It’s not very often that you see a full-blown change in the landscape happen right before your eyes, but I think we’ve just seen one.
The future, I think, is black … as in Black Friday.
You may have noticed that Black Friday shopping arrived with a vengeance in Canada this year. The daily newspaper (for you younger readers, a newspapers was a quaint news delivery service, popular in the 19th and 20th centuries) was stuffed with Black Friday flyers. Ad after ad featured Black Friday sales items.
Many of you may wonder exactly what Black Friday is, and where it came from. Well, let me illuminate.
Black Friday has been a major shopping event in the U.S. for a number of years now. The origin of the term apparently goes back to Philadelphia in the 1950s or 1960s. The day after U.S. Thanksgiving was a day of heavy shopping and heavy traffic in downtown Philly, which the local cops called Black Friday. Why Philadelphia, nobody seems to know. In time, the term spread to other areas. In the 1980s, it appears some retailers didn’t like the idea of one of their busiest shopping days of the year having a negative connotation, so the explanation arose that the day after Thanksgiving was the day that retailers started to show a profit — in the black, as the saying goes. And so the legend of Black Friday — the day that marks the unofficial start of the Christmas conspicuous consumption season — was born.
Black Friday, in many ways, represents the best and worst of the American character. On the positive side, Black Friday is the unfettered free market economy at its most basic and most glorious — companies fighting fiercely for the consumer dollar. On the negative side, it brings out the most avaricious, rapacious side of America, turning millions of Americans into people who would step over their grandmothers to get a cheap HD TV. It seems that pride, and basic human decency, goes out the window when you can save a couple of bucks.
Canadian retailers, always eager to follow, have adopted Black Friday in a big way. Canadians who live close to the U.S. border (and that is about 80 per cent of us) have been flocking across the line to cash in on Black Friday specials. Faced with the loss of untold millions in revenue, Canadian retailers have adopted the Black Friday model. This year was by far the biggest Black Friday year ever in Canada, and it will only get bigger. At my part time retail job, business was frantic. Not at Boxing Day levels, but getting there.
Which brings me to Boxing Day, the great Canadian/British tradition. Enjoy it while you can, folks, because its best days are behind it.
Black Friday makes more sense, from a shopping point of view. After all, when doing your Christmas shopping, when would you rather buy your gifts at discount rates — a month before Christmas, or the day after Christmas?
I don’t think Canadian retailers can handle two mammoth discount shopping events. Profit margins are already razor thin in retail, so how can they make the razor even thinner?
With Canada’s increasing Americanization, I think Black Friday will, in just a few years time, overtake Boxing Day as a cultural consumer touchstone. It’s not unlike the Grey Cup. Canada’s national football championship used to be the hands-down most popular sporting event in Canada. But the power of the Super Bowl has eroded the Grey Cup to the point that the Super Bowl probably has more viewers (and certainly more publicity) than the Grey Cup. I think Boxing Day is headed in the same direction. It will still be there in a few years’ time, but nowhere near what it is today.
Being a person who shops only out of necessity, this doesn’t bother me too much. But the diminishing of anything distinctly Canadian always hurts.