Why are Black Friday deals starting so early? A shopper’s guide to an annoying trend

Why are Black Friday deals starting so early? A shopper’s guide to an annoying trend
[Photo: David Clarke/Unsplash]

Today may be Friday, but it’s not Black Friday.


Or is it?

Kohl’s seems to think it is, unveiling a list of Black Friday deals available four weeks before the storied shopping day that comes immediately after Thanksgiving. The early Black Friday bargains are available through Sunday, but the Wisconsin-based retailer also released a copy of its Black Friday ad to excite traditionalists who prefer to shop after a turkey feast.

In fact, 2019 is giving stores an extra reason to panic about how much they’ll rake in during the pre-holiday buying time—and, no, they can’t blame this on Amazon. It’s a quirk of the calendar. This year has the fewest possible days between Thanksgiving, the unofficial launch of the shopping season, and Christmas: 26. Compare that to last year, for example, and you have six fewer days to find something for everyone on your list (and maybe yourself, too).

Thank God it’s Friday—forever

For years, people have complained about the encroachment of Black Friday. As stores chose to open earlier and earlier, family time was sacrificed as determined shoppers camped out overnight or went to bed early to get ready for doorbuster deals in the wee hours. Then Black Friday moved into Thanksgiving night, generating more harrumphing. Next came a slow spread across the week. And now it’s become a month-long event.

“With people shopping 24/7 and price promotions happening all the time, the magic of everything happening on one day is long gone,” says Barbara Kahn, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “Most people are off work, ate a lot on Thanksgiving. It’s something to go out for. The integrity of the day made sense. Within the last 10-15 years, people have really accelerated shopping online.”

The enlargement of Black Friday’s presence is especially important to brick-and-mortar retailers that continue to suffer. Sales continue to migrate to the internet as American malls die off and storied chains file for bankruptcy, from Barneys to Forever 21 to Payless Shoes.

Fifty-six percent of Americans plan to shop for holiday gifts online, according to the National Retail Federation.

But that shopping also is moving to earlier in the year. The NRF found that 39% of people surveyed had planned to start holiday shopping in October or before, some as early as the summer.

Bob Phibbs, CEO of the New York-based consultancy the Retail Doctor, estimates as many as 20% of consumers begin holiday shopping in September, which means the race is on early for retailers.

“Any money I can take out of a customer’s wallet before the holidays is less money a competitor gets. The first one who gets it wins the game,” he explains. “Black Friday is a mental kickoff. It’s like back-to-school. It’s a defining consumer event . . . It says, ‘Something big happens from here forward.’ If you start earlier, shoppers start earlier.”

Testing our limits

Walmart caused a stir last Friday when it officially launched the start of its holiday-shopping season six days before Halloween—its earliest ever. Walmart didn’t deploy the term Black Friday, though. Instead, the name “Early Deals Drop” was used.

“Customers count on Walmart for the best prices every day, and the holiday season is no exception,” Steve Bratspies, Walmart U.S.’s executive vice president and chief merchandising officer, said in a statement on October 23. “Saving our customers time is also paramount at this time of year, especially with fewer days to get ready for big family meals, parties and gift giving.”

As U.S. retailers dream up new ways to get consumers to spend their money, overseas vendors are simply co-opting the American style. Black Friday has now come to countries that don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, such as France, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates.