The day after Thanksgiving is now, at least semi-officially, Black Friday. It is not funeral name like Black Tuesday in October, 1929, when the stock market crashed. No, Black Friday is, as Martha Stewart would say, a good thing because it is the day when retailers, like perhaps Stewart herself, hope their businesses start turning a profit for the year, i.e., go into the black.
Black Friday is the start of the holiday shopping season although that has eroded somewhat now that Christmas specials are being offered before Halloween and all fall retailers have been offering big discounts to woo credit-strapped consumers back into the store. And the stores are making extra effort. Kohl’s is opening at 4 a.m. Friday, Toys "R" Us at 5.
Black Friday and Black Friday Weekend — some stores are having Black Friday Week — may not be the best predictor of the holiday shopping season. Some years there has been a lull after Black Friday and then what looked to be a bleak sales season was redeemed by a last minute customer stampede to the malls. But it will be an indication of how well consumer confidence is faring during a recession.
And the stores really need a shot of consumer confidence. By one measure, October sales were the worst in 39 years.
The National Retail Federation says optimistically — but then at some level all retailers have to be optimists — that the stores could be in for "a welcome surprise." The overall number of likely shoppers is likely to be down — 128 million this year compared to 135 million last year — because of markedly lower gas prices they will be able to get to the stores and have more money when they arrive.
If Black Friday is less than expected, perhaps it will be redeemed by Cyber Monday, the ceremonial start to the online shopping season. Employers will be pleased to know that the NRF says more than half of all online shoppers do so from work. And 70 percent of those 18 to 34 with Internet access shop from work. (Although the federation insists they only do so during their lunch hour.)