The economics of Black Friday

by on November 25, 2011 at 7:45 am in Economics, Uncategorized | Permalink

Robert H. Frank writes:

In recent years, large retail chains have been competing to be the first to open their doors on Black Friday. The race is driven by the theory that stores with the earliest start time capture the most buyers and make the most sales. For many years, stores opened at a reasonable hour. Then, some started opening at 5 a.m., prompting complaints from employees about having to go to sleep early on Thanksgiving and miss out on time with their families. But retailers ignored those complaints, because their earlier start time proved so successful in luring customers away from rival outlets.

This is portrayed as a zero-sum or negative-sum game, but I view the matter, at least in efficiency terms, more optimistically.  The alternative to waiting in line and fighting the crush is to go shopping some other day, hardly a terrible fate.  More analytically speaking, the average return in other endeavors limits how bad these rent-seeking games can get, otherwise just switch and stay home and read your blogs, as some of you perhaps are doing right now.

In fact it seems that early December has in general the cheapest prices of the year, not Black Friday.

Dare I suggest that some people like waiting in those lines with their thermos cups and stale bagels.  You could try to argue they are “forced to do so,” to get the bargains, but in a reasonably competitive world  each outlet will (roughly) try to maximize the consumer surplus from visiting the store, including the experience of waiting in line.

If your store does a crazy sale at 5 a.m., and mine does a crazy sale at 9 a.m., the somewhat saner people still can go to my store, if they prefer to, without losing any bargains.  Maybe the truly early opening hour signals bargains, and customers would assume that a 9 a.m. opening means no bargains, but of course there are plenty of other ways to signal low prices, including through advertisements and the overall reputation of the store’s Black Friday over the years.  I don’t see any line in front of Bon Chon Chicken, now at Fairfax Circle by the way on Old Lee Highway.

You might try a behavioral story that consumers are tricked by the prospect of low prices, yet shelves rapidly empty, but it’s hard to see that working year after year, or even in one year, if pissed off customers won’t buy anything else.  More likely, the mix of low price and queue is a form of price discrimination, which as we know is generally welfare improving.

Although my efficiency prognosis is more optimistic than Frank’s, my underlying view of human nature — or perhaps economic growth — may be worse.  Is that really what people want to be out there doing?  I saw the Best Buy line last night and those people looked pretty normal.  That’s scarier than postulating a bunch of negative-sum games.

prior_approval November 25, 2011 at 7:54 am

‘In fact it seems that early December has in general the cheapest prices of the year, not Black Friday’
Not before the media-retail invention of a day that didn’t exist two decades ago. Things change, of course – including the very idea that something like Black Friday ever even existed. Though why there wasn’t a link to this editorial from Target’s HQ local paper wasn’t a part of this post escapes me – http://www.startribune.com/opinion/editorials/134350223.html

Rahul November 25, 2011 at 8:04 am

December might have lower average prices but the Thanksgiving game is all about the low outlier pricing.

Andrew' November 25, 2011 at 8:47 am

Holidays are artificial scarcity. The market is dumb. If the market weren’t dumb Target wouldn’t be dumb. None of that is a value judgment.

“You might try a behavioral story that consumers are tricked by the prospect of low prices, yet shelves rapidly empty, but it’s hard to see that working year after year, or even in one year,”

It worked on me until about 10 years ago. I decided it was loss-aversion bias. Also having kids puts a lot of perspective on wasting time to get yet another silicon door stop.

Dan Weber November 25, 2011 at 8:15 pm

Black Friday has been around at least since the 1980′s. I don’t remember if they used that name, but as the kid delivering newspapers in that decade, I guarantee that we always knew that Thanksgiving was going to be the heaviest paper of the year for the day-after-Thanksgiving sales.

prior_approval November 26, 2011 at 10:19 am

Strangely, I carried newspapers between roughly 13 and 20 years old, into the earlier 80s – the Washington Post on Friday after Thanksgiving was in no way the heaviest paper of the year, at least compared to any number of Sunday papers (comics, TV schedule, Parade, whatever the Post magazine was then called (I believe), various Sunday only sections – books/editorial/travel for example). Partially because then, that Friday had yet to develop into a major shopping day – Saturday was a lot more crowded at Tysons Corner (the original one, with the attractive caged bird courts). Of course, DC isn’t necessarily typical of other regions.

JWatts November 28, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Black Friday as a sales day has been around since at least the 1960′s. It was well established by the 1980′s.

Rahul November 25, 2011 at 8:00 am

Tyler’s analyzing it from only the consumer’s point of view. Can a employee move as easily from “My Store” to “Your store” responding to pain-in-the-butt opening times? Barriers to movement are higher for an employee. I’ve no sympathy for the idiot who freezes his arse at 4am for a bargain. But I empathize with an employee who has lesser freedom to decline.

PS. I still think more legislation isn’t the way to go. But the concern is valid.

geerussell November 25, 2011 at 11:01 am

The existence of a union would change the dynamics of that kind of decision making drastically in favor of considering the employees.

anon November 25, 2011 at 4:30 pm

The existence of a union would change the dynamics of charging the lowest price.

geerussell November 25, 2011 at 6:43 pm

Only to the extent that a price is low as a result of underpaid workers creating a market distortion.

lonesnark November 25, 2011 at 11:22 pm

Only to the extent that a price is low as a result of not dramatically overpaying workers.

Hasdrubal November 28, 2011 at 10:56 am

Stores that open early on Black Friday do so several years in a row. What’s stopping would-be employees from taking the previous behavior of the store into account when they apply? Not to mention that working holidays is generally part of working in retail.

Gary Leff November 25, 2011 at 8:09 am

Black Friday, except as a consumption good in itself, is silly from a consumer standpoint, forget Cyber Monday, there are better deals online. Take for instance 4 separate ‘deals’ which are currently stackable at Kohl’s — a sale, 20% off sitewide with discount code CON20HH4, 11 points per dollar through the Chase Ultimate Rewards shopping portal, and $15 in ‘Kohl’s Cash’ for every $50 in spend. Taken together it’s good for better than 50% off anything on their website, and that’s hardly an anomaly across internet retail. Don’t stand in line, pay attention online.

Slocum November 25, 2011 at 8:17 am

Tyler’s analyzing it from only the consumer’s point of view. Can a employee move as easily from “My Store” to “Your store” responding to pain-in-the-butt opening times?

There are businesses that are open 24/7 year-round. Are you (and Robert Frank) also outraged by all-night interstate gas stations and 3-shift factory production? The Thanksgiving plans of Walmart employees who start work at 10 PM are less disrupted than the grocery store workers who (with no fanfare) work until 3 in the afternoon. Employees choose (and move) between employers all the time for a variety of reasons. Obviously, moving between jobs is not (and never has been) as easy as deciding to shop at a different store, but the market functions nonetheless–employers whose working conditions are worse have to pay more (or accept lower quality employees) than employers whose conditions are better (all other things being equal).

Chris November 25, 2011 at 9:32 am

I think the real complaint is that they moved up the time recently. People can get used to bad situations but they will squawk when you impose them.

figleaf November 25, 2011 at 11:56 am

Have you ever had a non-office job, Slocum?

See, businesses that operate 24/7 have this thing called “shifts.” And if you’d ever had such a job you’d know that when you work a second or third shift you adjust your schedule accordingly, including not only your family-obligation schedule but your sleep schedule. And thus there’s no reason at all to be “outraged” by business as usual.

Target was not doing business as usual. In fact the entire value of their promotion is that it’s not business as usual. And since the promotion amounts to imposing a one-time third shift on employees who already work other shifts, with the additional imposition of insufficient advanced notice to give affected employees a chance to alter their family-not-Federal holiday plans, the basis for your lack of sympathy is inappropriate, misplaced, and out of touch.

figleaf

Thomas November 25, 2011 at 12:31 pm

You obviously haven’t had a service industry job in the last 20 years. None of these places have shift schedules. And many of them have miserable schedules during the Christmas shopping season. It isn’t unusual to work until midnight and need to be back in at 10 am, or even earlier if the scheduler isn’t good. Three evenings worked with two mornings isn’t an unusual arrangement, and that’s for a part-timer.

Rahul November 25, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Is this an argument for or against 2am Black Friday sales?

Thomas November 26, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Yes.

Matt2 November 25, 2011 at 8:23 am

I was up at 2:15 to make breakfast for my wife and drive her to work for a 4AM opening. We were talking about this last night, and I think Rahul’s first comment about outlier pricing is the key.

If I’m offering X inch tvs for $Y at 9AM, and there are other stores offering them at the same or very similar prices at midnight, 4AM, and 6AM, and if the tvs are priced at a significant enough discount that a consumer decides that either they get one at this price or they don’t get one, the logical thing to do is get in line for the midnight opening. If they don’t get one there they can move to the 4AM store and so on down the line. If they just line up at the 9AM store it’s all or nothing.

Not that I don’t think the who thing is insane (I’d rather see the stores open 6pm til midnight Thanksgiving, then at 10 or 12 Friday – better for employees and shoppers) there is some logic on both sides.

Seth C November 25, 2011 at 8:25 am

The experience of waiting in line seems to be important. When people tell you they’re planning to get up early for Black Friday shopping, they don’t say it as an obligation, though in theory it’s no different from a bread line.

JWatts November 28, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Generally, people are shopping for luxuries on Black Friday, not necessities, so it’s not similar to a bread line even in theory. Luxuries are not equal to necessities.

joshua November 25, 2011 at 8:33 am

I’ve done early Black Friday the last few years, and I definitely get some utility from just standing in line and being part of the general experience, but this year I switched and stayed home and read blogs. Not sure if I’m exercising my right to voluntarily protest employees having to work at midnight, or if I just happen to be at a point in life right now where none of the marginal savings on the offered items are that enticing to me.

Claudia Sahm November 25, 2011 at 8:33 am

Or maybe Black Friday is just fun? … Some people enjoy watching football on TV post-turkey gourging (I don’t and never did) and others like “playing football” over the latest must-have kids toys at a deep discount. I actually prefer online shopping now and my friends are working or far away today. But I still remember the fun of queuing up with my mom and watching the spectacle. I love how economists make everything so complicated.

anon November 25, 2011 at 4:32 pm

+1

Ted Frank November 25, 2011 at 8:36 am

Tyler, your analysis ignores that the crazy sales only reward the first X people in line, which is why people wait in line. While prices are generally lower in early December, as Rahul notes, Black Friday is the only day that Best Buy offers a below-cost large-screen tv to the first ten people who buy one. That’s a pure social cost: the people waiting in line are “paying” to wait in line in time and inconvenience (though some surely get some psychic satisfaction from the deal-seeking), but the store gets no pecuniary benefit from this. The store’s benefit from this is purely a psychological advertising benefit, and it’s far from clear to me that that is conveying accurate information to consumers. Yes, rational people with high opportunity costs are going to avoid Black Friday (if not Cyber Monday) and read blogs instead. Still…

Gary, thanks for the Kohl’s info.

Bill November 25, 2011 at 8:38 am

Re: “the mix of low price and queue is a form of price discrimination, which as we know is generally welfare improving.”

I don’t think you can always say that a queue is optimal because it is price discrimination, or that all price discrimination is optimal.

It’s just that the buyer is not registering the cost of his/her time in the queue. In fact, if you view the queue as lost opportunity costs to go to other stores, what you may actually have is a program that raises consumer searching costs. You could posit a model that BECAUSE lines are long, the consumer views going to a store as a fixed cost of time, and therefore will buy more at that store because they have to be in the line to get that ONE special item on a discount that justifies the trip to that store over others. Meanwhile, the shopping basket gets very big with other items that are not that good of a deal, but the consumer will not know it because he/she doesn’t have time to go to other stores.

idiot shopper November 25, 2011 at 10:18 am

Ah, the good ol’ “people are morons and don’t know what is good for them” model.

“It’s just that the buyer is not registering the cost of his/her time in the queue.”

Really? When TV reporters approach these people in line on camera, one of the 1st questions they ask is usually along the lines of: “how long have you been here” and “do you really think its worth it”? I have never seen the answers “I don’t know” and “no” to those questions, respectively.

“…the shopping basket gets very big with other items that are not that good of a deal, but the consumer will not know it because…”

The very reason these folks are standing at a particular store is because they researched a particular deal ahead of time that they are waiting to take advantage of. I seriously doubt these people are not aware of the other available deals out there. You are making it sound like folks are standing in line waiting to find out what the deals are, and therefore don’t and/or can’t know what is going on at other stores that may be better.

Bill November 25, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Dear idiot, I am not presuming the business doesn’t know what it is doing by luring you into the store to buy that one item that is on sale. I would just question if YOU really understood what they are doing and why. As you said, I am sure the consumer “researched a particular deal ahead of time that they are waiting to take advantage of.”, just as I am sure that if you are going to wait in a line anyway you’d might as well load up the basket. If consumers were wise shoppers at holiday time, and considered the entire menu in their shopping cart and not just the sale item, you would expect to see, not holiday sales, but advertisements that we have every day low pricing at the lowest cost for any item you can find elsewhere. No, instead we have highlighted promotional sales.

idiot shopper November 25, 2011 at 3:39 pm

“…If consumers were wise shoppers at holiday time, and considered the entire menu in their shopping cart and not just the sale item,…”

Ah, once again the “people are morons and don’t know what is good for them” model. Can’t let that one go can you?

Let’s say someone did go in for a certain deal, and picked up a few additional items that were in fact available at other places for cheaper. Perhaps the buyer “registered the cost of his/her time” in this queue, and the other queues they would have to wait in to save a few dollars on every other item, and decided that its not worth their time to go buy 5 items at 5 different stores? Nah, I doubt any moron that goes in for an advertised deal is capable of such reasoning.

You sure use a lot of words to say that businesses use “loss leaders” to get people in the store in hopes that they buy more than just the advertised deal.

<>

;)

Bill November 25, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Dear Idiot, Have you thought about the inconsistency of your statements? First you say that by me pointing out that consumers may be irrational, you criticize that by saying this is the “people are morons and don’t know what is good for them” model.” And, then you end with the comment: “You sure use a lot of words to say that businesses use “loss leaders” to get people in the store in hopes that they buy more than just the advertised deal.” You flip flop more than Mitt Romney. And, businesses make money on consumers because they are the “m” word.

JWatts November 28, 2011 at 1:49 pm

It costs the stores lots of money to staff up to Black Friday levels and they offer phenomenal deals but also have phenomenal traffic. There aren’t enough customers to spread that level of shopping over the entire year.

Instead it makes sense for the stores to optimize around a few peak periods (Black Friday, After Christmas sales, etc) and to attract the large amount of customers by low pricing.

Ergo, peak shopping days is more efficient than spreading the same deal evenly over the year.

Claudia Sahm November 25, 2011 at 8:41 am

But putting on my economist hat…I do agree that restrictions on working hours are a BAD idea for everyone. If you don’t want to work a particular shift or hours…well, it’s a free country go get another job. Some people actually like or need to work odd hours. By comparison, I have tried shopping in Germany when I lived there in 1996, 1998, and on several visits since then. The store hours have gotten better but it is still so stressful for the shopper…particularly (working) women. And I ways felt the labor laws in Germany rocked for those with a job and stunk for those without one.

figleaf November 25, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Yes, I feel so sorry for those Target employees who have been pining for the opportunity to work graveyard shift one day a year. How thoughtless of their families and coworkers to object!

figleaf

Claudia Sahm November 25, 2011 at 12:46 pm

I’ve worked some pretty crappy jobs en route to my dream job (which still has some crappy moments)…when was the last time you shoveled manure, literally? The devil is in the detail and it may be the case that the mangers at this store handled the extra holiday hours poorly. Workers should be treated with respect no matter their title or salary. But if you work in retail it’s not a news flash that there are extra hours from Black Friday through January. But yes, it’s a free country, these workers can object all they want and then vote with thir feet. I didnt much care for retail either…working on a farm (even with all the manure) was more fun in my opinion.

Rahul November 25, 2011 at 1:51 pm

I agree with your German assertion Claudia. It was indeed a pain; especially when opening on Sunday was a legal no-no too. Till very recently, circa 2006 or so. Buying toilet paper (to this date) in Germany at night is like a treasure hunt.

OTOH I’m not a believer of “retail markets can take care of everything”. There are places where restrictions might be advisable (although Black Friday doesn’t sound like a good case)

Claudia Sahm November 25, 2011 at 3:18 pm

Rahul, I totally agree…unfettered capitalism is not a happy outcome either. Regulations are an important, necessary part of any functioning market economy. What’s tricky is the amount of “optimal” regulation is going to vary from country to country and from time to time. My German in-laws feel differently about reasonable store hours than I do. They are more representative of German voters and I am more representative of American ones…so the it’s not surprising that the German labor laws are different than the U.S. ones. Different is not a value statement…it’s the outcome of a complex social, political process.

figleaf November 25, 2011 at 9:17 pm

I agree the devil is in the details. In fact that was my main point. The managers at the store did indeed handle the extra holiday hours in classic Dilbert fashion.

If there really are people in the Target food chain who wish they could work from midnight to eight in the morning before also doing their regular shift then I really do feel sorry for them. I don’t, however, feel so sorry for them that I’m in favor of forcing all their colleagues to work similar hours.

Hey, I’ve got an idea! Why don’t we all just cancel Thanksgiving altogether and open all the stores at, say, 9:00 Thursday mornings? People will be lining up for miles! Unless, of course, they’re required to work.

And finally, I seriously don’t get how Germany’s infuriating practice of closing all stores and banks the minute the bulk of the population gets out of work has anything to do with the equally extrem American practice of capriciously throwing monkey wrenches in their employee’s family lives. There’s this thing called a happy medium.

figleaf

P.s. It’s been almost five years since I’ve literally shoveled manure. It’s been considerably longer since I was a janitor in a factory, a street musician, a gofer in a down-and-out beer bar, a chain pizza store assistant manager, a manual laborer in a chemical fertilizer and detergent factory, a furniture mover, a house painter, a midnight-shift shuttle driver, a long-distance driver, an itinerant agriculture worker, an unskilled laborer for a concrete contractor, an apprentice leather worker, or a desperately poor homeless person who caged meals by working under the table cleaning restaurants and, yes, shoveling chicken, horse, and cow manure out of coops and stalls. But you’re right, I’ve never worked in a big-box store.

Claudia Sahm November 26, 2011 at 6:35 am

figleaf, they can’t keep the stores open on turkey day…when would all the Christmas decorations get put up ;)

About all the Germany-US comparisons…it’s the slippery slope/polar opposite logic that I usually dislike from others. (And yet it is fun to tell.) The simple point is that too much regulation can get silly in a hurry (after basic needs are met)…more common sense, mutual respect, calmer discourse would improve a lot of social interactions.

To your PS…that’s an impressive list of jobs. I hope you write your memoir some day as it undoubtedly would be interesting. (I mean that…no sarcasm.) I only worked one summer full time cleaning up pig poop and helping with other jobs that the men folk here might find even more disturbing. This was not my passion…my brother was the one who loved the farm enough to keep it going. The lesson I was supposed to learn (later according to my boss parents) was that I should treat everyone abd their work with respect. Now I like the fact that when I leave work I don’t smell like manure…but I am probably the only one who passes the freshly laid mulch in the spring and thinks of home. To each his own.

KLO November 25, 2011 at 9:07 am

Objections to Black Friday are no different than the objections to the many other things that only find enjoyable. The elites can not imagine that waiting in line for hours and fighting with the stinking masses for the chance at a good price on a television could be fun. And, if you are a New York Times columnist who adores the Dalmatian Coast, it probably would not be for you. But I can assure you that proles enjoy the madness of Black Friday.

All good liberals know, however, that aesthetic objections must be translated into concerns for the working man. It isn’t that Black Friday is relentlessly tacky. Oh no! Their objections are strictly limited to its effect on the poor retail workers. I strongly suspect that, if many of these workers were not manning cash registers at Target, they too would be fighting for killer deals on cheap plastic laptop computers.

idiot shopper November 25, 2011 at 10:20 am

+1

anon November 25, 2011 at 4:38 pm

I wonder how many of the people objecting on behalf of the poor Target workers also know of and approve of those who stand in line at Apple stores (or who themselves stand in line at Apple stores) for the latest iWhatever….

Snobs.

dan1111 November 25, 2011 at 9:11 am

You and I probably see shopping as a method of acquiring needed goods. However, for many people shopping is a pastime or hobby. Getting up early and waiting in line is logical if they want to participate in their sport’s premier event.

People also spend hundreds of dollars on equipment, get up at 4 am, and sit in a boat for hours just to acquire fish that they could easily buy at the store.

Chris November 25, 2011 at 9:35 am

+1

Rahul November 25, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Yes, but how many employees have hobbies that involve staffing stores at midnight?

JWatts November 28, 2011 at 1:52 pm

+1

n=1 November 25, 2011 at 9:38 am

Here’s a solution for the put-upon employees: move to Massachusetts, which has made retail openings illegal on Thanksgiving. So 12:01 Friday will have to do…

Chris November 25, 2011 at 9:46 am

I should add that putting in time and effort for one’s self on one’s own time feels a lot different than putting in another shift at your horrible job.

Ed November 25, 2011 at 10:21 am

I went to a large department store at 11 PM and stood in line for an hour with my wife, at here insistence. She is not from this country and was excited about the concept. And she almost had no idea what the internet was until she married me, so internet is out. I haven’t introduced her to internet shopping because I don’t understand it much my self, having shopped very little, on line or bricks and mortar, when I was single.

I generally agree with the posting. My wife complained that most of the prices at this store were the same prices she saw a week ago. But she did pick up a few genuine bargains, and left happy about 3 PM. And we got our Christmas shopping done early! And I have to admit I was entertained by the spectacle, and I since I am a night person I would rather go to a store at midnight and go to bed at 3 AM or 4 AM, than to get up at 3 AM or 4 AM.

I assume the workers were getting paid extra. When I worked in customer service, I liked working oddly timed shifts. I got paid more and the actual work was usually not much more difficult, sometimes easier, than what I normally did. But a number of customers thanked the retail clerks for putting in the odd hours.

So it doesn’t seem to be a rational calculation. Its a combination of the spectacle, some people really like to shop, the whole thing is really not that onerous if its managed well (how the store and the customers handle the whole process of opening the door and surging into the store is really important. The chains should pay for consultants from Disney on managing lines). What bargains there are seem almost to be tossed in to allow people to justify to themselves doing this.

Matt2 November 25, 2011 at 8:14 pm

You’d be mistaken, at least where my wife works. 0345 to 1400 with standard pay and one 35 minute break instead of the normal hour meal break. But who are you going to complain to in a “right to work” state like Virginia?

anon November 26, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Uh, quit or move.

Freedom to live where you want is great. Freedom to complain about things *you* can change is also great!

And yes, I do “feel” for all the poor football players and staff who must work on Thanksgiving.

Jonathan November 25, 2011 at 10:26 am

I have never gone to Black Friday sale before, but my home printer broke on Wednesday, so I figured I buy a new one and experience Black Friday. The printer I wanted was heavily discounted at Best Buy (midnight opening) and Staples (6 am). I arrived, incredibly naively, at Best Buy around 12:10. The store was full and a line of about 500 people was waiting to get in as people left. I had no idea… and, betraying my elitist credentials, I have no idea what utility could be found waiting in a line that long. Went home, woke up at my normal time (6:30) got to Staples at 6:50 and was out of there with the printer in under a minute. THAT I understand.

Rahul November 25, 2011 at 1:55 pm

You got the discount. The “idiots” at 12:10 got the free printers.

Jonathan November 25, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Actually the printer was (roughly) free. It was sold for less than the retail price of the included ink cartridges. Standard razor and blades story, I know. But still…

Rahul November 25, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Refill the cartridges and then you have the final laugh at those price-bundlers. It amuses me to no end that I’ve got excellent utility out of my kindle with buying less than $20 of Amazon wares. Another success story is the guys running Linux on (cross-subsidized) X-boxes.

Thomas November 25, 2011 at 1:01 pm

I did Black Friday for the first time last night (it was still Thursday when I started). I’m not a morning person, so the thought of going out for a 4 am or even 6 am opening is too horrible to contemplate, I don’t care how good the deals are.

I stopped at Walmart first, with a few toy ideas in mind for the kids. (Last year was electronics at our house, so the biggest discounts weren’t relevant for me. A great deal on a TV I don’t need isn’t going to get me to buy a TV.) The place was mobbed, and they released the electronics deals early because the crowd was so large. All of the toys I was there for were gone, so I left.

I headed to the Target down the street, which wasn’t yet open when I arrived. I’d guess that there were nearly 1000 people in line, waiting to get in. They had us line up to come in one entrance, so everyone had a fair shot at the deals based on their arrival time. At two minutes after midnight the large TVs started to make their way out the door. Some people had clearly come just for that, and they weren’t buying anything else. A few bought more than one TV.

People in line were in a good mood. Lots of talking, laughing. It was a social occasion. I was alone, but most everyone else was shopping with someone else, or with a group. More than a few people showed up with their large gas-station coffees, which I thought was both overkill and a bad idea on multiple fronts.

I found the toys I was looking for, saving about $150. (I have five kids, so I often have to buy a couple of some things to avoid too many reminders that ‘we share’.) I was good for Target, because I ended up buying more than I planned, as I figured if I was shopping for Christmas toys, I should shop for Christmas toys. The line to check-out wrapped through the grocery section, so I ended up doing a little grocery shopping on the way out as well. Target did OK, I did OK, and no one seemed to be miserable and lots of people seemed to be having fun.

I think Frank’s proposal (of a tax on sales on Thanksgiving night) ignores the fact that many people shop on Thanksgiving day. I think Frank is right that being first is an advantage–there is a possibility of capturing some additional sales if you can make the initial sale. I’m not sure if that works as well for Amazon as it does for Target, as the experience of shopping at Amazon is much different from the experience of shopping in a store. I was amused by Frank saying that ” millions must now spend time away from home on the one occasion that all Americans, regardless of religion or cultural background, share as a family holiday.” As far as I could tell, millions more share Black Friday as a family holiday, and they were celebrating last night. Most of these shoppers didn’t look like they wanted to be in bed.

Claudia Sahm November 25, 2011 at 7:07 pm

“More than a few people showed up with their large gas-station coffees, which I thought was both overkill and a bad idea on multiple fronts.”

Thomas, my vote for best MR line today. Black Friday is a uniquely American social experience…which means its fun and a little bizarre…and seems to get some people a little riled up. Thanks for sharing.

juan November 25, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Black Friday shoppers are the type of people who enjoy crowds and big events. My sister-in-laws family do it. They enjoy the event and they enjoy telling the stories afterwards about how crazy it was and what great deals they got.

Some people like taking humanity baths like this. Her family also loves amusement parks and packed outdoor concerts and .. most things that attract tons of people to the same place.

prior_approval November 25, 2011 at 1:46 pm

The comments are quite interesting – Black Friday is something that originated after I left the U.S., and it seems quite outside of my experience.

Root Boy Slim singing ‘Christmas at K-Mart’ – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X96Un6POoo8 – is something I understand, however.

Seth Harden November 25, 2011 at 5:17 pm

It will be interesting to see if the average shopper spends more than they did last year…
http://www.statisticbrain.com/black-friday-yearly-spending/
Statistic Brains shows the average at $191 Last Year

David November 25, 2011 at 5:46 pm

It’s too bad Robert Frank doesn’t also protest the football games on tv. The NFL has been doing this for years — showing games on Thanksgiving and forcing coaches, players, parking lot attendants, ticket takers, security workers, concession salespeople, etc… to work the holiday. Indeed, the players generally play Sunday and then have to turn around and play again on Thursday, possibly increasing their chance of injury (is that a testable proposition).

And for what?

More money for the greedy NFL, that’s what.

Bill November 25, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Regarding store hours, what I think is interesting is that the comments look at this from the perspective of the employee lobbying for shorter hours, when in fact, most restrictions on store hours are sought by the employer, who does not want to stay open to compete with someone who stays open longer.

Rather than engage in the war of midnight or weekend attrition, the INDUSTRY is the one who traditionally has favored caps on hours: so, you have automobile dealerships in the 30′s arguing for restrictions on weekend, and even evening store hours, so that they didn’t have to employ as many sales persons; liquor stores lobbying for 9pm limits, etc

I bet you some of these retailers are saying “Oh, Brear Rabbit, Don’t Throw Me Into That Briar Patch of Restricted Thanksgiving Hours.” Or, perhaps they don’t have a position because they are now competing with the 24hour internet.

Jamie November 25, 2011 at 9:35 pm

The question should be why peaceful protests are sucking up police attention and money, when Walmart shoppers are macing each other over purchasing opportunities.

We do have our priorities, yes?

I spent Black Friday with woodworking tools, making things my loved ones might enjoy. I did buy two saw blades, stain, wax,a new level, and about $180 of wood. But not today.

Ted Craig November 26, 2011 at 8:53 am

People are spending on experience as much as goods. Since many studies show experience is more valuable than goods, consumers are spending their time and money wisely. How many kids remember what candy they received on any given Halloween? But they remember how they dressed, who they went with, etc.

Ted Craig November 26, 2011 at 8:54 am

By the way, I noticed most these comments are from men and almost all are negative.

Jim November 26, 2011 at 1:41 pm

>But retailers ignored those complaints, because….

… employees kept coming to work and doing their jobs well, and no sane person changes the way he runs his business because some hack writer makes vague mention of complaints from unnamed people.

Fixed that for you, Bobby-O. You are welcome.

Pavel November 27, 2011 at 7:56 am

I don’t understad the sentiment about employees forced to work during holidays. In Russia there’re lots of 24/7 stores, you can buy anything from bottle of water to washing machine during the night.

caveat bettor November 28, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Bon Chon recently closed down in Tribeca. I hope the correlation between locations approximates zero, for your sake.

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