Is Black Thursday Replacing Black Friday?

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Nov. 23 2012 3:35 PM

Goodbye Black Friday, Hello Black Thursday? Does it Even Matter?

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People crowd the first floor of Macy's in New York as the store opened its doors at midnight to kick off its Black Friday sales

Photo by STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images

If you hit the stores today in search of bargains, you might not have realized it was a historic occasion. Looks like Black Friday as we know it is coming to an end, and this season will have killed it, according to the Associated Press. The tradition of retailers swinging their doors open at ridiculously early times on the Friday after Thanksgiving largely changed this year as several major stores opened on Thanksgiving day itself, “turning the traditional busiest shopping day of the year into a two-day affair.” One analyst tells MarketWatch that “the ‘early-opening arms race’ is definitely here to stay,” noting that stores resisting the trend will find that they’re sacrificing sales.

The result? Success! Turns out the kinds of people who go to a store at 5 a.m. are quite different than the ones who go at 8 p.m. as they’re digesting all the turkey they just finished eating. Although several stores were criticized for making employees work on Thanksgiving, they quickly found that the earlier opening time attracted more families, reports Bloomberg. That may be particularly important this year when overall growth in sales is expected to be anemic, which means retailers will be competing with each other for a limited number of dollars, rather than expanding the customer base, points out Reuters. Some, however, insist you shouldn’t believe all the Black Friday hype.

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Sure people line up to get good deals and reporters love to cover stories that pretty much write themselves during a traditionally slow news day. “Let’s just not pretend that it means anything,” writes the Washington Post’s Neil Irwin. Although many try to say otherwise, the truth is that sales over Thanksgiving weekend “tell us virtually nothing about retail sales for the full holiday season” and they tell us even less about the economy as a whole.  

But just because it’s hard to derive important trends from the day’s sales doesn’t mean the whole exercise is meaningless. All the media coverage around the event means that it’s a perfect opportunity for a retailer to steal customers from a competitor by making headlines, points out Bloomberg.

One store, however, made headlines for the wrong reasons as hundreds of people took part in Black Friday demonstrations at Walmart stores across the country, reports CNN. Protesters said the company retaliates against workers who demand better pay and affordable health care. But it doesn’t seem like that turned off shoppers as Walmart reported “its best ever Black Friday.” Judging from the videos below seems some were a bit too eager to get their hands on some electronics:

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.