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Turkey, pumpkin pie and malls: the Black Friday phenomenon

In America, giving thanks and spending money, eating turkey and going shopping, have become seemingly interchangeable. Thanksgiving now stands as a two-package deal: a day to indulge in delicious food and a day to splurge at the mall on the deals of a lifetime.

While some roll their eyes in disgust at this display of American consumerism, others create strategic plans to conquer the masses at their local mall. Either way, Black Friday tops the charts as the biggest shopping day of the year.

By the numbers
The concept “Black Friday” originated in Philadelphia and refers to police and bus drivers stuck in a huge traffic mess caused by the convergence of holiday shoppers and football fans arriving in town for the annual Army-Navy football game. Since then, people claim retails stores use this day to bump their sales “into the black,” making them profitable for the year. In fact, Black Friday and Christmas sales account for 20 percent of retailers’ annual profit.

Last year, 226 million shoppers spent close to $11.4 billion at retail stores and malls on Black Friday alone, according to ShopperTrak. In a survey conducted by the International Council of Shopping Centers, 90 percent of shoppers plan to buy things for themselves and their family, compared to the 10 percent who plan to buy gifts for others. According to analysis of Twitter conversations done by Mashwork, most Black Friday shoppers go to Walmart and Best Buy. In the stores, 52.7 percent of shoppers purchase clothing or accessories, while 42.1 percent purchase books, CDs, DVDs or video games, according to the National Research Foundation.

Yvonne Martin, assistant professor of business administration, explains the reality of getting a good deal on this day. “If someone is willing to wait in line for several hours, that shopper may get a great deal on some posted-sale item. It is usually a high-priced item that isn’t affordable for many shoppers at its regular price or it may be a toy every child wants for a Christmas present,” Martin says.

Plan of attack
Most shoppers do not shop on Black Friday without proper planning. Some people hit the malls to take care of all their Christmas gifts while others buy a new professional wardrobe at great prices and some watch people fight for the best deals.

Caroline (Spivey) Artley ’05 explains her plan of attack: “I start researching the best prices as soon as Black Friday ads are previewed. On Thanksgiving, I write out my plan which includes the stores, pictures of the items and the price all on a timeline that shows me what time I need to be at each store. I usually plan to buy the same item in multiple stores, in case the best price is sold out. On the day of the sale, I purchase as much as I can, returning the most expensive items later,” says Artley.

Others convene with family and friends on Black Friday, enjoying the fast pace of shopping together. Joei Askey ’14 and her family use this day as a reunion.

“Some years my cousins and aunt have stayed up until midnight and gone to the outlets. Other years, we brave the ‘mean streets’ and go shopping during the day, an all-day endeavor,” says Askey.

Thanksgiving Day
In the past few years, stores have slowly been enticing Americans away from their Thanksgiving meals, opening stores earlier and earlier. Last year, Target, Best Buy, Macy’s and Kohl’s opened their doors at 12 a.m., with some stores starting deals even earlier in the evening.

With shopping and spending money encroaching into our day of thanks, Americans wrestle with the rise of consumerism. Over 200,000 people signed an online petition last year to urge Target not to open early so employees could spend Thanksgiving Day with their families.

“Walmart has just announced that they will open at 8 p.m.,” says Martin. “On Thanksgiving Day, women are going to bear the burden on this new plan. First they have spent hours on their feet peeling potatoes, stuffing the turkey, baking pies, etc. They get a break to eat and then they are back to the kitchen again to clean up the many pots and pans involved in cooking the feast. When most people would say that is enough work for one day, Walmart employees will have to go to work to keep their jobs,” she adds.

Artley agrees that expanding Black Friday into Thanksgiving Day can be distracting.

“I wish stores didn’t open on Thanksgiving to preserve the family aspect of the holiday,” says Artley.

Others see it as extra time to find the deals, as Askey explains. “I am thrilled that some stores are starting Black Friday sales on Thursday. It makes it easier to beat the crowd and then escape with your good deals,” says Askey.

However, Americans cannot confine all their holiday shopping efforts to one day. The Saturday before Christmas has been dubbed “Super Saturday.” Black Friday just formally starts the holiday shopping season, one we all likely partake in at one point or another.

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