Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What Makes Black Friday Black?

As soon as I knew, I wondered why I’d been so stupid. That color comes from accounting. While your enterprise is loosing money, you’re in the red. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, you catch up, you’re in the black.

Black Friday ranks among the top ten shopping days of the year. Most of these fall into December, and traditionally the Saturday preceding Christmas ranks first. In the 1992-2002 period, Black Friday ranked low. In 2003 it was first, again in 2005. Thereafter we have no published numbers. Historical data come from International Council of Shopping Centers.

The Bureau of the Census reports retail data on a monthly basis but lags reality by several months. Last year I noted Black Friday by showing monthly retail sales, particularly for General Merchandise Stores—those most affected by the season; here two links (one, two). Today I update one of those charts, and it follows:


What this shows us is that retail sales in this category in 2011 were higher than the year before—but not by much. Indeed, the percentage increase October to November, which had been 19 percent in 1992, 17 percent in 2002, and 13 percent in 2010 has dropped to 12 percent in 2011. On this graphic I also show sales for the category in 2012—but we only have three months of data, showing how far back reporting lags. Those values indicate that 2012 should be a better year all around.

Now back to Black Friday. What we know about that day is that—if memory serves—it became generally known, by name, no more than five or six years ago. Until then the term was insider talk indicating that profitability is near or here. Since then it has become “an Event.” The media that reach me—and my e-mail—nearly bristle with news of salvation by Mega Savings. And then there is Cyber Monday, and on and on. I feel for these fellows.

In discovering all of the above, I also chanced across another name for Black Friday. It is called Buy Nothing Day (BND) and originated in Mexico in 1992. In 1997 it was then firmly linked to the Friday after Thanksgiving and is observed across the world as a protest against consumerism.

Guess what. I know exactly what to do on BND. I’ll stay at home and make some order in these endlessly growing towers of books.
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The data here are from the Bureau of the Census. Use this link to reach the page from which various reports may be obtained.

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