News Column

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the Royalty of Shopping 'Days'

November 26, 2010

Teresa F. Lindeman

There are the 12 days of Christmas and then there are all the other special days when you're supposed to be out shopping.

Maybe you don't have them all on the calendar yet.

Darn, you've already missed America Unchained day. On Nov. 20 you were supposed to "show the love for your local businesses" by shopping at local small businesses. Maybe you did that without being asked.

Still to come: Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Cyber Black Friday and that perennial favorite Free Shipping Day. If you live in Pittsburgh, you might also have considered Light Up Night a shopping event unless you just came for the fireworks.

Whether or not any of these red-letter days matter is something that could stir a nice debate over a cup of hot chocolate and a pile of shopping bags.

"There are only two that are meaningful in my opinion -- Black Friday and Cyber Monday," said Scott Silverman, co-founder and vice president of marketing for Ifeelgoods.com, a new company in Menlo Park, Calif., formed to work with retailers interested in virtual goods and social gaming. "The rest are 'me too' attempts to get press coverage or to build a shopping website business."

He has a point about Black Friday. While the name may not have been well known until the past decade or so, the day after Thanksgiving has long been a retail happening. What started out as a good time to get a jump on holiday shopping because everyone was off work has become A Driver Of The American Economy.

The capital letters seem deserved. By one estimate, 74 million people are expected to spend money this year on Black Friday, Nov. 26. Almost twice that many shoppers could find themselves in a store over the "Black Friday weekend," an awkward description at best.

The term Black Friday -- originally industry jargon for the day when some retailers moved out of the red and began turning a profit -- has become such a synonym for "frenzy-inspiring deals" that retailers this year began trying to tap into the magic as far back as July when Target and Toys R Us had Black Friday sales in July.

It doesn't take anything away from the real thing, Mr. Silverman said. His reasoning: "When you talk about Christmas in July, it draws attention to Christmas."

Cyber Monday is also a real shopping event, in his opinion. He has reason to be a bit biased. He is generally credited with helping coin the name in 2005 when he was executive director of Shop.org, the online branch of the National Retail Federation.

"I think we got lucky," he said, recalling the discussions that occurred when the staff noticed people who had been in stores over the Thanksgiving weekend went online to shop when they got back to work on Monday.

To draw attention to the retail opportunity, "We gave it this name."

Backed up by statistics, the trade group created a CyberMonday.com website where retailers would share their deals. Last year, the site drew 15.8 million visitors, according to the retail federation. In 2006, the group reported about 300,000 visitors to the site.

So what do you get when you cross Black Friday with Cyber Monday?

Last year, Talya Schaeffer, co-founder of eCoupons.com, created CyberBlackFriday.com to draw attention to growing crowds shopping online the day after Thanksgiving. She said people went online so much on Black Friday last year that Hitwise rated it the highest traffic day of the year.

Yet, more purchases are still done online on Cyber Monday, maybe because consumers checked out the goods in stores and are ready to commit.

(Despite the hype, Black Friday is not is busiest shopping day of the holiday season. That is typically the Saturday before Christmas -- a shopping happening still without a cool name).

The America Unchained day, the one that you missed last Saturday, traces its root to an Austin, Texas, event in 2003 that seemed like a good idea to other communities. It's promoted by the American Independent Business Alliance.

Supporters of the little guys haven't given up on holiday season 2010. Just a couple of weeks ago, a small business unit of American Express began promoting Nov. 27, the day after Black Friday, as the first Small Business Saturday. As of Monday, it had more than 800,000 Facebook friends.

Even after the Thanksgiving weekend excitement is over, there's the ever moving busiest shipping days of the year as predicted by FedEx and UPS and the U.S. Postal Service.

FedEx Corp. expects to move a record 16 million shipments on Dec. 13, a more than 12 percent increase from last year's busiest day when the company handled 14.2 million shipments. The FedEx Ground unit is based in Moon.

Shipping stuff around the country has long been an American tradition -- one that online shopping actually reinforces -- so why not create an event day around that, too?

Two years ago, Luke Knowles of Coupon Sherpa, came up with Free Shipping Day -- this year it will be Dec. 17 -- in which participating merchants promoted on the freeshippingday.com site guarantee delivery by Christmas Eve. More than 800 retailers have signed up so far this year with the site's stated goal to get more than 1,000 involved.

Had enough commercialization? Then how about the contra-shopping event: Buy Nothing Day. The anti-consumption day -- a 24-hour moratorium on consumer spending timed to coincide with Black Friday and promoted by Adbusters.org -- has been a nonhappening for years.

There is a low-key push to promote meetups between like-minded nonshoppers. Pittsburgh's is supposed to be held Friday at 4 p.m., according to the website. Where? Who knows. As of Monday, no one had signed on to organize it.



Source: Copyright (c) 2010, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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