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 one thing, even Thanksgiving itself isn’t 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.
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. (On the flip side, Hanukkah seems to coming be super early, no?)
We’ll be covering it all here, with reporters weighing in on lots of topics, like how the Toys ‘R’ Us bankruptcy has created a big opening for other retailers, and how the United States compares with China’s own made-up shopping holiday.
Your Black Friday Playbook
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
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
China’s Answer to Black Friday
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.
Early Shoppers Brave a Cold 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.
Not every store is after the Thanksgiving early bird.
The outdoor retailer REI stuck with its own Black Friday tradition and remained closed on Thanksgiving, calling it #OptOutside. When the campaign started four years ago, the company focused on consumerist culture excesses, but this year the company focused their anti-shopping campaign on the dangers of screen time.
— Nellie Bowles
But Who Needs to Stand in Line?
A retail report from the Adobe Analytics firm said that online shoppers seeking Thanksgiving Day deals had shelled out $1.75 billion as of 5 p.m. — a more than 28 percent increase over last year.
By the time Black Friday actually begins, Adobe said it expected online sales to have hit $3.7 billion. The company 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. According to Adobe, more than half of online shoppers were making purchases on their mobile devices. Such sales didn’t top the 50 percent mark last year, the company said.
— 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