friday crowds. Then, some of its Black Friday specials start at midnight Thursday night. Walmart can do this. It knows many of its workers need the extra money. It is harder to explain how Sears can be open on Thanksgiving morning, except that it has to keep up with Walmart, not to mention KMart, which has traditionally been open for Thanksgiving Day shoppers. Toys “R” Us, which seems to be pulling out all the stops to remain relevant this year, is beating the midnight openings of some Black Friday sales by opening two hours earlier, at 10 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. Most stores are closed on Thanksgiving, though, which helps to explain why it has become the busiest selling day of the year on the Internet.

The crowds may not be as big on the real Black Friday this year, with the day being spread out over a week or a month. It is not really that retailers are pushing shoppers to shop earlier. It was the shoppers who moved the Christmas season into November about three years ago, perhaps mainly because there is so little time for shopping once the holidays actually arrive, and partly to avoid the crowds. The retailers are just trying to outdo each other in keeping up with the shoppers.

But if the Christmas shopping season is getting spread out, it is also getting thinner. People can’t really spend an eighth of the year shopping for a single holiday. And although people in surveys have said they expect to spend more on Christmas this year, my prediction is that most will find ways to spend less.

In the end, it isn’t possible for every day to be Black Friday. People aren’t economically or emotionally equipped for day after day of frenetic shopping, and shopping ultimately isn’t important enough to displace the winter holidays that people are nominally shopping for. Christmas itself will continue to be a celebration in its own right, and New Year’s Eve will be a optimistic observance of the passage of time, whether or not people can find the time to go shopping beforehand.