American Thanksgiving is here and, for millions of families, the day is steeped in old-fashioned values: quality family time, turkey dinner, football on the television, and eventually passing out on the couch.
But once out of their turkey-induced stupor, people will put on their true game faces and strategize: how to nab the best deals on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day in the American retail calendar. In fact, more than 152 million people already have some part of their brain working on the task.
Here in Canada, Black Friday has crept in to malls among retailers with a strong U.S. connection. But the real deals are across the border, and some Canadians are no doubt plotting their own cross-border dive in to Black Friday madness. So, for the uninitiated, here are five things you should know Black Friday.
Black Thursday is the new Black Friday
There is no denying this, but what was once an exclusively post-Thanksgiving day affair - a Friday event - is now taking place both on Thursday and Friday. About 1,000 Gap stores will be open on Thanksgiving, Wal-Mart stores open at 10 p.m., and a number of retailers like Target, Best Buy and Macy's open at midnight.
In fact, there are already people in tents right now across America. No, those aren't Occupy encampments - they're the Black Thursday shoppers lining up outside retail stores.
Blame the economy and teenagers
You could blame the economy for Black Thursday. The US economy is in a slump, millions of dollars have been spent on advertising, and to say that a lot is at stake is an understatement. Retailers like Best Buy are looking for a Black Thursday and Black Friday boost. It is the largest electronics chain in the country and its sales and revenues are down. Those retailers that are doing better want to power in to the Christmas shopping season and sail through an uncertain economic climate.
But it is the teenagers who are really to blame. Retailers have decided that younger consumers cannot be bothered with waking up in the early hours on Friday to get in line for the sales. "Young adults are the ones who really come out in force on Thanksgiving Day," said Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation, speaking to Los Angeles Times. "They may have three hours free after dinner, and they want to get some shopping done and be home by midnight."
Black Thursday is an assault on the American family
In the long history of failed and futile petitions this one may rank up there, but it does touch on an anxiety felt by many Americans over whether anything is sacred anymore? Anthony Hardwick of Omaha Nebraska has 199,741 signatures petitioning his employer, Target, not to open its stores at midnight tonight.
"A midnight opening robs the hourly and in-store salary workers of time off with their families on Thanksgiving Day. By opening the doors at midnight, Target is requiring team members to be in the store by 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. A full holiday with family is not just for the elite of this nation - all Americans should be able to break bread with loved ones and get a good night's rest on Thanksgiving!
"Join me in calling for Target retail stores to push back their original opening time of 5am on Black Friday," the online petition states.
Mr. Hardwick's petition, brave it might be, did not change the Target store opening times for Black Friday. "I'm going to have to get some sleep and I'll probably go to bed at two and miss my family Thanksgiving dinner completely," he told National Public Radio.
Black Friday (and Thursday) can be dangerous
Not to be alarmist, but in 2008 a Wal-Mart employee died during a Black Friday stampede at a Wal-Mart store in Long Island, New York. And every year, there are accidents, fights and police to deal with unruly shoppers. Stores are increasingly using off-duty police officers for crowd control - which happens to be one of the recommendations from the U.S. government's annual guidance to retailers after the 2008 death of the Wal-Mart employee.
The fact sheet gives all kinds of tips on pre-Black Friday planning and how to handle emergencies and crowds during opening hours, like this gem: "When the store reaches maximum occupancy, do not allow additional customers to enter until the occupancy level drops."
The rich don't do Black Friday (or Thursday)
It is about the bargains, and as The New York Times rightly pointed out today: "Budget-minded shoppers will be racing for bargains at ever-earlier hours while the rich mostly will not be bothering to leave home." And there is pretty obvious reason, as the article points out: the higher-end and luxury stores are not offering many sales because they don't need to.
"If you don't have to put it on sale and people are still going to buy it, why put it on sale?" Chris Donnelly of Accenture told the newspaper. Makes sense.