Black Friday Heydays

Before it even had a name, Black Friday had been a post-Thanksgiving ritual since 1952. Since the grateful feasting holiday itself is on a Thursday, many businesses got into the habit of granting employees the following Friday off to make a 4-day weekend. Local retailers made a bundle from giddy shoppers in the ancient days before the Internet took over.

You could say Amazon’s discount extravaganzas and “Prime Days” are just the logical, natural outcome of so-called big box retailers hyping Black Friday sales for decades.

Before so many of us learned to shop online, the Holiday gift-buying season was not for the faint of heart.

Black Friday seduced people already suffering from turkey-narcolepsy, teased with deep discounts on very limited supplies of select items. They even camped outside stores and malls, determined to be first in line when the doors were flung open. Stores jockeyed to attract customers by being the earliest to open. Things went from the relative sanity of 8 AM openings to dawn, pre-dawn, and eventually midnight (and earlier!) openings. The frenzy got weirder every year, until violence reared its ugly energy with stampedes, even weapons attacks, as a death in New York state during 2008’s mania lowered the bar gruesomely, right up though last season. Best hope sin place that this year will be different.

Cue the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, long known for its quaint Blue Laws. Its strict rules are just a shadow of what I knew growing up there, when even grocery store retailers shut down on Sundays. Aspects of this quirky tradition persist, aided by the state’s “Common Day of Rest Law” which prohibits requiring employees to work on Thanksgiving. The fuddy-duddy reputation Massachusetts has long held may have planted seeds that are just now bursting forth: a trend to return Thanksgiving to a non-shopping day.

The DSW chain (Designer Shoe Warehouse) jumped on this new/old bandwagon a couple of years ago. It proudly promotes itself as being closed for Thanksgiving so employees can spend time NOT working. Their website boasts about this idea. But not to worry, they reminds us, you can always shop online that day and every day, 24/7/365!

Is Black Friday Dead?

Now that free shipping is part of many online business models, and ease-of-returns has made online buying less cumbersome, the lure of Black Friday is no longer built in. Endless emails tease a new sale every day. Not ready to buy? Don’t worry, we’ll send you yet another email deal, mere hours from now. Human beings have an unconscious habit of taking things to the extreme, and emails and deal offers are no exception.

With more people now working from home at least a few days a week, delighted to escape aggravating commuter traffic and happy to work in sweats and comfy clothes, why would they want to fight traffic to do their shopping?

Black Friday Weekend was mythologized as the be-all-and-end-all cash cow of retail, making or breaking profits for the whole year in many retail businesses large and small. But business analysts now see cracks in this pattern.

How many times can you yell “Limited Time Sale!!” and still be believed? Buying and selling has fundamentally changed. It no longer requires a live person-to-person experience. I am not saying this makes it better, only that the core business transaction and exchange of value has been fundamentally disrupted.

Ready or Not, You’ve Been Disrupted

Whatever business or industry earns you your living, you have already been disrupted, whether you see it or not.

Why am I so certain of this? Because what we do to earn money is only one part of our daily routine. We’re also ALL “consumers.”

We all buy such basics as food, clothing and shelter-related goods. Now, the grocery business is about to shift in a major way, thanks to our pals at Amazon. This year, they bought out Whole Foods. We’ve barely seen anything change there yet, but it’s coming. Plus, other grocers large and small are already considering what they need to change in order to compete in the coming era.

One view of the best way to deal with disruption is to become a disruptor yourself. I see three actions to take, even if you are far from a recognized industry behemoth:

#1. Keep up-to-date on your own industry news. You cannot be out in front if you don’t know who else got there first or is racing upwards fast.

#2. Pay close attention to what innovators in other industries, not your own, are doing that works well for them. You can become a leader in your industry by adopting effective methods and innovations used outside your industry.

#3. Track your company’s financial patterns, so you can detect changes (bad or good) early, and correct for them or make the most of them.

• • •

Should we rename the Internet? Is it the Moneynet?

In the olden days of the 20th Century, it was necessary to be listed in the Yellow Pages phone directories be taken seriously in business. That’s so old school today, that each year when a new batch of these books gets dropped off free at many apartment complexes, they go straight into the trash, Such a waste of trees!

These days, the phone is the last thing you want to pick up when it rings, given the rabid infestation of spam callers.

Instead, we text, or go online to view websites for everything from products to professional services. Our social media has become overrun with ads stalking us (TV just got the go-ahead from the FCC to do the same, help!)

Yet we rely on our social networks and online reviewers to point us to reliable vendors or advisors. We “Google it” to find what we need for food, clothing, shelter, and so much more.

We live in a 24/7/365 buy-and-sell universe. Who really needs Black Friday?

Maybe Black Friday will become the province of Robots/Virtual assistants, Drones and Self-Driving Vehicles, serving up our purchase commands in the foreseeable future.

Maybe, just maybe, we’ll see the return of the true 4-day weekend. Wouldn’t that be healthy!

And maybe, just maybe, fuddy-duddy Massachusetts was always ahead of the curve, as it naturally sees itself: making sure none of us can be compelled to work on holidays.

Happy Thanksgiving!

• • •

P.S. Slate seems to agree with my premise, as they just published an article titled “Black Friday Ain’t What It Used to Be” by Henry Grabar, two days after my post, on 11/22/17.

P.P.S. Just to complicate matters, the FCC served notice that it intends to rescind Net Neutrality. Many high tech and economics experts are quite concerned at how this will tilt the playing field unfairly against smaller businesses and consumers. Even much larger business could be targeted by telecom giants both to favor their own data speeds and content delivery and/or wield unfair pricing strategies. In our increasingly e-centric economy, the Moneynet looms. However, after just 24 hours, backlash is building, so stay tuned for the upcoming FCC Commission vote on December 14th.

Yup, even the Washington Post now agrees … “The Black Friday frenzy officially begins today. But many say the thrill is gone.” — news story here 11/25/17


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