Black Friday shoppers at Walmart

shoppers at Walmart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As usual, there’s more to the story than meets the eye. Retailers discovered the benefits of promoting Christmas shopping earlier and earlier, pushing Franklin D. to move Thanksgiving Day back a week:

Before 1930s: Unwritten Rules

In the early 1900s it was an unwritten rule that no retail store would promote Christmas items until after Thanksgiving. (Wow, can you imagine?) Instead of holiday sales in October, companies would spend lots of money on parades the day after Thanksgiving.

You can still see evidences of these parades today in the Macy’s Day Parade and others. Retail stores would sponsor giant parades the day after Thanksgiving and you could bet that one of the final floats in the parade would include Santa Claus, reminding all people to buy their Christmas gifts from the sponsoring store.

But then an interesting concept began to emerge: today we call it “crony capitalism.” It’s the conjunction of interests of some/many in the sector seeing the advantages of pushing government for policies that would help them expand their businesses:

1930s -1940s: Presidential Involvement

Retail store [owners] quickly realized that these holiday promotions were great for business and kept trying to think of ways to get more time to promote – especially during the Great Depression. This led national retail store [owners] to pressure President Franklin D Roosevelt to move Thanksgiving Day.

So, in August 1939, President Roosevelt announced that they would break from an custom that President Lincoln had established and begin celebrating Thanksgiving a week earlier – on the second-to-last Thursday of November.

As Paul Harvey liked to say, here’s the rest of the story. But people saw it for what it was: a blatant crossing of the (then) clear line between the proper function of government and retail store owners’ interests: they called in Franksgiving:

Many people didn’t like the change and gave it the name of “Franksgiving” after Franklin D Roosevelt. The date ended up sticking…

Today the whole concept has exploded into nonsensical behavior:

2000s: Getting earlier and earlier

Shoppers hoping to get great deals on Black Friday products would start arriving early for the typical 6 a.m. opening of a store. Retail stores, realizing that more people were coming early, accommodated and began opening their doors earlier and earlier. This has led to store openings creeping farther back to 5 a.m., 4 a.m. and now midnight at many major retail stores.

In fact, Walmart has announced plans to open at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving night in many locations.

With the advent of internet shopping, it’s easy for nearly every merchant to offer Black Friday “deals.” This of course dampens any end-of-the-year boost to retail sales that owners were hoping would occur. Expect to see deals on a monthly basis throughout the year.

But the history is interesting.

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