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Black Friday – Good News or Spin?

The reports in the media for Black Friday have a lot of good things to say.

Sales up 7%
Traffic up 5%
More buyers, more sales, economy must be good.

But as we all know, statistics can be misleading. For instance, Black Friday used to be from 4am to 12pm – eight hours long. Now it starts at midnight or even earlier.

The Mall of America opened at midnight instead of 5am and had a 5% increase in traffic. A 71% increase in hours (from 7 hours to 12 hours) for a 5% increase in traffic. Toys R Us, Wal-Mart and Target are all touting record days, a few percentage points higher than last year. And all three of them were open anywhere from 50% to 114% more hours.

That means at least 50% more payroll, more security, more electricity than usual, all for a 7% increase in low-margin sales. Really?

Yes, really.

What you and I, as independent retailers, fail to realize is that Black Friday for the major retailers is not about traffic, sales or profits. It is all about winning the media.

Think about it.

Is it ever a good strategy to piss off your employees by making them give up a major holiday? Is it ever a good strategy to force your customers to wait in long lines for hours fighting crowds and surly employees only to get shut out because that store only got 12 items and you were number thirteen? Is it ever a good strategy to run an event that makes people pepper spray other people in your store, have fist fights in your aisles, and attract muggers to your parking lot?


…Unless your goal is to get as much FREE publicity as possible.

Go back and look at the newspapers for one week prior to Thanksgiving and see how much press was given to the deals and the hours. Then grab the papers from last weekend and see how much press was given to the events of Black Friday. Who was pictured? Who was talked about? Who got the story?

Those are the winners. And that’s what Black Friday has become. A media grab. Every big retail chain wants to be New Hampshire and Iowa. What they pay in extra payroll, extra security, lost profit margin is more than made up by what they get – national media coverage.

So brace yourself. As far as the big box stores are concerned, Black “Thursday” was a rousing success. The media said so.

At least that is my spin on it:-)

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS What does that mean for independents? Time to start planning for Small Business Saturday. Most of the independent retailers to whom I spoke over the weekend had better Saturdays than Fridays. We were one of those. Only the second time that has happened in the last 42 years. But I believe it will become the new norm for us. And frankly, I am okay with that. Gives me room for one more piece of pie Thursday.

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