Black Friday: Examining the Launch of the US Xmas Retail Season

As Black Friday approaches we examine this US retail phenomenon and cherry-pick the differentiators amongst the throng of retailers fighting for holiday-spend.

Comparable to the ‘Boxing Day Sales’ in Australia, Black Friday marks the start of the holiday shopping season in the US and is usually one of the most profitable days on the retail calendar, with many stores opening in the early hours of the morning to take advantage of bargain-hungry shoppers!

Undoubtedly, savvy online Australian consumers will be partaking in the Black Friday sales on 25 November 2011. In a smart move, Online Shopping USA is leveraging this US shopping tradition by holding a 24-hour ‘tweetathon’, allowing local consumers to share all the best offers and deals, and ultimately drive traffic to its website. The retail aggregator promises to bring its Australian Twitter followers coverage of the day’s sales and the best deals from its recommended online retailers.

So what makes Black Friday so highly anticipated by both consumers and retailers? Why is the name so ominous? What can local retailers learn from their US-counterparts?

Black Friday – Not as Spooky as it Sounds

According to a very reliable source (Wikipedia), the name ‘Black Friday’ originated in Philadelphia, where it was used to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic which would occur on the day after Thanksgiving. Though Black Friday is not traditionally a holiday, many employers allow their employees to take leave – contributing to the increase in shopping traffic.

Another explanation for the ominous name is that it indicates the point at which retailers begin to turn a profit or are ‘in the black’.

Black Friday Controversy

Traditionally stores have opened in the early hours of the morning (4am) in order to get the edge on their competitors. However, in an attempt to further boost sales, Target, Best Buy, Macy’s and Gap have all planned to open at midnight this year.

Although not everyone is thrilled at the prospect of the early opening hours, particularly staff rostered on for these graveyard shifts. Target, in particular, were presented with a petition by 190,000 of its employees protesting the opening time.

Quoted by Reuters, Anthony Hardwick, the Target employee who organised the petition said, “Thanksgiving is a holiday for family to get together. If you’re having your employees show up at 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, they’re going to spend their day sleeping so they can get ready for the busiest shopping day of the year.”

Black Friday Online Innovation

The hype around Black Friday is massive and the competition is fierce! I cherry-picked a couple of retail examples from the veritable smorgasbord of available to US consumers, that stood out as being particularly engaging:

Best Buy

Shoppers can congregate for a free outdoor showing of ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow: Part 2’ at their local Best Buy store. The retailer is offering giveaways and refreshments from 8pm, with the movie to kickoff at 9pm and the sale to begin at 12am on 25 November… however the online sale begins on the 24 November! Best Buy has pre-listed the majority of its ‘Doorbuster’ items on the website and is offering extended holiday returns… nice.


‘You shouldn’t have to stand in a long line to get a great deal’, say Amazon. The online retail giant has set up a Black Friday Deals Week page that pledges to its customers that, ‘We’re searching for the best Black Friday deals everywhere – including Black Friday deals other stores are planning – so we can meet or beat their prices and bring them to you even earlier’.  Its offering customers ‘Lightening Deals’ which are available for a limited time and to a limited quota of customers, much like the group buying model.

Living Social

Not wanting to miss out on the action, daily deals site Living Social announced that it will offer half-off deals for retailers including Office Max, Sketchers, BlueFly and Threadless. Usually known for offering lifestyle deals (spa, weekend escapes, etc), this venture, as pointed out Barbara Ortutay of the Associated Press, will allow ‘Living Social to participate in the Black Friday shopping bonanza that’s normally reserved for bricks-and-mortar retail stores’, as well allowing the deals site ‘to sign up new subscribers and take a cut from the money they spend on the coupons’ (quoted by USA Today).


Last but not least… Kohls deserves a special mention for turning that irritating song by Rebecca Black, ‘Friday’ to its advantage and leveraging the cringe-worthiness of the masterpiece to draw attention to its Black Friday sale.

According to, the retailer has given the ‘infectious tune new words in order to convince shoppers that the department store is the place to be midnight before Thanksgiving’.


Food for Thought

Though the sales season is clearly upon us with Christmas a mere five weeks away, I ponder… Are consumers, who have inexplicably become used to a ‘discount and deals’ retail culture, in a rush to spend up big 0r are they being a bit more savvy with their spend and cherry picking their purchases? What do you think?

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