The "black" in Black Friday has a history extending back 70 years, but today it refers to two things: the black ink in ledger books as many retailers finally become profitable for the year, and the mourning by retail sales employees who lose a once-cherished day off from work. Now, hourly grunts are lucky if they have to work only on the day after Thanksgiving.
Around 2011, large retailers started pushing Black Friday back to midnight, meaning their workers had to show up at about 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Now, Black Friday is eating into Thanksgiving dinner. Walmart, the nation's largest retailer, is opening at 6 p.m. on Thursday this year, and lots of its competitors — Best Buy, JCPenney, Kmart, Kohl's, Macy's, Sears, and Target — are following suit, with some unlocking their doors as early as 5 p.m.
This is a terrible trend, made worse by its pointlessness. "You're staffing stores to be open longer for just a little bit more revenue," Ike Boruchow, a managing director at investment bank Sterne Agee, tells CNN Money. Opening on Thursday is "not good for profitability. It's not good for the fact that you have retail workers leaving families because they have to work at a store." Consumers are mostly just shifting their Black Friday purchases to Thursday.
In short, opening your store on Thursday is unkind to the employees who have to give up a venerable American holiday to manage massive, even violent, bargain-hunting crowds — and it's not all that good for business. "So far opening on Thanksgiving has proven to be a zero-sum game," says CNN Money's Heather Long.
But retail executives believe it is a business imperative. It's a race to the bottom of Thanksgiving, driven by fear that your competitor will get your holiday sales. Americans so far have shown that if stores open earlier, they will show up earlier, too. If you open it, they will come.
For those who think Thanksgiving should be one of the few days left in America when stores stay closed and people count time with family and friends as something to be thankful for, a boycott won't change that. You can shop online instead of in-store, or if you like the thrill of the Black Friday chase, you can spend your money exclusively at the retailers that are staying closed on Thursday.
The only way to stop Black Thursday, though, is to make it unprofitable. And the only way to do that is to do your research, wait in line, and rush for one of those unfortunately named "doorbuster" items.
That may seem counterintuitive, and if you don't like Black Friday, it's probably a distasteful way to save a few bucks. But here's the idea: Big retailers offer only a few actual bargains — loss leaders — to lure customers into their store to buy lightly discounted or, more often, regularly priced (or overpriced) items.
An Associated Press analysis suggests that the best deals this weekend will actually be on Thanksgiving Day. You want a 55-inch Samsung high-definition LED "smart" TV for $900? Hit the Best Buy on Thursday evening then walk out. You'll get a good deal, and Best Buy will take a loss — and, hopefully, learn a lesson.
Big retailers probably won't miss you if you don't show up. But they will certainly remember if discerning customers turn Thanksgiving into Red Thursday.