Saturday, November 26, 2011

Black Friday or Mad Friday?

"Thanksgiving Day" is observed in various parts of the world and its origin is said to be in celebrating  the harvest and blessings of the previous year. Original celebrations were to direct thanks to the God and use the occasion for family togetherness, prayer and feasting. The tradition of celebration of harvest festival is  in practice throughout the Globe and examples of such celebrations are also available in Lohri, Pongal or Sankranti celebrated in various parts of India and SriLanka. This also is an occasion for getting together of the entire family before the winter months and enjoy the weekend. It is observed on the Second Monday of October in Canada, coinciding with "Columbus Day" in USA, and on the fourth Thursday of November in USA. The day is also called "Turkey Day", in recognition of the most common dish of the day being Oven Roasted Turkey. Statistics say that USA turkey growers raise nearly 300 million turkey birds which will be converted to 5 billion pounds of turkey costing over 10 billion dollars. I am told that an average turkey weighing 20 Pounds, costs 20 to 30 dollars and can feed 15 to 20 people, of course with other dishes thrown in. Turkey cooking for the Thanksgiving Day is said to be an art and many websites give different recipes, details of herbs to be added etc., and advice on the duration and method of cooking. The duration of the meal is also expected to be longer considering the merriment and family get together atmosphere.

"Black Friday" is the day following the "Thanksgiving Day". I was bewildered why a black day should follow such a wonderful day, a day on which members of a family converge at a place and enjoy the blessings and spend the day in an atmosphere of happiness. Usually the term  "Black Day" is associated with some disaster and thanksgiving is not expected to be a disaster at all. The most common "Black Day" reference is to the days of severe fall in the Stock Markets, but it has now become so common that almost every alternate day is a black day.  In fact, there is a opinion gaining strength against use of such a jargon as otherwise we may have to refer every single day as black day!    

The original reference to the day after "Thanksgiving Day" being called as a "Black Friday" started in Philadelphia, USA, in the 1960s to denote and describe the heavy pedestrian and vehicular traffic which occurred on the day following the Thanksgiving day, marking beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Marketing of products and services became the key words of the commercial world in the last few decades and hence "Black Friday" was later on given a different meaning, to signify the day on which retailers begin to earn profit or turn their books to black ink. Nobody wants an account book which is in red which signifies loss and every commercial organization wants its Balance Sheet or more particularly, the Profit and Loss account to be in black. Shops and sale outlets which would normally open at 9 AM or 10 AM on a normal working day started to open at 6 AM on Friday, a few years back drawing inspiration from proverb "Early bird catches the Worm". More enthusiastic people started opening even early at 4 AM and the competition ensured that last year outlets like Best Buy, Macy, Target, Kohl etc. opened at 12 Midnight itself. Thus "Black Friday" became the busiest shopping day of the year and the day on which maximum turnover was achieved on the day. Some estimates even suggest that nearly 40% of the annual sales is achieved on this day! This could as well be true in view of people waiting for the discounts and deals of the black day and thronging the shops in numbers at midnight. On line version of sale outlets did not want to left behind in this marketing race and introduced "Cyber Black Friday", the on-line version of Black Friday. This is indeed fitting in as much as the main attraction of the sale is of electronic items like computers,  laptops, TV sets, video games etc.

The unmanageable rush during such sale probably tempted the sale outlets to do something to ward off the rush on a single day and instead get it spread over a few days as this made better sense logistically. Thus evolved the concept of "Price Matching", which is an excellent feature of customer service. Prices change every week and many times even during a day. Therefore customers feel cheated when they buy an item at some price in a shop and then find that the price was lower in an outlet across the street. To prevent this, companies and outlets offer Price Matching and are prepared to sell an item at the competitor's lower price if there is credible source to show the price difference. During the last fortnight I have visited several such outlets and find the buyers armed with Internet enabled mobiles surfing the net standing in front of the item they want to buy and showing the price quoted there to the salesman standing in front of them. The price is matched, sale done at the lower price and everyone is happy. Then the question arises as to prices coming down a day or two after an item is bought. Sellers are now even prepared to refund the difference in price if the prices come down up to 14 days after the sale date!

There is a lot of talk about recession, job losses and hard days. But wherever we went in the last few days, we have seen a lot of buying going on in the shops and malls. I had a desire to see on the spot how people respond to Black Friday Sales this year. I joined a group of young enthusiasts and embarked on a fact finding mission on the night of Thursday, the thanksgiving day. My associates had assured me that the crowds would gather late in the evening as the priority would be the "Turkey Dinner" which generally extends till 4 PM on Thursday. We left at about 9.30 PM and went to a nearby Walmart outlet, with the firm belief that we would be among the early birds as the Black Friday was still more than two hours away. It had stopped raining and we were properly geared to meet the cold with overcoats, mufflers and hand gloves. When we reached the vicinity of the outlet, traffic was a crawl and parking place was difficult to find. Probably all the cars in the city were in shopping mall parking lots. After a fifteen minute struggle parking was possible. We walked briskly for nearly ten minutes to find the end of the line to entrance. Special security personnel were employed to man the lines and ensure there was no stampede. The line moved ever so slowly and the temperature was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit or 4 degrees centigrade. It could have been worse but we were lucky. Some wise persons in our group moved into the warm comforts of the car. Despite the gloves fingers became cold and i truly developed cold feet. I was strictly advised by my well wishers to move to the car after about an hour. But this was a lifetime experience and i did not want to miss it. After two hours we reached the gate for entering the place. The mart had a policy of allowing 100 persons at a time, after 100 persons left the place through the exit doors. The immediate comfort after entry was the warm atmosphere inside. There was hardly any moving place inside and there were shopping carts all round. Moving was with considerable effort and everyone was buying anything available, from T-shirts to footwear,  winter wear to toys. The biggest crowd was for TV sets and Laptops and computers. We spent about half an hour inside and decided it was enough. When we came out there was still a stream of incoming enthusiasts and the line was still at the point where we entered it.

Saturday's newspapers were full of reports about "Black Friday shopping", some funny and some disturbing. Shops had opened as early as 9 PM in many places, three hours before the actual day arrived. One person waited a Best Buy outlet since 4 PM on Wednesday for buying TVs and electronic items. He slept in a tent and dispensed with the Turkey Dinner. His wife brought scrambled eggs for his Thursday breakfast and the Thanksgiving dinner ended with only a "3 Musketeer Chocolate Bar". In many other places also people spent the previous day in tents waiting for being the first to enter the sale area. In Los Angeles Walmart area, a woman used pepper spray to keep away other Black Friday shoppers so that she could get an Xbox video game console at a huge discount, and turned herself in to police later. People screamed, shoved and elbowed each other to save a few dollars and buy things on sale. Deference to others was replaced by outburst of the beast in men and women. May be, next year there may be no thanksgiving day because Black Friday will extend to Wednesday itself and thus swallowing the all important Thanksgiving day!

Someone wrote today that "The pinnacle of western civilization has arrived". There is no difference in "Black Friday" and  "Mad Friday" anymore.


  1. Black Friday sales increased by 6.6% to 11.40 billion dollars on Black Friday. On-line sales increased on thanksgiving day by 39% and on Black Friday by 24%! Foot traffic (persons visiting shops ans sale outlets) increased by 5.1%, drawing higher number of visitors for buying goods.

  2. Nice summary of the Black Friday. I was there at the stores on the same day and wow i could not imagine the rush at the stores. No wonder USA is built on consumerism and capitalism. It seems even weather gods supported with some nice warm weather !

    LCD TV prizes were crazy. It was atleast 50% less than they cost in India.