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Black Friday: Revitalization or Sign of Decline

Black Friday in the US is the day after Thanksgiving when retailers open extremely early in the morning (3:00 AM, 12 midnight, or even jumpstarting at 10:00 PM Thanksgiving night) with large sales to kickstart the holiday shopping season.

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It's the busiest shopping day of the year.

Last week, after celebrating my family's version of a Thanksgiving feast with spicy Chinese hotpot, my wife & I decided to drop by a store on Thursday night to check whether we could get a doorbuster (limited quantity deep discount deal) for a replacement work laptop.

We quickly realized the situation was more than we bargained for.

Last year, we'd checked out Black Friday for the 1st time: we'd arrived at a store about 15 minutes before opening, chatted with others in the ~50 person group waiting outside, and then strolled into the store and had no trouble buying the gift we were looking for.

This year was different. There was heavy traffic on the roads leading to the shopping plaza. When we arrived shortly before doorbusters were supposed to be available, there were long lines, hundreds to >1K people each (some camped out in tents), snaking from many stores. Then, a police officer informed the crowds that stores weren't opening at their originally nationally advertised times, due to local Massachusetts laws. Some stores wouldn't be open for at least another 6 hours. We decided to leave, but many people (especially those who had apparently been camping out since Tuesday) stuck it out.

I ended up returning to that store at their regular hours (around 9 AM the next day) and being happily surprised to find that I could still pick up their laptop doorbuster. The clerk told me that when the store opened, everyone had rushed for entertainment items like big screen TVs that immediately ran out, rather than productivity tools like laptops. Others mainly stocked up on low-priced toys for Christmas gifts, and cheap basic necessities.

Turns out Black Friday was significantly busier this year.

Total spending over the 4-day Thanksgiving Weekend reached >$50 Billion, 16% growth from last year, with both more shoppers (majority of the US population) and higher spending per shopper. And this doesn't even include Cyber Monday, the following weekday with high online sales.

Some herald this as a sign of improved consumer sentiment & economic recovery.

Alternatively, could this be a sign of people's desperation, hence the increased need to buy/stockup when prices are low? After all, unemployment is still high, and surveys show most people are intending to spend less this holiday season.

Is this an example of vibrancy, or short-term stimulus that produces longer-term negative consequences (overspending/overconsumption enroaching on a traditional holiday to spend with family & friends; decreasing margins/unprofitable sales for local retailers with most of the margins flowing to overseas manufacturers. )? This year, a woman pepper sprayed 20 fellow shoppers (including children) while going after an XBox, people were mugged & shot in store parking lots, as well as various other shopping stampede incidents.

How do we create lasting, sustainable vibrancy?


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i was not in the Bay Area for Thanksgiving this year, but my friends attended In The Black: Blackout Oakland. maybe this s what a more sustainable black friday might look like this...

It was an event that aimed to highlight local businesses to keep them "in the black" rather than in the red" this season. They turned it into a festival rather than a riot to get into big box stores for a chance at a deal.

i think it really brought the community together and people got the chance to know a little more about what their local business had to offer while making friends and having fun!

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