The Plot to Kill Black Friday

Why holiday shopping will look radically different this year

Rob Walker
Marker
Published in
2 min readSep 18, 2020

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Photo: Jack Taylor/Stringer/Getty Images

Black Friday has been a cringe-y spectacle for years. But the annual day-after-Thanksgiving ritual of bargain-crazed consumers lining up for hours to jostle (and sometimes physically battle) each other over holiday gifts served a function: The decades-old unofficial holiday supposedly gets its name from being the day that retailers’ balance sheets tip from red to black. So it’s been surprising to note that a fresh attempt to more or less do away with Black Friday stampedes is coming from … retailers.

Home Depot was an early mover, announcing that “Black Friday prices will be available throughout the entire holiday season,” both in-store and online, Bloomberg reported earlier this month. Part of the point is to avoid, or at least tamp down, the doorbuster-sale mosh pits that, in the middle of a pandemic, are actually dangerous. A slew of other retailers from Walmart to Target to Macy’s are signaling similar moves to essentially spread out holiday buying.

The Grinches among you will not be happy to hear that this means starting early: Best Buy, for example, will reportedly start holiday sales in October. And a group of at least two dozen retailers are said to be concocting a brand new shopping holiday of sorts on October 10. (This event, dubbed 10.10, mimics a massively popular November 11 shopping day in China.) The idea, one organizer says, is explicitly to pull the shopping season forward. Online sellers (including the digital arms of big brick-and-mortar chains) have the same goal, hoping to avoid an expected shipping glut that already has major shipping services boosting fees; as October sets in, expect more online-exclusive deals, sooner than usual.

This promises to be a challenging home stretch for one of retail’s most difficult years on record. But optimists are projecting that holiday spending–which represents an estimated 20% of annual retail sales — will actually grow modestly over last year. So sellers are highly motivated to find ways to make the pandemic holidays as successful as possible, regardless of whether spending is concentrated in a single day, or — both literally and figuratively — spread out. And if that means the end of Black Friday, that would be a gift to us all.

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