Why does Christmas music start playing on the radio at the beginning of November? Why do we set our alarm clocks for 4:00 AM the day after Thanksgiving to join the crowds? Where and how did this “tradition” even start? Is it a herd mentality? Did we as advertisers cause this real life Hunger Games where grandmas are fighting over calculators and children are pushed by parents to grab what they can’t reach?
While there is a slew of myths as to the beginning of “Black Friday,” History Channel reports that it was first coined in 1961 when there was an outrageous amount of people in Philadelphia the day after Thanksgiving to shop and pre-game for a Navy-Army football game. City police were shorthanded and were not allowed the day off which led to an increase in shoplifting due to worn-out cops.
In the 1980s, retailers were able to spin a positive connotation of the day by referencing the commonly known “red to black ink” profit margin tradition that results in hoards of shoppers looking to steal a great deal on their day off.
Last year, shoppers spent $10.4 billion in stores alone on the day after Thanksgiving. And believe it or not, that’s down $1 billion from last year as a shift towards online sales continues to take place.
According to behavioral psychology strategist John Gibbard, retailers prey on the psychology of consumers, taking advantage of human competitiveness, scarcity and FOMO (fear of missing out). When advertisements use words such as “while supplies last” or “limited quantity,” combined with an innate desire to beat other bargain-hungry shoppers to the punch, it just gets scary.
The belief is that if retailers can get customers in for reduced-price doorbusters, they’re more likely to dish out extra cash on unnecessary purchases; and it works. You can’t blame companies for taking advantage of the “If you build it, they will come” theory.
The short answer: as long as people keep participating. But, numbers of shoppers continue to decrease each year, especially with the rise of weekend-long, online options. Many of those who are in-store shoppers are young and tech-savvy and can easily check their phones for competitors’ prices.
Because of this demographic, we believe the future lies in an overtaking of online sales - it encompasses everything shoppers could want in a bargain hunt experience sans long lines, physical exhaustion and unhappy employees.