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Use of the term Black Friday to refer to the first day of the holiday shopping season goes all the way back to 1965. Its more modern connotation as the day when you can get the very lowest prices on consumer electronics, computers and other products, stems from the 1990s. Black Friday is also assumed to be the biggest shopping day of the year.
Welcome to November, 2009. Black Friday is none of these things.
The holiday shopping season began before Halloween this year. Low prices are everywhere. And Black Friday hasn't been the biggest shopping day of the year since 2005.
Don't get me wrong. Black Friday promotions will still happen, and deals will be amazing. Go to this resource for top Black Friday web sites, which track leaked ads, prices and deals. Also: If you have an iPhone or other cell phone with "apps," search the phone's app store for "black friday." And use Twitter to stay on top of Black Friday deals.
The difference is that panicky retailers began holiday shopping promotions more than a month before Black Friday this year, and online retailers are meeting and beating Black Friday in-store retail prices.
The headlines say it all: "Wal-Mart and Its Rivals Have Left Black Friday Behind"; "Retailers Are Making 'Black Friday' A Month-Long Effort"; "Black Friday 2009 Has Begun and Begun Early"; and "'Black Friday' Sales Being Pushed Sooner."
The trend to shop online instead of in stores on Black Friday started last year. One report about Black Friday trends says that 90% of the consumer electronics deals available last year were available -- matched or beat -- online. No pushing. No shoving. Consumers have figured this out on their own.
A PriceGrabber.com survey found that 70 percent of consumers are doing research and comparison shopping online during the holiday season, compared with 38 percent last year.
A survey conducted for Dealnews.com by Persuadable Research found that less than half of the respondents to their survey planned to shop on Black Friday (46%), down from 58% last year. The Dealnews report says far more people will be shopping online instead of fighting the crowds.
Every day this month is Black Friday at Amazon.com. The site is offering a radically discounted item every day, a promotion they call Gold Box deals. Today, the site is selling a $200 Canon printer for $109.99.
PriceGrabber is doing something similar with its Deal of the Day. The deal today is a 42" plasma TV from Panasonic for $529. You can subscribe to the deal of the day via RSS.
Newegg.com offers its daily ShellShocker, a wildly low price on some piece of consumer electronics or computer gear. It even offers to alert you on Twitter, and tells you what time of day next deal will hit.
The Wall Street Journal proclaimed today that "Black Friday has gone from a one-day event to a month-long parade of promotions this year, as retailers are making a dash for early holiday cash."
Instead of being the deal-day of the year, Black Friday is now the opportunity to beat. Kmart is playing this up with a sale they call "Better Than Black Friday Deals." For example, they're selling the Guitar Hero 5 Bundle for Xbox, PS3 and Wii for only $74.99.
Walmart is dribbling out deals starting this Saturday (November 14) call it an early Black Friday. The store is discounting cell phone handsets (some of the BlackBerry prices will drop to zero), and giving everyone who buys a phone a $100 gift card for buying other Walmart stuff. You can literally walk into Walmart without a penny, and walk out with a cell phone and $100 worth of stuff.
So why the changes to Black Friday? Blame the recession. The National Retail Federation's 2009 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey (conducted by BIGresearch) says consumer spending this year will average $682.74, down 3.2% from last years $705.01.
Retailers fear excess inventories, and know they're going to have to discount anyway no matter what. And sometimes getting the sale will mean attracting the consumer first.
Besides, Black Friday has become a safety hazard and a logistics nightmare. Walmart, where an employee actually died during a Black Friday stampede last year, is also tweaking the whole timing of Black Friday itself. Most Walmart stores will be open Thanksgiving, and will remain open all night and right into Black Friday.
I think there's a good chance that this year's recession holiday season will set the mold for future seasons, even after the recession is over. Mobile phones, iPhone apps, Twitter and the rest mean that the old model for Black Friday -- lure 'em in with amazing deals, then get them to buy other stuff -- no longer works.
Consumers want the lowest-possible price on everything, and can comparison shop at all the competing stores from any store.
So is Black Friday really dead? Yes and No. Stores will still promote Black Friday sales. But Black Friday prices are no longer available only on a single day at specific stores. You can now find incredible deals every day and everywhere.