Black Friday is not what it used to be – The New York Times

Black Friday was once a hallmark of American consumerism. It has lost some of its thunder lately.

It’s true that shoppers looking for big discounts can still line up early at Macy’s or Best Buy the day after Thanksgiving in hopes of snagging a bargain. But for many, the bargain has already been negotiated.

Check your inbox: “Best Prices of the Year” emails have been coming in for days or weeks as retailers try to outdo each other.

“When you think about Black Friday, the competitive landscape has really shifted to pre-Black Friday Black Friday deals,” Macy’s CEO Jeffrey Gennette told investors on a recent conference call as he explained why the company made its Expanded promotions. “We are in the middle of it all, just like our competitors.”

That doesn’t mean Black Friday has lost all meaning. The days of dozens of shoppers camping out at major retailers or rushing each other in the rush to snap up cheap TVs may be over, but Black Friday is still shorthand for the shopping frenzy that grips Americans around this time every year .

“It’s still a cultural event, but it’s not what it was a few years ago,” said Craig Johnson, founder of retail consultancy Customer Growth Partners. “Nothing is like it used to be.”

The ease of online shopping has also tempered Black Friday crowds, but some consumers still prefer the in-person experience.

At a Best Buy in Durham, N.C., a few dozen customers lined up outside the store before dawn Friday. Nitish Michael said he and his wife Smriti did not want to indulge in big purchases. Instead, they bought some discounted Nintendo Swift video games for their 14-year-old son Aarit.

Nandan Namvuri, 31, and Ydalis Guzman, 27, were looking for a QLED TV that was at least 40 percent off. Mr Namvuri said he found such deals online, but with such an expensive purchase he wanted to check the pixel resolution himself.

Sydney Hladilek, 21, has been going out on Black Friday deals with her mother for more than a decade. This year they were looking for a flat screen TV.

“I personally don’t like shopping online,” Ms. Hladilek said. “I’d rather come by in person. It’s also a bonding experience.”

Here’s what you need to know about Black Friday shopping.

The term “Black Friday” was coined by Philadelphia police officers around the 1960s. The day after Thanksgiving and before Saturday’s annual Army-Navy football game, tourists stormed retailers in the city and the crowds overwhelmed law enforcement.

Retailers welcomed the interest, but the original meaning was lost on many people – they understood “black numbers” to indicate profits at retailers (compared to red, meaning losses).

Over the decades, thanks to retail promotions, it became a staple of the national calendar — eventually characterized by long lines, unruly crowds and the occasional casualty. As stores tried to compete for customers, they extended their hours — first until dawn on Friday, then until midnight and then until Thanksgiving.

This trend began to reverse a few years ago when it faced backlash from retail workers. Many retailers now make it a point to remain closed on Thanksgiving.

Over the last 20 years or so, Black Friday sales have spread internationally, said Dale Rogers, an economics professor at Arizona State University. “It started as a little American thing,” he said. “Now it’s truly global.”

Retailers slowly rolled out sales earlier, and deals can now be found as early as October, said Mr. Johnson, the retail consultant.

“If you’re a retailer, you don’t want to capture demand by lowering your prices so much that you don’t make money,” he said. “Most people capture demand by targeting early demand.”

According to Adobe Analytics, consumers spent 5 percent more online in the first 20 days of November than in the same period last year.

Many retailers say spending is more important at the other end of the holiday shopping calendar, in the days leading up to Christmas, as people rush to snap up last-minute gifts.

Barnes & Noble, for example, sells more than 20 million books in December alone, with the seven days before Christmas accounting for twenty times the sales of an average week. According to, a market research firm, Christmas Eve and the Saturday before Christmas were the busiest days for dollar stores in 2022.

Mr Johnson said his company had predicted Black Friday would be the third-busiest day for retailers this year, behind December 23 and 16, the last two Saturdays before Christmas.

Companies have spent much of the past year celebrating a surprisingly resilient consumer who continues to spend despite inflation and rising interest rates.

But there are signs that this is starting to change. Last quarter, many executives told analysts that buyers had begun to pull back.

The Federal Reserve quickly raised interest rates starting in March 2022 to slow the economy and curb inflation. Although the price increase has slowed significantly, the general price increase is gradually weighing on consumers and limiting the amount of their discretionary income.

“Consumers are feeling the weight of multiple economic pressures, and cyclical retail has borne the brunt of that burden for many quarters now,” Target Chief Growth Officer Christina Hennington told analysts on a recent conference call.

That doesn’t necessarily mean consumers won’t come, but they are more likely to take advantage of promotions and less likely to make big purchases like furniture or certain electronics, analysts expect.

Best Buy Chief Executive Corie Barry told analysts on an earnings call Tuesday that the company is “preparing for a customer that is very store-focused” and expects sales to improve on days like Black Friday, Cyber ​​Monday and the days before would focus on Christmas.

The National Retail Federation, an industry trade group, predicts holiday sales will rise 3 to 4 percent from last year, in line with pre-pandemic levels but not as high as the past two years. Holiday sales increased 5.3 percent in 2022 and 12.7 percent in 2021.

Some stores offered creative offers to lure customers indoors or outdoors.

At a Durham location of Swish, a North Carolina-based shoe seller, customers who lined up by 7 a.m. Friday were entered into a drawing to receive certain offers.

Gary Johnson, 44, was among 14 customers whose names were drawn. He decided to buy a pair of Yeezy slides that sold for $70. The original price was listed as $200 in store, although they were available online for around $90. Mr Johnson was aware of the online discounts but said he enjoyed the “experience of waiting outside.”

“Just standing in line is a childhood memory,” he said, recalling the times he waited for discounted video games.

At JC Penney down the street, customers snapped up “mystery coupons” worth $25 to $500 at the checkout starting at 5 a.m. At Palmetto Moon, a Charleston-based clothing company, eager shoppers camped outside to get in on the action. The first 50 people in the door will receive a $25 gift card that can be redeemed for brands like Yeti and Vineyard Vines.