Gratitude is getting cheaper these days. Immediately after giving thanks, Americans are being lured from dinner tables to shopping isles, as major retailers vie for early-bird customers for the Black Friday shopping weekend. But as the country comes to grips with an ongoing recession and massive unemployment, the early sales and a bad economy are sparking contrasting responses.
The New York Daily News claims Black Friday will be a "bigger deal than ever," with throngs of new, tight-fisted customers flooding in for bargain prices. A preliminary survey conducted by the National Retail Federation asserts that the number of people "definitely" shopping, whether on line or in store over Black Friday weekend, jumped 6% from 2010. Clearly people want to save.
Maybe even too much. ABC News noted a major shortage in Thanksgiving meal donations in Southern California, reporting that L.A. Foodbank donations are down fifty percent.
Others see the early discount move as a sick gesture by greedy retailers destroying the holiday spirit. A petition from Target employee Anthony Hardwick is creating quite a stir on the internet. He is calling for the store to return their Black Friday opening hours from midnight on the 24th to 5 a.m. on the 25th.
"A midnight opening robs the hourly and in-store salary workers of time off with their families on Thanksgiving Day," he writes in the petition. "A full holiday with family is not just for the elite of this nation." The allusion to a ruling class evokes the Occupy Wall Street Movement. ("We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.") He's received over 170,000 signatures.
According to The Economist, retailers need to be frugal, too, and they're struggling to figure out creative ways of competing with an increasingly online shopping economy. According to a Washington report from the L.A. Times, retailers even fear that the congressional stalemate on taxes may impact shoppers. "Retailers are worried that failure by the committee could dampen consumer confidence on Black Friday," Lisa Mascaro wrote.
Or maybe fear and shopping create the perfect marriage.
The term "Black Friday" is commonly used for tragic events, most notably major stock market crashes. How the term became known for post-Thanksgiving holiday shopping remains vague, but its headline is boldly ironic both in contrast to holiday sentiment, and in capturing the current economic zeitgeist. While most say the term derives from retailers hoping to be "in the black" for their sales, there appears to be a general connection with frenzied crowds. Angelenos may recall the "Black Friday" attribution to the predicted traffic congestion of the 1984 Olympic Games (which didn't materialize).
It definitely ain't 1984. Or 1996 for that matter. Black Friday 2011 will be a penny-pinched, over-worked, overly-cautious blow-out all on it's own.