In the age of e-commerce, Black Friday can feel like an anachronism. But don’t be fooled. The Friday after Thanksgiving remains enormously important — at least symbolically — to the retail industry. And millions of shoppers will still be out in stores, working off that turkey and stuffing by racing to find the best deals.
Many others will simply stay at home, content to cruise the internet to do their shopping. Whether it’s in stores or online, our reporters will be covering it here, with a little help from our friends at The Wirecutter.
It’s hard to think of a better time to be a shopper. There’s one-day delivery, online purchases with in-store pick up, even $17 cocktails served while you shop for shoes.
Retailers are trying to be all things to all shoppers, but it is proving to be a tough and, some say, unsustainable way to run their business. The more money retailers invest in new initiatives to boost sales, the more their profit margins seem to shrink.
Dozens of retailers have warned that profits in the all-important fourth quarter, which includes holiday sales, are likely to be lower than previously expected.
Amazon is driving a lot of this pain, as old-school retailers try to catch up with the online giant, which sets the standard for speed and convenience.
Hoping to find Gucci in the bargain bin
When Barneys, the iconic Manhattan department store, was sold for pieces last month, it marked the end of an era in New York retailing. It also set the hearts of consumers racing, as talk of an unprecedented liquidation sale swirled. What sorts of deals could be had on cashmere? Would Gucci be in the bargain bin?
Alas, consumers have since been disappointed. Barneys’ liquidators — led by B. Riley Financial’s Great American Group — have largely limited the discounts to just 5 percent or 10 percent off the chain’s luxury wares. Twitter has been rife with incredulous shoppers. “I just checked out Barneys New York closing down sale and socks are $97,” one user wrote. Another remarked that they needed more than 10 percent off, noting, “This is like a rich folks sale.”
This week, however, B. Riley said it would deepen discounts at Barneys beginning on Wednesday, for an average of 30 to 35 percent off items throughout the weekend. It promised additional promotions for in-store shoppers. There’s a chance that will spur consumers into action — though shoppers may continue to wait for even bigger discounts during December, as the liquidators will have to offload all of the inventory at some point.
Five things to avoid on Black Friday
Though you’d think now is when you’ll find the best deals on, well, everything on your wish list, The Wirecutter Deals team has found that’s not exactly the case.
If you’ve got your eye on big exercise equipment, mattresses, or organizational products, you’re better off waiting a few months for more impressive price drops. Treadmills and ellipticals, for example, almost always see better discounts in January. So do items for maximizing storage, like bins and dividers, just in time to help people achieve their resolutions. Mattresses from online brands, on the other hand, see a drop in prices during Presidents’ Day sales in February.
Other things to steer clear of this Black Friday are not so much specific products as they are ideas you may be susceptible to, like buying in bulk or buying something you already have just because the price is good. Both are better in theory than they are in practice: Very few people actually need 40 snack bags of Cheetos or a third Bluetooth speaker, no matter how badly they’re tempted.
In Europe, mixed emotions over Black Friday
Thanksgiving is just another Thursday in Europe, but Black Friday is a bone of contention: embraced by some and rejected by others as an alarming invasion of American consumerism.
Black Friday sales can be found in many countries, from small stationers to major chains to car dealers. In Britain, many retailers, like John Lewis & Partners, a source of appliances and furniture, started offering Black Friday discounts days ago. Curry’s PC World, an electronics retailer, has a “black tag” event claiming savings of up to 50 percent.
On the rue Vieille du Temple in the Marais district of central Paris, nearly every boutique within a one-block stretch is plastered with signs promoting “Black Friday” in English. While France has been slower than other European countries to join the trend, retailers forecast 6 billion euros in sales this year around the event.
In some cases, something is lost in translation. In Germany, the “Friday” is often dropped in signs promoting a “Black Sale” or “Black Week.”
But a backlash has been gaining steam. In France, lawmakers this week moved to crack down on the sales with a proposal to ban some Black Friday promotions starting next year, citing misleading pricing tactics and the rising environmental cost from the delivery of millions of packages.
Élisabeth Borne, the French environment minister, warned of “a frenzy of consumption” in which people are encouraged to buy products they don’t need.
“We need to consume better, not more,” she added.
Parisian authorities also asked the government to allow cities to slap a so-called eco-tax on Amazon and other delivery platforms to make e-commerce players pay for pollution and rising delivery traffic.
“Black Friday gives us an overview of what to expect,” Jean-Louis Missika, the deputy mayor of Paris, wrote in an open letter Monday to the French daily Le Monde. “2.5 million deliveries are expected, 10 times more than the number of packages delivered daily the rest of the year in Paris.”
Protesters from the Extinction Rebellion movement and other environmental groups held “Block Friday” demonstrations throughout France on Friday. Many of the events were aimed at Amazon, with some banners saying “No to Amazon and its world.”
Is a short holiday season ‘the fright before Christmas’?
How did the week of Thanksgiving become so entwined in consumerism?
It may have started with Franklin D. Roosevelt. The 32nd president of The United States was so eager to jump-start the economy in 1938 that he moved the holiday’s official date up a week in order to create more shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
It was a bold move — and unpopular. The nation had been celebrating Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November ever since Abraham Lincoln declared the day a federal holiday following the battle of Gettysburg.
Roosevelt reversed course in 1941 and returned Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday of the month, where it remains.
The holiday’s late arrival this year is giving retailers trepidation since it means there are 26 shopping days before Christmas, six fewer than last year.
The abbreviated shopping period is one of the reasons that Morgan Stanley analysts labeled their 2019 holiday retail outlook “The fright before Christmas” and are expecting a less than stellar shopping season.
Santa’s list is packed with everyday items
Black Friday may be known as the raucous kickoff to gift-giving season (especially this year, as Christmas and Hanukkah overlap), but some people aren’t actually shopping for loved ones.
Instead, Wirecutter readers’ lists seem squarely rooted in everyday products. Some of the items our readers have asked us to look out for deals on: baby gates, electric toothbrushes and a garage door opener. And the retailers know this. The Wirecutter Deals team has found excellent pricing on everything from shower curtains to fly traps to computer cables that don’t exactly scream gift. Though, perhaps, nothing says “I love you” like a dongle.