I remember being a High School Jr. in 1983, and my girlfriend at the time wanted a Cabbage Patch kid. I had no idea what that was, but I went to the mall (yes, that was how you shopped in the 80s), and no store had them left in stock. I ended up going to a KMart (yes, they were a viable discount department store in the 80s), and they had five left in stock. It was a Christmas miracle, and my friend got the gift she wanted.
Why did I decide to bring you down memory lane? Well, today is Black Friday, and many people are going to go shopping today to find the best deal for their family's Christmas presents. Have we lost the concept of family time together, and instead, we chose to spend money on gifts most of us don't want or use past January? I'm familiar with family members who go shopping late Thanksgiving evening to get the best deal possible on a toy or electronic device for their kid's Christmas present. Consequently, they stay up all night, wait for the store doors to open at Midnight with hundreds of others, and rush in to grab the gifts of choice before they're gone.
So let me get this straight. Thanksgiving is a time for family, but to save money on gifts for Christmas, people will leave their family parties to go shopping.
I'm all for saving money, but at what cost? Furthermore, it is essential to note that many holiday gifts are returned at a higher rate than regular purchases — up to a 35% return rate for eCommerce shops, compared to standard returns of 16%. Likewise, according to recent estimates, 1 in every 3 shoppers return what they buy on Black Friday, with approximately 30 million unwanted goods returned to the store.
How did this get started in the first place? Where did the term Black Friday originate? To get the answers, you have to go back to 1924 when the Macy's department store in New York on Herald Square set the record as the biggest department store in the world.
As a public relations celebration, Macy's decided to put on a Thanksgiving Parade to kick off the holiday season. Over 10,000 people attended and watched the parade. The effect of this parade and the associated events sent customers flocking to Macy's and other big department stores for their holiday gifts. By the 1950s, shopping the day after Thanksgiving had become so popular almost every retailer marked the day with significant sales events. Growing numbers of people chose to stay home from work that day to shop or spend time with family.
Let's Get ready to Stumble...
In the 1960s, retailers started to see significant sales increase in the 4th quarter of the year. Before computers, accountants used red ink pens to show losses and black ink to show profits. As a result, they coined the term Black Friday because of all the profits shown on their ledgers.
So, retailers started noticing a significant trend in buying behavior and hired ad companies to help promote their stores and savings on this special day. However, the sales were not enough; retailers had to carry the "it" toy for the year. As I shared at the begging of my post, in 1983, it was the Cabbage Patch doll. There were stories of adults fighting to grab this particular doll from one another. As a result, there were near riots at multiple stores across the country.
I started to think about the other must-have toys for Christmas and decided to look at the past decades. Here is what I found. In 1965, it was the G.I. Joe doll; I mean, action figure. Kicking off the 1970s, you had to have a Nerf Ball, in 1977, Star Wars action figures, and in 1979, the Atari 2600. The 1980s showcased The Rubik's Cube, Cabbage Patch Kids, Teddy Ruxpin, Jenga, The Nintendo Entertainment System, and the Game Boy. Starting in the 1990s, we had "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" action figures, Super Nintendo, Beanie Babies, Tickle Me Elmo, and Pokemon Cards. In 2005 everyone had to have the Xbox 360, and in the 2020s, you needed to deliver on the top Gaming device like PlayStation 5. As a result, these toys were either in short demand or unavailable if you missed the mad rush of people at the department stores.
Today, we have different choices. You can shop in person or online on Grey Thursday, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday. These are all the main shopping days we can choose to save money on our gifts or purchases for ourselves. However, the central theme here is spending money. Yes, it is all in the name of gift-giving, but I found out that many holiday shoppers buy for themselves, not others.
It's not you, It's me...
New research from Mintel reveals that nearly one quarter (22 percent) of Americans usually buy themselves gifts on holidays. Holiday self-gifting is most popular among younger generations as 24 percent of iGeneration consumers (aged 18-22*), and 27 percent of Millennial consumers (aged 23-40) say they buy themselves gifts during the holidays. The numbers are very telling compared to just 14 percent of those in the World War II/Swing generation (aged 72+).
What does this say about easy access to credit and the practice of targeted ads directed to the iPhone crowd? Based on the latest data from Finder, an estimated 140 million Americans plan to shop the pre-holiday sales this season. And with an average spend of $362, Americans will part with roughly $51 billion this year trying to get the best deal.
The Gift that Keeps on Giving
As I close out my blog on Black Friday, I want to remind you that no doll, sweater, or online game will truly make you or your loved ones happy. They may be beautiful distractions but are no replacement for human connection. Say what you will about braving the crowds during the holiday shopping season, but at least you are participating in civility. Shopping online is convenient but is not a family event you can share. Consider gifting your time and attention to those you love this year. You may be surprised at the response you receive.
Happy Thanksgiving to my U.S. friends and the rest of the world, happy holidays!