Black Friday Overload: Wait, Which Fridays Aren’t Black Now?

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Sears has dubbed Friday, October 29, as “Black Friday Now,” offering discounted merchandise and door buster sales supposedly on par with the more traditional day-after-Thanksgiving Black Friday. Target, which was ahead of the pack with its “Black Friday” sales way back in July, is also pushing winter holiday promotions even though it’s still autumn, as are retailers such as Amazon, J.C. Penney, Toys R Us, and Walmart.

Retailers have been trying to expand the winter holiday shopping season since, well … since right after they cooked up concepts like Black Friday and the entire winter holiday shopping season as a whole. But the NY Times says this year is different. With retailers especially desperate for business, and with consumers accustomed to having merchandise available at deep discounts, stores like Sears are “jumping the shark” (to borrow a TV phrase) in order to grab customers’ attention and pull them into the mall:

Black Friday creep has been around for a while, but analysts say this year breaks new ground: the range of stores offering early discounts is wider, the discounts are steeper and the sale periods longer — in some instances, a full month before the real thing. Sears, for example, offered early promotions last year but expanded the hours and days this year, while Amazon is beginning earlier than ever.

But are the discounts really bigger and better? It’s hard to say. For quite some time now, we’ve been living in a 24/7 “On Sale!” world where nobody pays full price and it’s impossible to tell how much you’re really saving, if anything. Some goods are listed at inflated prices just so that the inevitable discounts seem more substantial. After all, would you rather buy a pair of boots that retails for $75, or a pair that retails for $150 on sale for half off? (It’s a trick question; they’re the same pair of boots.)

These and other retailer discount schemes aim to get consumers in the door, where they’ll not only buy the discounted stuff they saw in ads, but, chances are, stuff they never planned on buying and don’t really need.

This strategy—get ’em inside the store by any means, even if you’re basically giving some merchandise away—is at the heart of concepts like “Black Friday” and the “door buster.” But have these phrases, along with more mundane words like “sale” and “discount,” totally lost their meaning? More and more, these terms are being used in the same way some manufacturers throw around words like “new” and “improved.” None of these words, by the way, have any measurable relationship to the word that actually matters to consumers: value.

The consumer, barraged on all sides by ads, is puzzled, left with questions like: If every Friday is Black Friday, how can you tell which one is the “blackest”?

One thing you don’t want to do is be blinded by “Black Friday” buzz or trust any of the proclamations of retailers themselves. By some account, there’s nothing special to the latest round of special deals. The Times quotes some experts:

In some instances, deal hunters say, stores are just hijacking the Black Friday label. Mike Riddle, who started the site in 2006 to track deals, said shoppers should not believe that “special” prices for the Friday were necessarily lower than the usual price.

“Retailers are taking advantage of the term,” he said, citing the first Sears “Black Friday Now” circular as “nothing more than their weekly ad rebranded.”

While much is uncertain in the world of retail, one thing’s for sure: There will always be another sale. Chances are you’ll hear that it’s the “best sale ever,” just like the one before it, and the ones that inevitably follow.

Read more:
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