5 Things We Learned from the Black Friday Weekend Shopping Experience

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Black Friday isn’t just about cheap prices. It’s also about participating in a cultural phenomenon and doing otherwise nonsensical things.

Here, five things Black Friday weekend (formerly known as Thanksgiving Weekend) has taught us:

People Will Forsake Sleep to Shop. Lots and lots of people will do so, and they’ll forsake lots and lots of sleep. The National Retail Federation reports that 24% of Black Friday shoppers were already at the stores by 4 a.m.

People Will Do Stupid Things While Shopping. In the frenzy of Black Friday, shoppers can do some pretty dumb things, as a Craziest Black Friday Photo Contest shows. For example, leaving a brand-new 55-inch TV unattended in a pickup truck so you can go back to the mall and shop some more. Also, the NY Times interviewed a curious crew of shoppers in Atlanta, who arrived at an Apple store at 2 a.m. in order to be the first inside for the 5 a.m. opening, when they bought an iPad and four iPods—at the usual, totally non-discounted price, as Apple stores don’t really do Black Friday discounts.

People Will Shop on Thanksgiving Itself. The number of shoppers hitting the stores on Thanksgiving Day itself has doubled in the past five years, from 10.3 million in 2005, up to 22.3 million this year. The sharp rise comes as a result of the fact that way back when, stores were closed on the holiday and shoppers didn’t have the option to shop. Now, plenty of retailers, such as Walmart, Sears, and Toys R Us are open for at least part of Thanksgiving Day. And guess what? People shop. The message retailers hear is: If you’re open, they will come.

People Really Like to Buy Stuff for Themselves. In the season of giving, more shoppers are being especially generous with the most important person in their lives. Retail analysts cited by cited by USA Today say that 15% of items purchased on Black Friday were for the shoppers doing the buying themselves, up from 9% last year. One man at a Walmart in Maryland explained why he’d just bought a 42-inch TV for himself:

“This year, I’m taking care of me first. I deserve a little gift,” he said.

Well, at least when you’re buying for yourself, there’s not much risk for buying something that the recipient doesn’t want.

When One Best-Ever Sale Ends, Another Begins. Pretty much all of the retailers involved in the Black Friday frenzy are now trying to entice online shoppers into participating in the frenzy of Cyber Monday frenzy—or an entire Cyber Week (at Walmart). But because online specials and Black Friday-type deals have been around for weeks, and will continue to surface throughout the holiday season—and then well into the post-holiday shopping season—it’s impossible to believe any “best ever” claims, or even to believe the “original retail price” to gauge how much you’re saving because nobody ever pays full price anymore.

The WSJ’s Digits blog says it’s unlikely that Cyber Monday will be the biggest shopping day of the year, and even foresees the possibility of a Cyber Thursday—for online shopping on Thanksgiving itself—replacing Cyber Monday as the season’s big online discount day. If that happens, retailers will have to up the ante and generate shopping excitement in some other way. I’m picturing “best ever” sales with names like “Black Wednesday Morning” and “Cyber 3:27 a.m. on a Random Tuesday.”

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