The darker side of Black Friday

This week, my mailbox has been inundated with emails – Black Friday sales! Cyber Monday sales! Save 50% Get free shipping! Shop online!

It’s awesome, all of it. 

Okay, most of it.

I love sales as much as the next gal. (My favorite top-stitched black trench came from the $5 bin at a vintage store in Pittsfield Mass. Whee!) But something else is creeping me out this week: Emails about sales that start at midnight Thanksgiving. Friday at 3AM. Sales that end before most people have even finished their first cup of coffee and put away the gravy boats Friday morning.

They’re not targeted to college kids or guys waiting on line at the Apple store for phones at midnight. They’re targeted to families.  So what those messages are essentially saying is, leave your kids at midnight (or worse, God, take your kids with you), because $10 sweaters are calling!

What those messages are saying is that we have totally lost our shit, America.

I totally get the importance of saving money. I get that for some families, racing to the mall at 3AM knowing you could be trampled by a Black Friday stampede or worse, may be the difference between gifts and no gifts. What I don’t get are the retailers putting families in the position to have to make this choice. I’m talking to you Old Navy. I’m talking to you JC Penney and Kohl’s and Children’s Place and Toys R Us.

It stinks.

Friday is Friday, but tomorrow is Thanksgiving. It’s the best damn holiday of the year. We get to be with the people we love and hang out in jeans and eat a ton of stuffing and the only gift we give is ourselves. In my heart of hearts, I wish we could keep it that way.


57 thoughts on “The darker side of Black Friday”

  1. Totally agree. Some people have apparently been in line at a Best Buy somewhere for like a week already, and fine, you're crazy, whatever, enjoy your cheap TV. But for a parent who can stretch a toy budget more if she races to a store before dawn, it's just sad.

  2. The message that upsets me is that kids should be wanting, that it is the time of list making. C'mon kids, what do you want? Here's a look book, here's a this, here's a that. Panic, hurry, don't miss out.

    More, more, more.

    To suggest that parents should forsake sleep for shopping, or, that stores need to alter their hours creates a mentality that extreme is the only way to do it right. As a marketer I am all about standing out, but in this case it all seems so cheap and hollow.

    Remember when there was an art to gift giving? There was an actual process of considering, weighing, waiting and then finally purchasing something with meaning, something meant to last. Maybe, dare I say it, just one thing.

    My Friday will be spent focusing on 1 single thing, the time I blacked out on the calendar to spend with my family.

  3. I've never understood Black Friday frenzy. My family just never did it. Of course I come from a long line of people who think skeptically of sales that are hyped.

  4. I feel bad for the poeple who have to work at those places. That right there, for a lot of people, is truly the fdifference of gifts or no gifts. They really do not have a choice to be up at 3am. It is their job. I may or may not get up and go to one of those sales. If I do it will be to support the people working there.

  5. William, my son works at Best Buy. Yes, he has to be at work at 3am on Black Friday. What a sucky job to have.

    I never go shopping on Black Friday, and I never will. I totally agree with this post, and with what Amanda said. Today is my 50th birthday; I got two gifts. One is a coffee cup from a coworker that says “Too Hot to be 50” that of course I love! And the other is the gift that my husband and sons together gave me. That's enough for me.

    So hard to teach our children not to be consumerist drones in this society of excess. When I was a child, all stores, ALL, were closed on Sundays, and holidays. There was no Black Friday. It is an indication, to me, of how low we've sunk as a society that so much hype goes into selling shit. When will we wake up? Will we wake up?

    Great post.

  6. No Black Friday here in Canada, thank goodness. Our Thanksgiving was over a month ago in October. And it's always on a Sunday, so no Friday holiday right after. A lot of the American retailers that are operating in Canada have sales this week, with some pretty good prices on Friday, but I've never heard of lineups at 3:00 a.m. and that kind of thing. Thursday and Friday are regular work days for us.

    We save our retail craziness for Boxing Day. Which is really still probably not as crazy as Black Friday because Boxing Day is after Christmas and so there isn't the alure of cheap Christmas gifts.

  7. I have always disliked Black Friday for so many different reasons, and now you've given me another.

    My favorite this year? In our area, our big grocery store chain is opening at 3 a.m. on Friday. I guess you can buy that Xmas ham X-tra early and freeze it. Or, I don't know, stock up on toilet paper for the holidays!

    Madness. I will not participate.

  8. Agreed.

    There are even some stores opening at 10pm tomorrow night. Toys R' Us. I get that the economy sucks. But really? Shopping on Thanksgiving?

    Meh. I'm not doing any of it. I'll be hanging out with extended family on Friday. I'll shop next weekend.

  9. Here's a fun one that a lot of people don't know: Some places give price adjustments, even for Black Friday prices. I bought a Christmas tree last year at Target and asked nicely on Friday (EVENING, thank you – normal business hours for this girl!) when I was there picking up a prescription if I could get a price adjustment. The answer was a quick and easy, “Yes, of course!” So, huh. No need to wake up at 3am to buy a damn tree, AND I get it for $15. Score, dude.

  10. I'm always torn because I don't need any gifts, but I love to give them. I love it when my kids work hard to make things for special people.

    And Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, too. We even have pie for breakfast.

  11. I've never done the Black Friday thing. Growing up, my parents always took an over my dead body stance. They've passed it on to me, I'd rather be home.

  12. If you eat at 3:00 p.m., sleep from 6:00 till 2:00, get up and eat again, I guess it makes sense to go shopping at 3:00 a.m. I can think of few things less appealing, but for a family who loves to shop, I guess it could be exciting.

    In other countries, people get trampled during religious pilgrimages. Here, it's Black Friday. They're equally tragic, but I don't know which is more ridiculous.

  13. Remember the poor guy who got trampled to death at Wal-Mart a few years ago? I live 15 minutes away from that place. We all now refer to it as Death-Mart. I've never been out shopping on Black Friday and THAT incident solidified my resolve to STAY HOME for the entire Thanksgiving weekend. It's my favorite holiday because it's 4 whole days without work and school.

  14. I hate shopping! I hate crowds! I would rather be covered in honey and left to red ants then go shopping on THE WORST DAY OF THE YEAR! I would pay extra to avoid it. Not a big fan of Black Friday, can you tell?

  15. Call me the grinch…but I hate shopping this time of year. In Chicago, even just to run out for toliet paper equals a commute worthy of a death sentence from now until the night before Xmas.

    I just returned from Whole Paycheck with a migraine to boot and someone ran over my foot with a shopping cart.

    Everything this year will be handmade or internet purchased. Just thinking of heading out in the 3am madness gives me the mall sweats.

  16. You are always spot on with your timing Liz. We spend every Thanksgiving with my husbands family in the middle if nowhere TN and I've often felt cheated that I miss out on all the super deals. But now that they are in the middle of the night I have NO shot at them at all. Wouldn't it be nice to have the convenience of today but the attitude of about 50 years ago (excluding any racial and feminist advances being lost of course). I just wish the world would SLOW down and live once in a while for the sake of relationships and people instead of things. At least we try in our family. Sometimes inconvenience forces it but it also makes me thankful for it.

  17. I think going to an estate sale every once in a while will give you perspective. All of those precious physical treasures, there for sale because no one wants them anymore.

    Shopping doesn't fulfill me as a sport. I like to get stuff I want at a good price, but I'm not going to go out of my way to do it.

  18. I was listening to HLN this morning in the car and heard about all the sales that start tomorrow afternoon or tomorrow evening and was pissed and sad about it myself. I never shop on Black Friday anyway, but I sure as Hell wouldn't hit the malls on Thanksgiving. And neither should anyone else. If you have to shop that badly rather than spend time with anyone from your family tree, just log onto the damned internet.

  19. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because of food, family, friends, food and no religious affiliation. I do love a good bargain and used to venture out on the Friday after Thanksgiving (before it had a name.) But there is such an air of desperation surrounding this day that it's become distasteful. Not something I want to experience on my food holiday.

  20. Completely agree. The consumerism in our culture is awful. You'd think that with the recession it would slow down, it is depressing.

  21. I agree with you entirely. In fact, I have never purposefully shopped on Black Friday, ever (I mean, I may have randomly bought stuff that I really needed somewhere, but I've never gone out specifically to purposefully shop on that day). I would ABSOLUTELY never shop for gifts on Thanksgiving.

    It's not JUST that I'd rather spend time with my family (though that is a compelling enough reason). It's also that I'd rather the retail worker getting paid $8 an hour to get up at 1 a.m. for work get to spend time with HER family.

    I worked a couple of retail jobs when I was paying my own way through college, and skipping holiday time with family and friends to go into work in the wee hours was not exactly fun.

    And it always seemed to me that most of the customers I served on Black Friday weren't having much fun, either. Most were really, really cranky, impatient, and unhappy. They hadn't had enough sleep. They hated the crowds. They were in a mad rush to get to three more stores.

    I am a MAJOR deal hound. An expert sale shopper. But I'd MUCH rather spend a holiday with my family than spend hours in line in the cold with cranky people just for the chance to save $50 off an LCD TV.

  22. As I live in Canada, tomorrow isn't Thanksgiving and there is no Black Friday. And honestly? I'm kind of relieved. It sounds like a lot of work and a lot of pressure.

  23. Oh Canadian friends, there's no more pressure than there is to do anything ever. My advice? Grab those deals. Just shop online.

  24. This makes me tear up. I feel the same way, maybe more heavily the past few years since we've gone pretty much handmade or do things together other than giving gifts. (I admit I used to get up early with my Mom and wait in line, but eventually we found that the sales were practically the same or better each weekend closer to Christmas, not to mention online.)


  25. So very glad I'm not the only one who feels this way. Pretty much every year I go on a rant about this stuff and I feel like people look at me like I've lost my marbles. I HATE that some stores are open all day on Thanksgiving this year (Old Navy, Kmart, etc.) I think it is so messed up (the poor employees!). I hate that people will actually go shop there on the holiday. I hate that some people are so eager to be the first in line that they will skip Thanksgiving dinner entirely to camp out near the store. I see no point in opening at midnight either. I'm pretty sure the store will still be there at 8:00 AM, right?

    I totally agree with you. There is something seriously wrong with America when we value cheap DVD's and sweaters over time with the people we love.

  26. I couldn't agree with you more, Liz. Horrible. Sick, actually, to get up at 3 a.m. to shop. Actually, Walmart is OPEN Thanksgiving. My retired dad has a part-time job there and he has to work. Criminal. He's not there for the money, but I can't imagine having to give up that holiday if you need the money.

  27. I want to know who is going to Target at midnight on Thanksgiving and Kohls at 3am. WHO? They better be giving shit away.

    Meanwhile, I'm up feeding a baby then, so I could probably score some deals and make good use of my awake times.

    Honestly, my kids are more obsessed with the actual flyers than they are with the toys. They change their minds every other day as to what they want for Christmas.

    My luck, I'd make some sort of ridiculous 4am run and a week later, they'd be onto another toy.

    Keep the money. Enjoy the sleep. And the turkey.

  28. I think it is INSANE. I went to the mall today with DB because he wanted to go to the Cheesecake Factory for lunch.

    Unless my mall is offering naked Jon Hamm on a stick, I will not go back until January.

    And the 3am Black Friday sales? Even Jon Hamm with a box of Godiva would not get me out at 3am.

  29. Amen and amen. I saw a Penny's flyer that said it opened at 4 AM and was just shocked, although I don't know why. It just gets more ridiculous with every passing year.

  30. Oh Liz! You speak a universal truth. America has totally lost its shit when it comes to the consumer side of the holidays. I never got the whole – run to Best Buy at 1 AM to get $10 off on your TV – thing. Well… I could see doing it for the kitch value. (I'm curious who would be there.) But seriously?

  31. Too much of Christmas (eg: Christmas music after Halloween, early morning deals etc.) overshadows Thanksgiving. Don't people know Thanksgiving is the best holiday of the year?! When else can you get away with eating pie for breakfast? And Christmas has is becoming all about get, get, GET. Sad.

  32. The Holiday “season” always freaks me out with the shopping frenzy. The message is: Shop. Shop. Shop, you're running out of time! SHOP everything's on sale! SHOP SHOP SHOP CHRISTMAS IS ALMOST HERE SHOPP! then you finally get to stop on Christmas day and catch your breath until the next day when it starts all over again you have to SHOP IT'S ALL ON SALE SHOP SHOP SHOPPPPPPPP!

    It's insanity. This is the society we've built. Aren't we proud?

  33. So true!! I'm annoyed by it all. You'd have to be crazy to shop during these times. It's not worth the few bucks you'd save. Reasonable hours and reasonable ways to shop would be much better.

    November Grey

  34. I was a little disappointed to see the Cool Mom Picks Black Friday post and email after this. But, I realize that you are not one in the same. Also, it focuses online. But, it is still promoting rampant consumerism over the Thanksgiving weekend. Just a thought.

  35. Turkey is in the oven and Mr. Momtrends took the kids to train station to pick up in-laws. Taking a moment to thank all my favorite blogger friends for their support and encouragement this year. Cheers!

    We do very little shopping for the holidays. This time of year I try to count my blessing and not focus on the things missing from my closet or my girls toy chest. Thanks for the sanity check that I am not alone.

  36. Actually Amy we are one and the same. I have no problem with shopping, holiday gifts, sales, discounts, or the support of small online businesses. I have a problem with retailers asking families to head to the mall at 3 in the morning. Those are very very different issues.

    Me anti-shopping? No way! But there's a time and place for everything.

  37. Amen. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and it's lost in Christmas music and crazy sales. Heck, WalMart just decided to be open on Thanksgiving.

    Tomorrow I will shop at a beautiful, local, independent toy store– and they open at a relatively respectable 7am– then go home and enjoy leftovers with my kids.

  38. I guess there's always the ” non one is forcing these people to line up at midnight” arguments.

    Your posts echoes (though technically precedes) part of our dinnertime conversation this evening. I miss when all the stores were closed on Thanksgiving day and I can only hope the cashiers, greeters and clerks are at least making time-and-a-half for giving up their family holiday. But in a non-union shop, I'm guessing it's unlikely they are.

    I'm with you and with Steph, who mentioned handmade gifts. Our kids want to buy us things (albeit inexpensive ones), but my husband and I insist that a thoughtful home-made card/drawing/poem/story means more to us than anything they could ever purchase. I think the message is finally getting through to them.

  39. I think what started as a good idea just got really, really crazy.

    And also that this is driving people to buy bigger and bigger presents for Christmas, and accumulate more and more crap.

    I like cool gadgets and nice clothes and all that too, but when the holidays simply become a race to who scores the best deal and who can buy the most crap and lose all other meaning… that's the bad side of consumerism, and it sure as heck doesn't improve our lives one bit.

  40. @Elisa

    I agree. I think it started out as a good idea and just got completely out-of-hand over the years.

    In the early years I used to get excited thinking it might be a fun thing to do, but now it's just gotten scary.

  41. We get up this early most days.

    But we get up this early to get the best practice ice for my figure skater.

    I can't think of any other good reasons to get up this early, unless it's to hit the button which sends off rockets that will intercept and destroy the asteroid heading toward earth, or to put out a fire, or to deliver a baby.

  42. I don't do Black Friday. The things my daughter wants are usually inexpensive, even at full price. If I couldn't afford a mini stuffed piggy and a sketchpad at full price, then I'd not be in a position to shop at all, even if it's ~*Black Friday*~

  43. Thank you for saying that. Would that advertisers were listening. The ratcheting up of Black Friday as some kind of talismanic economic indicator is just…silly. And explains why Xmas catalogs arrived in my mailbox even before Halloween. Which really should be against the law.
    Plus as your readers have said, this escalating of GET THE RIGHT STUFF makes it harder and harder to resist/deny the onslaught of gimme gimme gimme.

  44. Actuakky, we don't have a black friday here in the Philippines but we have night market (great for shopping clothes and other stuff).. I think it's fun to shop during the night for a change and at the same time save money as well.. 🙂

  45. holidays are slowly moving away from their original meaning to something based on “things” and buying…. and it's good to name and shame those that are pushing for it. good for you

  46. “The best holiday of the year.” That stuck out to me. So many people say Christmas is, but I agree with you here. There are no expectations but togetherness.

    I wish it would stay that way, too. I also wish I could convince more people my children don't need toys and items, they need time and experiences.

  47. AGREED!!!!! I've only been out on one Black Friday in my 30 yrs, and I doubt I'll ever do it again. It just wasn't worth it, and I slept most of the day after I got home – more time away from the family. Like you, I certainly appreciate saving money. Some may even call me a penny pincher. But that's mostly because I can WAIT around for a good sale, and don't usually have to have it NOW. If people want to fight each other to save a few bucks, that's their prerogative, but I don't have the energy and don't like the disrespect Thanksgiving gets. Can't they put it off a day or two?

  48. I also totally agree. Black Friday has become more than ridiculous. But if people weren't there lining up at midnight or 3am then the stores wouldn't do it. If everyone just simply didn't participate we could all enjoy our Thanksgivings a little more.

  49. Two of my least favorite things: waking up very early and crowds (which I particularly despise). That said, there is nothing I need or want that much that I'm willing to get up at the crack of the dawn (or earlier) and fight the crowds for the chance to save money.

  50. But but but!…I wrote a post on this. I left at midnight (when the boys were in bed-asleep) and got home at 7am (when the boys were STILL in bed-asleep). And my Sis and I managed to save $500 between the 2 of us! For me, it's all about the tradition of venturing out with my Mom and Sis for deals, but more importantly, the stories and laughs that always take place.

  51. I totally agree with your statement Mom101, as in response to Amy. The hours they expect are annoying and unfair. It just creates a hype to build up sales. Black Friday itself however, is a tradition in my family, and we have so much fun planning and developing lists, teasing each other and helping each other. It is probably the only way I could afford to give my children things they need (i.e new pajamas and snow boots) as well as a few things they want. With the economy the way it is and only 1 year after my husband lost his job (he is now a part time temp), and our 5 children, I can do Christmas for half of the price and keep the rest aside for emergancies and savings. I think it is mostly a win/win. Everyone has the right to their opinion (I speak to those who are so avidly against this) but there are other situations that come into play, and ultimately can be fun.

  52. And OLD NAVY is OPEN on Thanksgiving. OPEN. People have to work at Old Navy on Thanksgiving lest you want to redeem your coupon for $10 off. Seriously, does anyone need a cotton/acrylic blend cardigan that badly??

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