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Posted on Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 5:58 a.m.

Top 5: Signs that Black Friday is heading in the wrong direction

By Paula Gardner

I’ve got nothing against bargains, holiday shopping or marketing strategies, but you can count me among the people who feel like Black Friday’s gone too far.

This year, more Ann Arbor-area stores than ever before are opening at midnight - or earlier on Thursday.

They’re advertising their sales weeks in advance. They’re scheduling employees to work on a holiday and overnight in the hopes that they’ll win the retail war and emerge from the year with profits.

ABC Warehouse Black Friday 2.JPG

Nathan Bomey |

In return, the National Retail Federation says about 14 million additional people will hit the stores this weekend, or about 152 million people in the U.S.

Yet 77 million of are holding off on their commitment - they’re waiting to see if the deals will be worth it.

So will they be worth it? I’ve got my doubts. I also think that, after years of building up to this point, Black Friday is in danger of losing its core audience instead of building it.

The reason: This year, all of the hype sounds the same. And the key indicator of that is the endlessly earlier opening hours that are finally - and significantly - eating into the Thanksgiving holiday.

Here are my top five signs that Black Friday is on the verge of shifting from a fun and functional retail event:

1. Where’s the fun? It’s the diehard Black Friday shopper who’s been willing to stand in line for hours and strategically shop with friends and family that made this post-holiday retail milestone an event. When you talk to people who shop that day, they love it. They don’t want to miss it and it’s become part of their holiday. And they pushed the day to the extreme, giving the day its reputation - and pushing the retailers to come up with still more ways to sell. But with competition fierce and profit margins thin or limited on hot-sellers, retailers turned to the clock instead of deeper discounts. So now the retail one-upmanship has blurred into Thursday, creating one big blurry definition of Black Friday - and too many choices for the average Black Friday consumer. If the fun goes out of the day - and I believe it’s getting close for more shoppers this year - all retailers will have to fight hard for the day to regain its luster.

2. It’s getting too easy to ignore. Those special ornaments, limited-time offers, and gift-cards with purchase sound good, but do they really sell out in the first hour? Not in every instance. We’ve all learned that many, many sales get better - or at least they’re repeated - on successive weekends closer to Christmas. And so-called “doorbusters” are all very limited in quantity. So what, then, do I get for leaving a family meal early, pulling a shopping all-nighter, setting the alarm for the middle of the night? Odds are, just an incremental gain when I compare it to the deal I’ll be offered within days or weeks. When consumers face that choice, the need to shop anything related to Black Friday could be minimized.

3. Resale stores are getting into the act. More power to these stores, especially ones that operate as a non-profit. But let’s recognize that their Black Friday sales could be happening any day of the week. These stores can’t promise door-busters, since a huge part of their appeal - aside from price -is the ever-changing and unique merchandise mix. Even they don’t know what will be on the sales floor by Friday. On a personal level, I appreciate that places like Play it Again Sports and Value World are seeing a marketing opportunity. But considering it as a retail trend, I can’t help wonder if they’ll just add more market confusion.

4. There’s a danger for retailers - and our shopping centers. Last year, shopping traffic at malls and shopping centers on Black Friday was up 2.2 percent - but sales were up 0.3 percent. Then a few days later, Americans spent $1 billion online during “Cyber Monday” sales. So while these major retailers are spending more effort and operating costs to open ever-earlier for Black Friday, they’re seeing ever-growing sales from the less-expensive-to-operate online outlets. There’s a worthy “buy local” backlash to Black Friday that I’m not covering here, but I will say that we need to be concerned about national retailers taking steps - like extending Black Friday hours - that can marginalize their bricks-and-mortar stores. The recession already wasn’t kind to the nation’s malls. Less store profits will eventually mean more empty storefronts.

5. Americans could use a day set aside to be thankful. We live in a country with both a standard of living and degree of wealth that many on this globe envy. Access to opportunity, to education, to religious freedom exist for all of us. And while many among us struggle, I also believe that people, given the chance to reflect on their circumstances, will be grateful for what’s good in their lives. It’s disappointing to see that national holiday that gives Americans that collective chance to give thanks blur into a days-long contest to shop more and sell more - and, for the employees involved, work more. Can we get Thanksgiving back?



Fri, Nov 25, 2011 : 1:35 a.m.

Paula you are spot on! For years businesses maintained "sane hours" that afforded everyone quality family time. Our economy not only survived, it thrived. Now due to the extension of store hours we have experienced a lower level of service due to retailers accepting sub-standard employees willing to work these crazy schedules. Truthfully the brick and mortar stores are just facilitating the purchasing migration to the internet where you can get the same personal service (none) and you do not have to leave home. I can see a future where the only brick and mortar stores that are open are those that offer expert, incredible and therefore expensive service to a clientele that demands it on a store hours schedule that reflects those some 20 years ago.


Thu, Nov 24, 2011 : 12:23 a.m.

Yep, run out to the store to buy more stuff..crap you don't need...yawn back to sleep for me!


Thu, Nov 24, 2011 : 12:22 a.m.

Black Friday relies on the same mass ignorance as the Lottery, Electric Cars and Solar Panels. Anyone with a third grade understanding of math can decide if their time has any value at all and if the fuss is worth the dwindling savings. I think Black Friday feeds on the anxiety and pressure to give more gifts then we can afford. When your kid's desire for computers, video game systems and other electronics out grows your ability to pay, that's a sure sign it's time for them to go get a job. Merry Christmas and death to "Happy Holidays"


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 8:16 p.m.

I would venture to guess that most people could't even remember what they gave or received last year. Some may remember a large gift like a car or maybe an iPad, but on the whole it's gone beyond the "joy of giving".

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 7:16 p.m.

I found last year that I could match just about any deal online. No alarm clocks, no waiting in line outside, no frenzied hopping from store to store. It was both more efficient and more comfortable.


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 4:52 p.m.

I haven't gone holiday shopping in 16 years, not since I discovered online shopping. I think the savings are way overblown to anyone that's half-way savvy with a search engine. If you just love to shop and you get off on "deals" than this is your day. Rock on with your bad self. If you work for a retailer and you hate the crazy hours, then quit. Or use it as motivation to change your career path. But you have no leg to stand on if you complain. Personally I think BF shopping is masochistic and reeks of groupthink, but whatever--let people do whatever they want, and let the market live. If the market supports crazy hours, not sure what we can do about that....that's capitalism folks.


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 4:06 p.m.

Well said Paula - but I would also like to point out that the news/media has been a big part in pushing this 'event' and creating some of the hype that has led to this point. I get that this country is in a bad shape ecomnomically, but pushing every story about a bargain, a deal, a doorbuster, just feeds into the frenzy surrounding it. Lets be honest, the very same people who are tight on money and trying to make ends who need the 'deals' dont need to be buying new TV's and DVD players anyways. Their kids dont need the newest toys and gadgets. This is what got us in this economic mess to begin with. If you cant afford it, dont buy it. Your kids will respect you more when you can pay for their healh care, braces, college, etc...and not that you bankrupted your family by buying new TV's I dont celebrate xmas, so I will gladly admit to not fully getting it, but I dont need to celebrate this holiday to see that the spirit of xmas is far gone down the path of consumerism, overspending and greed.

Rod Johnson

Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 4:06 p.m.

That's Buy Nothing Day. Looking forward to putting my tiny stick through the spokes of American consumerism.

David Paris

Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 6:54 p.m.

"How are your stocks doing?" So, you're saying that Holiday spending shows a return on investment? Hmmm...


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 4:53 p.m.

How are your stocks doing?


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 3:52 p.m.

I find all the hoopla about black Friday (and I refuse to capitalize "black", it's not a holiday) rather pathetic. Wonder how many people will be trampled to death in stampedes this year?


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 2:26 p.m.

Everything in this world is driven by the almighty dollar. I feel sorry for our kids and the work environment they are going to be put in. Companies lose or layoff 3 workers for every one they replace, they demand more like working Thanksgiving night, charge more for benefits, etc all in the name of driving for more profits. I have not had a raise in four years but my company contiues to be profitable every year but of course it is not enough, and of course the top dogs need to be paid more because they might leave and benefit cost have quadupled in that same time..

John B.

Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 3:53 p.m.

Almost makes you want to stop voting Republican, doesn't it? I just don't fathom how anyone that doesn't make at least $250,000 per year can ever vote for any Republican, even for dogcatcher, at least any of the current crop of extremist nutjobs that has hijacked the Republican Party....

elitist hack

Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 2:11 p.m.

How about free parking day all over downtown A2 on Black Friday to attract people to the stores and restaurants there, rather than the mall? How about some sort of subsidy where in addition to saving some money on Black Friday a portion of every sale goes to a LOCAL charity, homeless shelter, Food Gatherers, Salvation Army? The mall is a dead-air, feel-bad, mind-numbing, shopping farm for the 99% crowd--everything is the same--cheaply made, unimaginative in design and overpriced. (Wish my kids felt the same way.) The mall is dead...

John B.

Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 3:49 p.m.

What you say is way too sensible, so it will never happen in this America....


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 2:01 p.m.

I agree. Keep the 6 am or 7am store openings and let the employees have their Thanksgiving with their families.

Bob Bethune

Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 1:51 p.m.

Here's my theory: retailers think they are in a zero-sum game, in which there's a certain number of shoppers who, collectively, have a certain number of dollars they can spend. The question is, who's going to get those dollars? Retail management sees that if the other store opens first, the other store attracts shoppers and dollars that therefore don't come to us. This may be baloney; in fact, I suspect it is baloney, but I think this is the thinking that is driving this Black Friday extended-hours behavior.


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 1:41 p.m.

Someone (probably not P.T. Barnum) said "There's a sucker born every minute" ... and most of them will be waiting in line in front of a store on Thursday night.

John B.

Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 3:48 p.m.

So true!!


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 1:28 p.m.

The same people decrying the downfall of traditional family values are the same people that argue, 'well, business needs to make a profit.'

mike gatti

Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 1:15 p.m.

If that is your thing then by all means spend your time the way you want. However, please don't bore me with tales of how much you saved or where you waited in line.


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 12:32 p.m.

Nothing is sacred in American culture anymore except the opportunity to buy and sell cheap Chinese-made products. We are an abomination.


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 3:38 p.m.

Speak for myself? "NEVER!"

Usual Suspect

Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 3:32 p.m.

"We are an abomination." What's this "we" stuff? Speak for yourself.


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 1:31 p.m.



Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 1:26 p.m.

yes sir! or wait... that is unamerican! you're unamerican! leave the country!


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 12:12 p.m.

Well done, Paula. I used to like Black Friday morning shopping. It was fun. Why? 1. It began at 7AM on Friday morning. I'm a morning person, and love the early opening hours. 7 is perfect. Now starting it at midnight could be ugly because people will be tired and angry and wanting to go to sleep. And many females (the vast majority of BF money-spending shoppers from my personal survey) who do the cooking and cleaning will be exhausted from turkey day and unable to stay up that late. 2. There were some GREAT bargains on items my children and grandchildren's list. Now that all ads are online weeks in advance, I did read them. I don't see any big bargains. Next weekend's ads will be better, I'm guessing. 3. People were cheerful and polite to each other! Dressed in antlers, and Christmas shirts and laughing... and smiling at everyone, the atmosphere made it worthwhile without buying a thing. I think my last year was at KMart the year that I saw two women actually HIT each other in a fist fight over a cart with a much-wanted toy in it...both claiming the cart. Yeah, the thrill is gone. 4. Strategically planned, my shopping could be done by 9AM, in time for breakfast. 5. It was good exercise, walking through the stores and malls, after the Thanksgiving pig out. This may still be true. However, I'll get on my treadmill instead. And thanks to this midnight opening my grandchild drives 4 hours to come to home for what will now be an early dinner, and drives home 4 hours with no sleep to go to work at a store at midnight that night. Family friendly retailers, eh?


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 11:53 a.m.

I agree with the sentiments expressed in this article, and am personally saddened by the growing over-the-top commercialism of the holidays. Despite that, I understand that businesses don't typically make decisions that won't generate profit or improve their bottom line. Businesses exist for one reason only, and that reason is to make money. So, if people (aka "consumers") flock to these early Black Friday sales, then it speaks more about the buyer than the retailer. Basically, if you want to dictate what retailers do, then don't make their choices profitable.

John B.

Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 3:46 p.m.

You are mistaken. Millions of businesses do not exist just to make money. Mine doesn't. Mega-Corporations, sure, in their opinion. Not true for smaller businesses, however, in many, many cases. In reality, most businesses exist to provide meaningful jobs, so that citizens can provide for their families. Mine does just that.


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 11:52 a.m.

Ive got better things to do, like sleep in!


Wed, Nov 23, 2011 : 11:34 a.m.

Please, all Americans, you don't need to give thanks for anything or spend time with family and loved ones. You need to go shopping and buy our junk so our peaceful workers can be further exploited by us. We need to build our blue water fleet, too. Sincerely, your good buddies, The People's Republic of China.