Dealing with Black Friday's creeping commericialism
Part of the charm of Thanksgiving, and a big part of what makes it many Americans' favorite holiday, is its traditional lack of commercialism. It is, as intended, a communal celebration of family and friends.
Black Friday also is a tradition, of course, so named because it's the shopping day of the year that retailers rely upon to put them in the black. Last year, according to the Chicago-based research firm ShopperTrak, shoppers shook off the lingering recession and high unemployment to spend $11.4 billion on Black Friday, a 6.6 percent increase over the prior year. Online, according to IBM, shoppers spent more than $800 million on Black Friday, a 24 percent increase over 2010.
Beyond spending, Black Friday has its own customs. Foremost among them is that it's on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.
But no more. In recent years big retailers have opened as early as midnight for the Black Friday rush. Now, many of them plan to open at various times on Thanksgiving Day.
That's an unfortunate burden to place on retail employees, who will have to spend the holiday at work rather than with their families. And it will shift the focus in some households from a day of thanks and celebration of family and friends, to a day of shopping.
As a matter of sheer economics, being open makes sense for retailers. Joel Waldfogel, an economics professor at the University of Minnesota and author of "Scroogenomics," told CBS News that total spending is likely to rise because of the extra hours, that money spent on Thursday is not necessarily money that would have been spent on Friday. Models show that an extra day of shopping translates into an extra $6.50 spent per shopper - more than $2 billion. It's even more likely on Thanksgiving, he said, because most people are not at work.
And, it's a retail arms race.
"Once your competitors open on Thanksgiving, it's a disaster for you if you're not open on Thanksgiving," Dr. Waldfogel said.
But Thanksgiving never was just about economics; it was about the opposite. Some economists should study the social costs inherent in the Thanksgiving Day store openings - a value that likely exceeds the extra revenue from a Thanksgiving being converted to Black Thursday, in more ways than one.