It’s the first week of November, which, in media, means: time to talk about shopping. Every year, reporters charged with covering the story of Holiday Shopping look, desperately, for that new angle, that one nugget that makes this year stand out from last: Stores opening earlier! Stores closing later! Stores not closing at all! Midnight became the new 5 a.m. Then stores bumped into Thanksgiving by opening at 10 p.m., which triggered talk of shopping ruining Turkey Day. No harm done, apparently, since 8 p.m. is the new 10 p.m. Which brings us to this year’s deep contemplation: is Black Friday actually dead?
Let’s see. I’ve been asked that question in three TV and radio interviews already this week—the first week of November, when retail headlines suddenly get bumped to the front page and the announcement of each big box retailer’s Thanksgiving weekend hours makes national news. I’m going to go with: No. Black Friday is not dead.
Black Friday has become a state of mind. It’s a trigger that immediately implies deals! and urgency! It’s why Target calls a summer sale Black Friday in July. And why boutiques are adopting “faux Black Friday” or “before Black Friday” instead of just calling it what it is: A sale that happens in November.
As anxious retailers continue to stretch Black Friday into a 24-hour-plus period, they risk diluting some of the spectacle that used to be associated with the Super Bowl of shopping: crazy lines and camping out in strip mall parking lots. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing, although it makes it harder for the TV crews to get their visuals, and the true Black Friday diehards, who believe a deal is not truly a deal unless you’ve risked frostbite and sleep deprivation, feel their holiday has been co-oped by amateurs.
But then, you’ve got to consider what prompts people to wait hours in line for a half-priced printer or a discounted coat. It can’t just be the deal. There are plenty of those. In store, online, this week, next week, before Thanksgiving, and after. It’s the experience—that good, old fashioned feeling of being bumped and shoved in a crowded store with sweaters flying and kids crying and Jingle Bells on repeat that we love to complain about, but also, sort of, revel in. Particularly as we do more of our shopping—and existing—online. Especially at the holidays, you want to touch and feel and be part of the crowd.
The sales associates who are bummed by the extra hours should talk to movie theater ushers who for years have been providing us with a respite from staring at bloated relatives on the family room couch. There’s only so much home time Americans can take before returning to their more natural state of consuming. The International Council of Shopping Centers says 46 percent of of U.S. consumers will shop on Black Friday. Shopping feels festive. It is a place to connect with the season, with each other, and with tangible objects we finally feel justified in purchasing. And that is the shopping mall’s best defense against Amazon.com.