Fri 28 Nov, 2008
One of the peculiarities of the American commercial system is that of Black Friday. Specifically, the day after Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November, in the United States) has come to be known in recent decades as a day of rampant commercial interest, where the merchants on every high street and in every shopping mall seek to outdo each other in attracting customers to spend their hard-earned money.
Black Friday was originally called “Black” due to the inherent stress of the day–though later generations have popularly supposed that, due to the volume of commerce, it is the day that retailers ought to expect to begin to make their yearly profits, changing from the red ink of a deficit to the black ink of a credit. One might perhaps be forgiven for supposing that a business that requires continuous operation for eleven months of the year before a profit can be shown (and that the profit for the business depends solely on shopping for Christmas presents) might perhaps be a business that ought to revise its plan of operations.
Due to its ties with American Thanksgiving, Black Friday has remained almost entirely an American phenomenon; this ‘official start to the holiday shopping season’ seems to carry no real sway outside of the United States. The practice seems to have started with the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade–perhaps we can blame Macy’s for initiating season of rampant commercialism?–but is by no means limited to Macy’s or to New York. It is a nationwide occurance, one which is greatly anticipated every year by bargain-seekers and by retailers alike, though the anticipation by shoppers is more manufactured than genuine, given the profusion of advertisements targetted towards enticing people into the stores on that Friday.
Black Friday has become especially important this year, or so says the media, due to the recessional economy. Some retail companies–for instance, Mervyns–have closed their doors already. Others, such as Sears, are hanging on by their teeth in order to stay in business.
It is not just retailers who feel concerns, however; even children have begun to notice the state of affairs.
Other retailers suffered from rather more business than they could safely handle: at a Wal-Mart store in Long Island, one worker was trampled to death and several customers were injured when a stampede of bargain-seeking shoppers broke open the doors upon the store’s opening. Even so, the vast crowd of shoppers may not be able to meet the needs of the accountants, as the stock exchange decided the price for stock in the company was to drop to-day.
So Black Friday will not be the antidote for a year of slack sales, that much is fairly sure. Fewer people than usual have been travelling to see relatives this Thanksgiving (and the fault cannot lie entirely with the relatives, after all, as people will still travel to see unwanted relatives through a sense of obligation) and people have been buying fewer costly items. The automobile market has suffered, due in part to high fuel costs in recent years; the economy will likely see less demand for the parts and services that new automobiles require as a result of production slowing. All of these things add up to a season of much less cheer than usual for retail outlets, and will, perhaps, add up to further bankruptcies and fewer jobs available post-holiday.
Perhaps, though, there is a chance for something a bit more cheerful than endless lines in shopping malls. Every year, many faith-based groups decry the commercialization of the Christmas holidays and voice a desire for families to use Christmas as an opportunity to come together rather than to one-up each other in gift-giving. It could be that this depression provides just the opportunity that they seek for such a happy event. Certainly, it’s unlikely that many families will be able to afford anything else.