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Shopping on Black Friday

Shopping on Black Friday

by Chris Petry

Well, it’s here. Tomorrow is turkey day. Families across our great nation will gather in their masses to give their thanks and probably consume way more calories than necessary. Two seconds later, they’ll pack into a gas-guzzling SUV and head over to the local Wal-Mart where they’ll battle Grandmas in electric scooters for a half off air fryer. Over in the toy department, the twins from The Shining will stand guard over a store exclusive turquois-sequined Barbie doll and there will absolutely be a Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome-style showdown between two “dude bros” in Sporting Goods.
Here's the million-dollar question: why? Yes, yes, I know. It’s Black Friday! It’s the beginning of the largest consumer spending month of the year and retailers everywhere are slashing prices to entice customers. I mean, who decided that holiday shopping must begin at 5 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving? Or, these days, at 5 p.m. ON Thanksgiving.  
The term “Black Friday” was once used in a very different circumstance. In the late 19th century, it was used in reference to the crash of the U.S. stock market. It would take nearly a century before the term was applied to the consumer spending boom the day after Thanksgiving.  
Some say it all truly begins in 1951 when Black Friday was referenced in a Factory Management and Maintenance journal. At that time, the term was used to explain the phenomenon of an unlikely number of supposedly sick worker call-offs the day after Thanksgiving. The easiest explanation being that an overindulgence of food and booze the day before, rendered many unfit for duty come 9:00 a.m. Friday. Many of the “ailing” laborers took advantage of the extra day off to begin their winter holiday decorating and shopping.
By the early 1960s, retailers were acutely aware of the uptick in business in the hours after Thanksgiving and began to market the day accordingly to stimulate profits. By the mid-1980s, Black Friday, as we known it, was in full-swing.  The tradition carried on with little change, except for the news-worthy size of crowds outside shop doors, perpetuated by retailers pushing the starting times further and further forward. Then came the internet.
The single biggest change in holiday spending has to be internet shopping. Why brave the obnoxious crowds and freezing temperatures for a Mickey Mouse shaped Jell-O mold when you can just order one on Amazon? Well, I can’t believe I’m about to mount a defense in favor of Black Friday shopping cart-jousting, but here we go! Brick and mortar needs us. The internet is wonderful, there’s no denying it. It’s made virtually anything, for better or worse, more convenient and in most cases, much more affordable for strained American budgets.
The downsides? Well, if you need something crucial, RIGHT NOW, you may not be able to wait 48 hours for delivery. Pre-Covid, Amazon would routinely deliver packages to my porch 12-20 hours after I hit “Buy Now.” Since then, I can’t count the number of times I’ve placed an order guaranteeing 24-hour delivery only to receive the dreaded “your package is running late” notification on my phone. Herein lies part of the problem. If we make Amazon, or any other online retailer, feel too secure, they will have every opportunity to provide less attentive service for the same or increased service fees. Having the brick-and-mortar stores down the street is a little insurance against that. If they have to compete for your business, they’ll lasso the moon and pull it down to you It’s a Wonderful Life style to get it. We can enact change by choosing when and where to use our wallets.
Then there’s the economic realization that online stores can often offer lower pricing because they’re not paying rent. They’re not paying cashiers. They can afford to buy massive quantities resulting in per-item discounts that physical stores, especially local Mom and Pop places, just can’t compete with. You might pay a couple dollars more down the street, but it’s good for your community in the long run. It’s also good for your delivery driver who shouldn’t have to deliver packages on Sundays and bank holidays. Everyone deserves a day off.
Of course, sometimes online is the only option and a Black Friday sale can help you get your hands on more niche merchandise that you’d avoided charging off the rest of the year because of the intimidating price. There are pluses and minuses to both brick and mortar and online shopping.
So, how can you support local businesses, get your holiday shopping done, and score some of the best deals without camping out at Target for half a day? Try a price comparison app. There are a number of wonderful apps that allow you to see the best available price (in store and online) before making a purchase. You can also be an early bird. Why wait for a sales ad to tell you when to start Christmas shopping? Pick stuff up a little bit at a time, as it’s on sale earlier in the year. Black Friday may be a tradition but no Apple product is worth that craziness!