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Black Friday: Is it even special anymore?

Once a hallmark of American consumerism, Black Friday has undergone a significant transformation in recent years, losing some of its original fervor yet retaining its cultural significance.

Traditionally, Black Friday saw shoppers flocking to stores like Macy’s and Best Buy the day after Thanksgiving, hoping to snag big discounts. However, the dynamics of this shopping phenomenon have shifted. Many consumers are now encountering the “Best Prices of the Year” through a barrage of promotional emails well before the actual day, as retailers compete aggressively for their attention and wallets. Macy’s, along with its competitors, now spreads its promotions over a longer period, diluting the once singular focus on Black Friday itself.

Despite these changes, Black Friday hasn’t entirely lost its charm. The day continues to represent the shopping frenzy that engulfs the United States each year. According to Craig Johnson, founder of Customer Growth Partners, while Black Friday is still a cultural event, it no longer resembles its previous incarnations characterized by extreme crowds and chaos.
Online shopping convenience has played a role in reducing physical store crowds, but the allure of in-person shopping remains for some.

Black Friday’s origins can be traced back to the 1960s in Philadelphia, where police officers used the term to describe the chaos that ensued as tourists swarmed the city’s stores. Over the years, it transformed into a day symbolizing retail profits. Retailers initially extended their hours to attract more shoppers, but recent trends have seen a reversal, with many choosing to remain closed on Thanksgiving.

This shift in Black Friday dynamics has also been influenced by changing consumer behavior. Online spending in early November has seen an increase, and last-minute Christmas shopping continues to be significant for retailers. For instance, Barnes & Noble reports high sales volumes in the days leading up to Christmas.

Amid economic pressures such as inflation and rising interest rates, retailers are observing changes in consumer spending habits. Consumers are increasingly seeking promotions and are more cautious about making significant purchases. As a result, companies like Best Buy are preparing for a “very deal-focused” customer base this holiday season. Despite these changes, Black Friday remains an integral part of the holiday shopping season, albeit in an evolved form. Creative promotions and deals continue to draw customers, both online and in stores, marking the day as a significant event in the retail calendar, a testament to its enduring appeal in American culture.