Here we are again: Mildly annoyed by the obvious consumerism, but totally in love with the deals. It must be Black Friday.
The Friday after Thanksgiving is still the official start of the holiday shopping season, but things are changing. For starters, Thanksgiving is no longer sacred — shoppers head outside or online to get an early start before the turkey is even cold. And instead of lining up at the crack of dawn after sleeping off their feasts, more people are shopping on their phones. In fact, if you follow the advice of our friends at Wirecutter, you’ll stay home and shop in your P.J.s. (Check out our full breakdown of how Black Friday has changed in recent years.)
Shoppers won’t want for time this year: The gap between Thanksgiving and Christmas — 32 days if you don’t count the holidays themselves — is long (next year it will be just 26 days). That means procrastinators get more time to put things off and retailers get one more shot at luring you in. But beware: Hanukkah is coming on the early side this year.
We’ll be covering it all here, with reporters weighing in from near and far.
Going to the Mall — But Not for the Shopping
Just before 11 a.m. at the Fashion Island mall in Orange County, Calif., the line to see Santa Claus was about 15-people deep, including parents and grandparents. Laura Natale, who lives nearby, brought her three-year-old son Christopher to see Santa. Asked if the crowds were any larger than a typical Friday, she said: “Not really.”
Others had anticipated more bustle at this palm-and-Christmas-tree-laden outdoor mall near Newport Beach, saying they remembered a bigger post-Thanksgiving rush last year. “It’s more empty than I expected,” said Michelle Gorczyza, who also lives in the area. She did encounter a long line at Anthropologie, so she skipped the store, deciding she could just as easily buy online.
Her husband Danny said that nowadays people come to the mall more for the food and the experience than the shopping. “You don’t see people running around with 10 bags,” he said. “They’re happy to spend $50 on lunch and just soak in the atmosphere.”
That’s what 28-year old Mitch Williams did on this sunny morning, sitting beneath one of the palm trees. “My grandpa is visiting from Ohio, so we’re having coffee and omelets.”
Was he doing any shopping? He shook his head no: “I do that online.”
— Cade Metz
Black Friday Has Lots of Competition
Black Friday, a “holiday” that wasn’t a holiday until it was deemed to be by American retailers a few decades ago, has a remarkably enduring position on the calendar as the year’s most significant celebration of commercialism.
Retailers start marketing it months in advance. Hordes of shoppers turn out in person and online. Google even programmed it into its calendar as an official holiday.
But Black Friday has competition. Lots of it.
Shopping holidays abound. World Fair Trade Day was May 12. Small Business Saturday falls on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The Monday after that is Cyber Monday — a creation of the not-so-long-ago era when shopping online seemed almost exotic. And Dec. 14 is Free Shipping Day.
Those are just the free-for-alls, where all retailers can participate.
Many companies have laid claim to their own corporate holidays. Alibaba’s Singles Day festival on Nov. 11 topped $30 billion in sales. Customers bought more than 100 million products in Amazon’s Prime Day event in July.
There was also Overstocktober, which Overstock.com used to push promotions before rebranding it as Customer Day on Oct. 15 of this year. Ebay declared the second Monday of each December to be Green Monday. Wayfair had Way Day in April for what it calls “better-than-Black-Friday deals.” Macy’s held a “Black Friday in July” sale over the summer.
“If we’ve seen anything in retail over the last 20, 30 years, it’s that consumers need to be motivated to shop,” said Michael Brown, a partner with A.T. Kearney’s retail practice. “They need to be provoked.”
And not just in the United States. Boxing Day in Britain, which comes after Christmas, has evolved into a day to observe hallowed shopping rituals. In Australia, Click Frenzy in February focuses on online shopping.
For anyone above all that crass consumerism? There’s a day for them, too.
The website for Buy Nothing Day urges consumers to “escape the Shopocalypse,” noting that the “anarchy that ensues on Black Friday has now become an absurd dystopian phenomenon.”
— Tiffany Hsu
A Strong Start for Retailers
Retailers and analysts say Black Friday 2018 appears to be off to a strong start. As of 11 a.m. Friday, Mastercard SpendingPulse was forecasting “a robust season for online and in-store commerce” with 5 percent growth — the highest rate in more than five years.
Adobe Analytics concurred, reporting that as of 10 a.m. Eastern Time, consumers had already spent about $643 million on Black Friday — a 28 percent increase from the same period last year.
Though the cold weather in the eastern United States may have kept some shoppers home, Mastercard SpendingPulse said that generally “online sales appear to be filling in any weather related soft spots in brick and mortar sales.” The clothing, electronics and interior furnishing sectors were seeing especially good traction, the analysis said.
The upbeat prognosis was supported, at least in part, by photos and videos posted Friday morning on Twitter, which showed long lines and bunches of bundled shoppers gathered at places including a Kohl’s in Mansfield, Mass., and the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn.
“Stores are busy, there’s good traffic, the queues are manageable and well-staffed, and inventory levels appear to be good for the time of day too,” said Frank Layo, managing director of Kurt Salmon, which is part of Accenture Strategy. “Retailers helped themselves by starting promotions much earlier this year to spread out the holiday shopping traffic and mitigate chaos. Their efforts appear to be paying off.”
— Matt Stevens
But There Are Hiccups
Early in the day, J. Crew wrote on Twitter that it was “experiencing some technical difficulties” with its website. The site appeared to be functioning fine soon afterward.
About three hours later, the home page for Lowe’s displayed a message that it was undergoing maintenance. The site was soon restored.
Still, analysts monitoring Black Friday said online sales were chugging along, driven in part by the cold, wet weather in some parts of the country, which they said may have nudged some shoppers away from their cars and toward their computers or smartphones.
What to Buy: A Cheat Sheet
Feeling overwhelmed by deals? You’re not alone. In the hope of clearing out inventory, retailers bombard us with thousands of items that are marked on sale. Many of these products are of subpar quality, or they aren’t actually on sale at all. We wrote a cheat sheet of the types of products that are hot — and the ones that are not — on Black Friday to help you home in on the quality, deeply discounted goods.
Here’s the upshot: Black Friday is a great time to buy a new video game console, a television, headphones or a smart home product like the Amazon Echo or Google Home. One of the most notable deals we’ve seen: Best Buy, Amazon and many retailers are selling Sony’s PlayStation 4 with a new Spider-Man game for $200, down from the normal price of $300 for the console alone. So come prepared: Jot down a list of things you’d like to buy in those categories and look out for price drops.
— Brian X. Chen
You Look Hungry for More
You clearly have an insatiable appetite for The Times’s Black Friday coverage! Here are a few recent stories you may enjoy about this very American “holiday” and how it fits into the broader economy.
• Some stores haven’t embraced the Black Friday madness. Among the holdouts: Dunham’s department store in rural Pennsylvania. Michael Corkery recently visited to learn why it doesn’t participate in Black Friday.
• F.A.O. Schwarz — the iconic but then shuttered toy store — is back, under new management: private equity. The new business model involves outposts in airports and “stores within stores” at larger retailers.
• Over in the Opinion section, David Leonhardt has a cool idea for anyone who is preparing to join the Black Friday scrum and spend on gifts or other purchases: Instead, use that money to subscribe or donate to a local news media organization!
• And for anyone who assumes that Amazon has put the final nail in the coffin of the bricks-and-mortar retail industry, not so fast: It turns out that more Americans are venturing back into stores, and some old-school retailers are actually doing better than in the recent past.
— David Enrich
Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Black Friday Has Got to Go
Believe it or not, not everyone is a fan of Black Friday.
REI, the outdoor equipment retailer, has generated headlines every year since 2015 when it first said it would not open the day after Thanksgiving. Instead, REI urged people to spend time with friends and family in nature, with the hashtag #OptOutside.
This year will be no different. Even as major retailers plan to promote blockbuster sales, labor groups like Occupy New Hampshire Sea Coast say they will be staging protests in front of stores to draw attention to employment issues.
“We’re fighting for respect and a fair wage at work,” David Holt, one of the organizers of the demonstration, said in an interview on Wednesday. He added that Black Friday was an especially appealing time for labor movements to organize. “One of the things this Black Friday protest is about is consumerism.”
Mr. Holt said he hoped that holding the demonstration in front of a Walmart would encourage shoppers to think about labor conditions for the store’s employees.
— Zach Wichter
Black Friday Goes Global …
There is no Thanksgiving holiday in Europe, but that hasn’t stopped the associated consumer bonanza from hitting shops there. French retail brands like Darty, Fnac and Monoprix joined Apple, Sephora and Uniqlo in efforts to attract bargain hunters on Friday.
In Britain, where sales used to take place after Christmas, shops have added Black Friday to their promotional calendars. Offers have been trickling in for at least a week. Amazon started its sales on Nov. 16.
Most other stores have joined the fray with even discount supermarkets offering money off everything from vintage turntables to legs of ham.
— Amie Tsang
… With Even Canadians on the Bandwagon …
Yes, Black Friday is everywhere — even Canada.
The “holiday” — in French-speaking Montreal, they call it “Vendredi Fou” — has reportedly become Canada’s busiest shopping day of the year, eclipsing Boxing Day (or Dec. 26), when the traditional post-Christmas Day sales would bring out hordes of shoppers.
This Black Friday, the stores in Montreal were packed, especially in the underground, labyrinth-like malls such as Eaton Center, which was crowded with people seeking shelter from the subfreezing weather. Athletic wear, women’s shoes and men’s suits were marked off at 50 percent or more in the Eaton Center mall. Outside one electronics store, velvet ropes were set up to keep the queues under control.
It’s said that Black Friday first migrated to Canada in the early 2000s, when the American and Canadian dollars were roughly on par. These days the greenback is worth 1.32 Canadian dollars, making these discounts even greater.
— Stuart Emmrich
… Though China Has Its Own Version
China celebrated its own invented shopping holiday this month. The country’s economic ascent has turned hundreds of millions of people into eager consumers. And they are buying stuff online with great gusto thanks in part to low wages that make shipping fast and cheap.
The Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba said it sold $30.8 billion worth of goods on Nov. 11, the annual online bonanza known as Singles Day. The company rang up $1 billion in sales in the first 85 seconds of this year’s frenzy. It took an hour to reach $10 billion. All in all, the company says it generated more than a billion delivery orders that day.
For some context: In the United States last year, online shopping from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday totaled about $19.62 billion, according to Adobe Analytics. (Yes, it’s true, that doesn’t include all the in-store shopping that took place on Black Friday.)
In addition to inundating phone owners with coupons and deals for weeks in advance, Alibaba deploys subtler methods to gin up sales on Singles Day. This year, users of the company’s Taobao shopping app could see how their spending on Nov. 11 compared to that of other people in their area.
[Read more about this year’s Singles Day, and why the party may not last]
— Raymond Zhong
Shopping on ‘Black Thursday’ (a.k.a. Thanksgiving)
For many shoppers, Black Friday actually begins right in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner.
Even on this, the second coldest Thanksgiving in New York City history, and the coldest since 1901, revelers still took to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and shoppers still lined up for Black Friday deals (or at least paid someone to do it).
Walmart took the lead competing head-on with Thanksgiving dinner by throwing in-store parties with free food. Calling it a way to “pump up customers,” the company expected to be handing out 4 million free Kuerig coffees and 2 million Christmas-themed cookies starting at 4 p.m. In-store Black Friday deals began at 6 p.m., but it wasn’t customers’ first crack at them: The chain began offering holiday bargains on Nov. 8.
— Nellie Bowles
Shopping from the Dinner Table
Online shoppers, too, were busy on Thanksgiving Day. They shelled out $3.7 billion on Thursday, an increase of about 28 percent compared to last year, according to a report from Adobe Analytics, which tracks transactions from 80 of the country’s top 100 online retailers.
And many of those online shoppers aren’t heading to their desks or even grabbing their laptops. Thanksgiving marked the first day during which $1 billion in sales came from smartphones, Adobe said. And consumers spent more on their phones, with average order values up 8 percent compared with Thanksgiving Day last year.
— Zach Wichter
Shopping on the ’Gram
Social media is playing a bigger role than ever in people’s holiday shopping habits. According to Accenture, 15 percent of shoppers in 2018 will use social media for some of their purchases, up from 8 percent last year. With a growing share of retail sales taking place online — and nearly half of those sales coming on mobile devices — social media might be a way for brands to counter the competition.
It could help retailers offset some of the deep discounts that consumers expect on Black Friday.
“If you can grab people in the inspirational moment, they’re not going to be as price-sensitive and maybe they won’t shop around,” said Jill Standish, Accenture’s global lead for retail.
Ms. Standish compared selling via social media to Amazon’s 1-click ordering (something that, according to one survey, had 70 percent of respondents spending more money).
Another advantage? Online, Ms. Standish said, it can be easy “for a small brand to look big” if they know how to present themselves, and know how to attract the right influencer profiles to promote their products. A strong social media presence can make a company seem instantly reputable.
— Zach Wichter
When Bargains Become a Tradition
There are three reasons that Black Friday is so popular, and two of them are the deals, according to Tulin Erdem, a marketing professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business.
“The economic savings, feeling good about yourself having found a good deal, being a shrewd consumer,” she said, all add up to one key factor. Plus, because so many stores offer Black Friday sales, it’s easier to find discounts without having to search as hard as you might during the rest of the year.
But, Dr. Erdem said, another reason Black Friday remains so popular is tradition.
“It still has its appeal because of this ritualistic aspect,” she said. “It’s like going to a big important baseball game or Super Bowl as an American family.”
[See how one family spent their Black Friday last year.]
Consider that the National Retail Federation surveyed 7,516 consumers about their shopping plans this year, and 26 percent of those who planned to shop on Black Friday said it was because of tradition. An additional 23 percent said they would shop because it’s just something to do. (As far as we know, nobody was asked whether they’re shopping just to get away from family members.)
Of course Black Friday is just the start of things. If retailers don’t start discounting before Thanksgiving — and most seem to — they are certainly using the holiday shopping season to push merchandise at every turn. The biggest discounts tend to come on “Super Saturday” — the last Saturday before Christmas, said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail analysis firm.
But Black Friday does matter. Consumers surveyed by the retail federation said they planned to shop more on Black Friday than on any other day of the Thanksgiving weekend.
And Black Friday maintains cultural cache, especially for “new Americans,” said Mr. Johnson, as recent immigrants are more likely to take part. “That’s how you learn to be an American consumer, by showing up and shopping on Black Friday.”
— Zach Wichter