They camp outside in tents, bundled up for the freezing temperatures outside. They wait, meticulously counting down the seconds until the doors open. And, finally, after hours of waiting, they bust through, pointing credit cards like weapons at the clerks.
They’re Black Friday shoppers, and they’re an interesting breed.
It’s not so much the shoppers themselves that are seemingly nuts — it’s the businesses that fuel Black Friday. Traditionally, businesses open on midnight the Friday following Thanksgiving. This year, however, a handful of businesses are set to open on Thursday — Thanksgiving Day. Namely, Walmart, Target, Macy’s, Kohl’s, JCPenney and Toys“R”Us.
These companies maintain a common mantra: Holiday season is the time to meet sales goals for the year. “Black Friday” derives its namesake from this concept. No, not because it’s pitch dark outside at 3 a.m. when you leave to shop, but because businesses go from being “in the red” to “in the black.” Being “in the red,” means that businesses are not yet profitable, while being “in the black” means the businesses surpassed the break-even point.
For instance, prior to the holiday season, Toys“R”Us is typically in the red. Shopping flourishes during November and December because of the holidays, so this is when they conjure between 42 and 43 percent of their annual sales. It’s at this point that they enter the black and become profitable.
Many companies are following a similar pattern, and some are getting especially anxious. Take Target, for example. In 2013, the store opened at 8 p.m. This year, the chain plans to open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Eventually Thanksgiving Day will be devoted to shopping, as well — benefiting businesses even more.
But what about the customers, or even the employees?
The truth is, companies want to open earlier just so that they have a better chance of pushing out their inventory. If stock is still piled up by early December, the company will drive prices down to deplete its inventory. So, if consumers waited to buy things until early December, companies would be forced into giving lower prices.
Still, some consumers will always love Black Friday. They don’t find it nuts to wait in line. This is rational because it is a form of price discrimination — the best deals are given to the most desperate customers.
Essentially, stores are willing to give you a lower price at a cost — your time. This is simple opportunity cost analysis. For some, getting a TV for $100 off is worth 10 hours of waiting in line.
In reality, though, giving up your time is more beneficial for the business — Black Friday is just another ploy to get people in the store.
As experts in retail ergonomics will tell you, it’s all about generating foot traffic in the store. Retailers know that you think there will be great sales on everything when, in reality, there are a few good sales and the rest is fodder.
Sales floors are arranged according to this concept. Counterclockwise foot traffic results in increased spending because companies know you tend to enter the store and move to the right as you shop.
Imagine you are entering a department store with a central entrance. Typically, you would feel inclined to start walking to your right to shop, circling around until you eventually reach the left.
Consider the way in which you are reading this sentence — you are moving your eyes toward the right side of the page from the left. This is why department stores, like Macy’s, usually have a square path, so that you may follow a counterclockwise pathway easily.
Naturally, the few good sales will be hidden behind the average merchandise, which will be more expensive and usually put at eye level and to your right.
So, is all of the deceit and wasted time worth it? The employees, especially, would probably say no, considering they are really the ones forced to squander their holiday for Black Friday.
Some consumers have opened their eyes to this distasteful practice. In response to merchandise giants like Macy’s and Target opening on Thanksgiving this year, over 391,000 consumers signed a petition on Change.org to ask retailers to refrain from opening on Thanksgiving.
Even if this petition fails, there are other alternatives to consider when shopping this holiday season.
Rather than spoiling whatever is left to the sanctity of Thanksgiving — not to mention breaking the bank — why not put more emphasis on Cyber Monday, Black Friday’s techy cousin?
Cyber Monday began in 2005 and has been a great alternative for those shoppers who want to have time with their family on Thanksgiving and want to avoid crazy lines. The sales results prove it — in 2013, Cyber Monday sales were up 31.5 percent from Black Friday’s numbers.
Waiting to shop until the Monday after Thanksgiving has not hurt the retail economy. In an age of technology, we should be using this convenience to make our lives easier. We can utilize Cyber Monday so that employees can stay home with their families on Thanksgiving rather than stand, miserable, behind a register.
In addition, we need to recognize that Black Friday — and now Black Thursday — is not beneficial for the average consumer.
So, we should support petitions that want to eradicate the practice of opening stores on Thanksgiving Day. This would benefit workers and save our wallets from being tricked into the Black Friday façade.
We need to ask ourselves if we really want to work for companies that exploit us for the sake of sales.
Write to Courtney at CNL13@pitt.edu