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The Research Study on the Most Effective Time to Start Black Friday Sales

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When I hear Black Friday, I think of long lines, irritated customers and crazy shopping hours just to save a buck. The most commonly repeated story behind the post-Thanksgiving shopping-related Black Friday tradition links it to retailers. It is said that after operating at a loss all year (“in the red”), stores would likely earn a profit (“went into the black”) on the day after Thanksgiving because holiday shoppers spend so much money on discounted merchandise. The first recorded use of the term “Black Friday” dates to 1869 when two notoriously compassionless Wall Street financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, worked together to buy up as much as they could of the nation’s gold, hoping to drive the price sky-high and sell it for outrageous gain. On a Friday in September, the conspiracy finally came undone, sending the stock market into free-fall and bankrupting everyone from Wall Street barons to farmers. However, the real story behind the name came in the 1950s when police in the city of Philadelphia used the term to describe the chaos that ensued on the day after Thanksgiving, when crowds of suburban shoppers and tourists flooded into the city before the big Army-Navy football game held on that Saturday every year. Not only would police not be able to take the day off, but they would have to work extra-long shifts dealing with the additional people and traffic. Shoplifters would also take advantage of the chaos in stores by stealing goods, adding to the law enforcement headache (Pruitt). Black Friday is supposed to be a day for shoppers to save money going into the holiday season and boost retailer’s profits. However, I will explain how it is now argued that it causes people to behave irrationally and how many find it unethical to pull employees and shoppers away from the holiday as sales continue to start earlier each year.

Standing in line for hours, sometimes even overnight for the epic deal may become a thing of the past. Although it is said that corporate media and chain marketing campaigns are doing their best to hype up a supposed great deal while encouraging people to sacrifice family time (Black Friday), some people are finding just as much savings by shopping from the comfort of their homes online.

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Courtney Jespersen, consumer savings expert at NerdWallet states that “We’re seeing more and more retailers offering their actual Black Friday deals early. Best Buy, for instance, hosted early deals when its ad leaked on November 8 (2017). Office Depot and JCPenney are also giving teaser deals early. Retailers are trying to get consumers to shop all month long – as opposed to only Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday”. I would personally agree with that statement because since I started shopping over 20 years ago, I notice the ads start earlier and even last longer.

The consumer is not limited to jumping out of bed early and waiting in line at the stores anymore. Though in-store deals exist, most stores don’t limit their best deals to brick-and-mortar anymore. Target, Best Buy, Walmart and others offer doorbuster deals online, while supplies last. Many stores are also offering free shipping, so you don’t need to worry about extra costs cutting into your savings. Last year, Walmart had free two-day shipping, Best Buy was offering free shipping during their sale and Target was offering free shipping throughout the entire weekend (Bradford). Online shopping can offer people the less stressful way to save a dollar as well as give them more time with family over the holiday. For example, Walmart’s Black Friday sale started at 5 a.m. on November 23, 2017 but their online sale went all day. If too many deals are confusing you, you could just shop eBay. The online site price matched select sales from Kohl’s, Walmart, Macy’s and JCPenney from November 13 to 17, 2017 with use of a coupon code.

There are multiple arguments on when the sales should begin, but I did find two case studies that explored different areas of the topic which I found interesting. The first was case study was Blue Law States vs. Free-for-all States. In New England, certain Blue Laws prohibit retailers in three states from staying open on Thanksgiving Day: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine. While the three Thanksgiving Blue Law states experienced an average foot traffic increase of 23% over the Thanksgiving weekend in 2016 compared to a non-holiday weekend — the remainder of the Northeast with no legal restrictions saw a greater average foot traffic lift of 35% the same year. This proved that shopping over the full weekend was much higher in states that allow it on Thanksgiving Day. This is now causing the Blue Law States to push their boundaries on start times to stay competitive.

The second case study was For Mid-Tier Department Stores, Timing is Everything. Opening Thanksgiving Day may lead to more sales, but this study will determine if the time they open determines anything. Glueck explains that they looked at three national department stores, JCPenney, Macy’s and Sears, who were locked in a close holiday race last year with alike competitive set and bargain-hungry consumers. JCPenney started the earliest Thanksgiving Day opening at 3:00 p.m., followed by Macy’s at 5:00 p.m., and then Sears at 6:00 p.m. By JCPenney’s opening first, they brought in nearly three times as many shoppers with a 280% lift in foot traffic as compared to a baseline Thursday. Macy’s, saw a 120% increase, while Sears only increased 90%. Although JCPenney and Macy’s were neck and neck Friday through Sunday, both with a 120% boost compare to a baseline weekend; with the Thursday surge, JCPenney ended up having a total Black Friday weekend bump of 150% as compared to only 120% for Macy’s. The data shows that there is a definite benefit to stores that open days and even hours ahead of their competition. There are a lot of factors that go into deciding when to open, not the least of which is the moral question of encouraging shopping around the Thanksgiving holiday. Taking the importance of the volume of holiday shopping for a troubled sector, it may be in their best interest to do some competitive planning on when to open.

While online shopping has become a viable alternative, there are still supporters of the tradition of Black Friday shopping and those who love the competition of getting that coveted item. Shopping online also doesn’t come with the thrill of putting that item in your cart from toughing it out in-person (Bradford). Consumers can benefit from the competition, as some retailers put low prices on TVs and other technology to entice shoppers out of their homes, said Phil Dengler. Dengler also says “Stores do want to offer something that will get them through the doors, because it’s more of an incentive to buy if they’re in the location. It’s very important for some of the stores like Sears and Kmart. Both of those stores are really struggling right now”. Although there is the moral debate going on about pulling shoppers and employees away from their families on Thanksgiving Day, the stores are still profitable proving they still have the support of many Americans.

Although there will be many opinions and much research on when the sales should start, there are many people that disagree with the sales beginning on the holiday. Stores opening early means employees of retail chains now must work on one of the only three days they traditionally haven’t had to work (Black Friday). Employees want to avoid the risk of drifting into part-time status or worse, so they must work it. Last year, chain employees and angry citizens started to fight back. A group of Walmart employees went on strike which is rare in the U.S. and Target employees protested. Research recently obtained by the Wall Street Journal suggests that you’re just as likely to save money on most items at other times in the year. Some retailers are calling it quits on Thanksgiving or cutting their holiday hours due to the negative feedback. Target said it would hit the pause button on through-the-night Thanksgiving shopping. Its stores opened at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving and then closed at midnight local time. They then reopened at 6 a.m. local time on Friday until 10 p.m., 11 p.m. or midnight local time. Sears Hometown Stores and Shoe Carnival are some of the few that are reversed their decision last year to open on Thanksgiving Day. After years of retailers opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day, it remains controversial. A survey from BestBlackFriday.com found almost six out of 10 Americans don’t agree with the idea. With more people being forced to work the holiday, many of which are making lower than average wages, I would expect we will see more trending of stores cutting their hours for the weekend shopping.

Although I am one of those who brave the crowds each year, I do have an opinion on the subject. I do believe Black Friday should remain on Friday. I disagree with forcing employees to work on the holiday when many already work nights and weekends. Even if some family members do not participate, it will be likely that others will need to miss out or leave the holiday celebration early. If the retailers feel the need to start earlier, they could start at midnight to allow their employees the full day to celebrate. I enjoy the tradition of it and even the excitement of getting one of the limited quantity sale items, but we keep moving our celebration up to allow the shoppers in our family ample time to get there. I deal with the moral debate every year.

I see the research shows it is profitable, but at what cost? How much backlash will it take to have other stores follow the lead that some others have already done? It is suggested that we could choose locally-owned independent businesses for our purchases or enjoy friends and family on Black Thursday/Friday and shop without the frenzy to fight the corporate encroachment, but I think if it comes down to the bottom dollar, this debate is far from over. Unfortunately, since the case studies are proof that there is more money in opening the extra day or even earlier on Friday, it will be difficult for retailers to ignore. This also proves that although many people are against the start times of the sales, there is still plenty of support for them because sales have not decreased. It will most likely come down to personal choice for years to come unless you are in one of the three states that ban Thanksgiving Day shopping. I do expect to see the demise of more box stores in the future like we just saw with Toys R Us. My belief is that a large portion of shopping and deals will eventually only be offered online which will make it difficult for those who can’t compete to remain open.

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