Stop the Black Friday Arms Race

As I write this, the Black Friday shopper-combatants are trudging off the battlefield with the spoils of war.

I just don’t get it.  I am sure there are retail executives who laugh at what they can make their customers do to save a few dollars.  Leave the Thanksgiving dinner dishes in the sink, get out of bed in the middle of the night or wait in line for 12 hours all to save a few hundred dollars on a flat screen TV?  Sure, happy to do it!  Oh, you may not have enough of those rock-bottom-priced items to sell me one.  No problem!  Not to mention what the retailers do to their employees with the threat of unemployment in a still-weak economy for the honor of dealing with under-the-influence, caffeine-fueled, sleep-deprived and adrenaline-hyped customers.

There is very little that will make me venture out at 2 o’clock on a cold November morning.  A fire in the house or to leave on a vacation to a warm climate are the only things I can think of.  I’ll go shopping when I want and pay a few bucks extra for the privilege.  Or better yet, I’ll avoid retail totally and look for the best prices online with free shipping, as a friend did last year when she completed all her holiday shopping on Cyber Monday.

Interestingly, Black Friday is no longer just a Friday.  It has crept into Thursday (bad idea) and some retailers offer the bargains the entire Thanksgiving week (good idea).  Call me sentimental, but I believe as many people as possible should have off from work on Thanksgiving.   Making people clean up after dinner and go to a retail job just seems a little ridiculous.  In our area, retailers are now open 364 days a year.  Is this not enough time to sell stuff?  Closing for Thanksgiving and Christmas does not seem like too much to ask of retailers.  Offering the Black Friday deals all week gives customers a choice of when they want to shop.

Retailers are in an ever-escalating war to capture business at the beginning of the holiday shopping season.  The net affect is just noise and very little differentiation.  Of the 29 people at Thanksgiving dinner at my in-laws only one person admitted she would be shopping in the early morning on Friday.  She said she enjoys the adrenaline rush.   It sounded like everyone else would avoid retail outlets on Friday.  These are all middle-class folks with a K-Mart, Wal-Mart and Lowe’s right in their town, so they do not have to travel far to capture any Black Friday bargains.

I am even beginning to wonder if Black Friday is all that profitable.  I read stories about extreme shoppers who jump from store to store to take advantage of the biggest sales, which I assume are usually loss-leaders.  It does not sound like they buy any regularly priced or slightly-discounted items and are probably not giving retailers much profit margin.  Retailers are not promoting loyalty, they are competing on price only.  So is the escalation of Black Friday really about profits or is it the desperation of retailers fighting over a shrinking market as more buyers move to on-line shopping?

What am I proposing as an alternative?  How about a retailer cutting through the noise with a different proposition:  Close all day Thursday and open at your regular time on Friday.  Here’s how you can promote it: “We think our customers and employees deserve off on Thanksgiving and a good night’s sleep.  We will have great bargains all day Friday and Saturday, and plenty of stock to meet demand.”  Now that would be novel!

Or how about promoting loyalty?  Offer extra specials for those using your store credit card or who open a charge account when visiting your store during Friday and Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend.  If your store does not offer a credit card, you can give customers buying six or more items an extra 10% discount on their entire purchase.

I am sure there are many other ideas you can think of to break out of the Black Friday escalation paradigm.  It is up to you to help stop the madness!

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