Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday

According to Wikipedia, the term "Black Friday" originally came from Philadelphia and referred to the crowded streets and stores. This was before 1961 which means before shopping malls. Back then most people shopped at downtown department stores and they got really crowded the day after Thanksgiving. Parking garages filled up and there were long lines to check out. Back then, many big stores did not have individual cash registers. Instead the clerk put the payment into a cylinder and stuck it into a pneumatic tube that took it to a central accounting department. They processed the payment and sent it back in a different tube (this inspired the tubes in Futurama).

Other dates may have more shoppers, but the effect would not have been as bad since the Black Friday shoppers were sharing roads and parking with office workers.

The term "Black Friday" became common by the mid-1970s. Stores, especially chains, started having day-after-Thanksgiving promotions in the 1980s. The current fad for being open all night or on Thanksgiving started then. I think that is when stores started having door-buster sales where they would have an item at a very low price in very low quantities in order to get people through the door (and sell them an upgraded model).

The current usage of "Black Friday" is an example of folk entomology. Someone assumed that the term was a good thing because of all of the business the date brings in. So that person guessed that this was date represents the profit margin for the year - the date that a store goes from losing money (in the red) to making money (in the black).

Many stores make their profits from Christmas sales. Most men receive electric shavers as gifts instead of buying one so Christmas accounts for most of the profits for companies like Norelco. For other companies, Christmas provides a boost in off-season sales. But, there are not many companies that can point to a specific day that they went from the red to the black.

Also, that concept only works when you take the year as a whole. The same thing happens on "tax freedom day" in April. That day represents how much of the year you worked for the government. After that you are working for yourself. Except, of course, you get your pay with taxes withheld on a regular basis.

What is new this year is the frenzy to expand Black Friday. Some stores declared that every Friday in November was Black Friday. Others began leaking their Black Friday specials early or made the entire month Black Friday.

Personally, I'm not going near a retail establishment today.

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