Black Friday 2020 11/25/20

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

As we barrel towards Thanksgiving, thoughts turn to Black Friday. This should be one of the strangest Black Fridays in recent history.

Lately I’ve been visiting stores in preparation of closing on my house. I’m hitting home improvement stores, home decoration stores, electronic stores, hardware stores, just about anything that you can imagine. What strikes me as interesting is that, so many of these places (especially the larger stores) strike me as if the are actively dissuading customers from shopping in person. Most of them are encouraging online shopping, featuring either in-store or curbside pickup only, or free home delivery. And yet, historically, Black Friday has been an in-person event.

Many years ago, when I was in high school, there were no Black Friday sales designed to bring shoppers into the stores. Indeed, it was a very natural phenomenon wherein many people had the day off from work for the Thanksgiving weekend, and they wanted to use their day off to shop for Christmas that was only about a month away. It was referred to as “Black Friday” for two reasons. First, because of how busy it was, retail workers truly disliked working the day because of the crowds and would refer to it as “Black Friday” because they didn’t like it. Meanwhile, accountants would call it “Black Friday” because there were so many sales that their ledgers for the year would often go from red (losing money) to black (making money) for the year.

Some years ago, during an economic downturn, some of the larger stores decided that they wanted a larger slice of the Black Friday Pie. Towards that end, they began initiating Black Friday sales to encourage shoppers to favor their store over the others. As this became a more common practice, the store hours began to change, opening earlier and earlier so the longer Black Friday hours would translate to longer shopping hours Eventually, the two concepts ended up combining until the stores would open up on Thanksgiving day and the sales began including “door buster” deals. I don’t remember it happening last year, but for several years, after standing in line for hours to get the “door buster” deals, people would literally trample over each other resulting in serious injuries and even death.

Enter the Coronavirus. This year, many people have learned the hard way that large crowds, such as Black Friday shopping crowds, are incredibly dangerous. Currently, the two Dakotas (North and South) have the highest infection rates in the nation, both closing in on 1% (as of the writing of this post, North Dakota is at 0.9%, and South Dakota at 0.8%). This past summer, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally (in South Dakota) has been blamed for a recent increase in cases in Minnesota. As the CDC is calling for smaller, or canceled, Thanksgiving gatherings, it seems folly to risk crowds large enough to cause trampling deaths for a sale. Additionally, people are, I suspect, becoming increasingly comfortable with shopping online. There are drawbacks, such as not being able to actually see the product in person before purchasing which is a particular problem when furniture shopping as I recently have been. However, there are also a great number of advantages since there is no danger of getting to the store only to discover the product you wish has been sold out. It’s also far faster since, basically, you pull up, grab your stuff without long lines since it has already been paid for, and just go.

Is it possible that this year will be a traditional Thanksgiving where people will stay together and visit after Thanksgiving dinner? What are the odds that this year, instead of simply running out to get in line to save twenty dollars on a fourteen-hundred-dollar television, people will stay in the house? Personally, I think that’s fabulous. I love that our younger generation might have the opportunity to see what it means to have all of the men in the household loosen their belts and open their pants while watching the game as the women do the dishes. It’s only fair; after all, they dirtied all of the dishes by making the Thanksgiving meal in the first place.

And in case you haven’t picked up on it yet, yes, that’s sarcasm.

Maybe it’s time for a return to some classic Thanksgiving traditions, and the creation of some new ones. I hope people learn to enjoy the comradery of the after-Thanksgiving meal visit, while at the same time learn that there should be no gender-biased division of labor. Everybody can visit sooner if everybody pitches in. Whatever happens, I wish the happiest of Thanksgiving for all of my readers.

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