Written by By Staff Writer Staff Writer Lisa De Moraes
“Oh my God, it’s a cent price today!” shoppers shouted before the doors opened at 5:00 a.m. on the last Saturday of November in 2011. The retailer that triggered that frenzy had recently entered liquidation.
The Friday after Thanksgiving, now called Black Friday, was in trouble.
Here were cash-strapped shoppers, armed with demand, tricked-out four-door Chevys and expensive Macbooks, who had not heeded calls to buy Christmas presents earlier in the year and were now searching for bargains. For the first time in the history of Black Friday, this bounty, this whoop, was showing signs of spilling over into full-out retail pandemonium.
Yet Black Friday has been saved from — and made America’s busiest shopping day the third-busiest day of the year.
That’s the takeaway from a new study by BDO Seidman LLP, a business advisory firm.
It has been more than 50 years since Black Friday emerged as a retail phenomenon. When we talk about the “shopping holidays,” we’re actually talking about three shopping days: Nov. 25, Nov. 27 and Dec. 24. And, the BDO study found, 55% of shoppers plan to be in the store on Black Friday this year.
Experts note that “Black Friday” started as Black Monday.
During World War II, generals requested tons of oil to fuel their war efforts. So rather than wait for the oil, U.S. retailers stocked their shelves.
On Monday, the stores opened and brisk sales were recorded — but some were from customers who’d come in trying to buy consumer goods that were the price of a gas gallon or a hotdog. Others bought things they might not have otherwise needed, but there was money in the store anyway.
It’s the history of that kind of hoarding that we need to consider as we eye the battles of bargains once again, said Ezra Welsch, a professor of consumer and retail marketing at Bowling Green State University.
“People came to stores after they had a hard time in their everyday lives. They came because there was bread, there was clothing, there was food, there was toys,” Welsch said.
Retailers encouraged shopping because it “got the day,” he said. “And the retailer got a chance to assess their place on the market and gain some insight, get some promotion out of it and sometimes profit — sometimes making money.”
You may remember the famous ad from 1955 for the Fuerte-Cokez chain of coffee shops. Two different characters, one a preacher and one a mystic, were watching the clock: The delivery of a coffee order would mean good news, which could bring out the spirit of Christmas. The plot thickened when the preacher cut in front of the mystic and was to receive a side order of gold.
The genie let the genie out of the bottle. Hoarding; early bargains; consumers abandoning shopping on the calendar for the moment of the savings: The next big Black Friday trend seems like it could fall into that basket of product-hoarding trends from the ’50s and ’60s.
“It’s one of the favorite motifs — “Whoops, I forgot about that sale, I’ll come back and get it.” That’s one of the oldest marketing texts,” Welsch said.
And, as it happened, Hoarding — when done well — brings buyers. In fact, the tradition has been used to, among other things, educate the masses about the good things we can have with just the right balance of willpower and money.
But “it did result in stores that are now starting at midnight or really early in the morning, starting deliveries on day one of the holiday,” Welsch said.
“That may have been because of the fact that Hoarding did produce some customers that were very loyal, very reliable, that would be coming back for years to come,” he said.
Finding that type of loyalty in Black Friday’s modern iteration — Black Friday stampedes? — may be tougher. When we talk about Black Friday, we’re really talking about a new, expanded retail day. BDO’s report says it will reach an estimated 75.8 million shoppers this year, a figure up 3% from the year before.