Why Black Friday Isn’t Just Friday Anymore – But Is Still in the Black

Remember when stores just opened a little early on the day after Thanksgiving, as in 7:00 am?; then it got really crazy really fast. The “new and improved” Black Friday started in the outlet malls that began to open at 3:00 am, and then at midnight after Thanksgiving Day, which included three-hour specials to entice people to come in at that ungodly time. Then it got crazier and actually kind of complicated. Some stores started Black Friday on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving—they never really closed.

Even more confusing, many had weird, complicated, overlapping promotional hooks, like one-day specials, three-hour specials, etc. Recently I saw an ad that proclaimed their Day After Thanksgiving Sale started on the Monday before Thanksgiving!

A Predictable Effect

The effect of all this promotion has been very predicable. The event became over diluted and less and less effective. Some retailers sacrificed more margin than needed in order to drive volume. But the event continues, and continues in a big way, even if it’s spread out over a longer period of time.

To top it off. I received an email ad for a retailer in the UK advertising a Black Friday Sale—and they don’t even celebrate Thanksgiving as a holiday. So clearly Black Friday is a huge cultural phenomenon beyond just a business strategy.

Overall, the event still remained “black.” That is, even if a retailer ran “in the red” all year, this week their financial performance likely turned to profitable and “in the black.”

Community: One of Three Core Values for the 21st Century 

Almost everything humans do as a group has at least two different explanations for what is happening. First, there are superficial or manifest reasons that are clearly stated, and second, there are latent, not-immediately-obvious reasons and motivations.

The manifest, stated reason for having an After Thanksgiving Sale is to drive sales volume and profit. But there’s also an important latent function or underlying reason: people’s essential need for community. People have an important need to connect with other shoppers and with sales associates.

The outlet malls in particular (but all stores in general) have a party atmosphere at these post-Thanksgiving sales events. People bring thermoses of hot drinks to stave off the cold while they wait in line in the dark, cold, middle of the night just for the chance to buy socks or sweaters.

But instead of the grim determination you’d expect to find in those lines, there’s laughing and joking and swapping of stories with complete strangers. There is a bond because everyone is doing something crazy together. It is not just about saving $2.00 on a pair of socks.

In many stores, the staff set out buffets in the stockrooms for their teams. Cookies, lasagna, drinks—it’s often a real feast, and fun.

It’s the sense of community that makes this work work. Of course that isn’t all that’s required to be successful. The other pieces of the equation have to be in place as well; price, product, value, and service, to name the most important. But it’s the community that gives Black Friday the excitement and momentum.

Where are you shopping for the After Thanksgiving Sale Event? I’d love to hear your stories.

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