The irony of Black Friday

November 13, 2014

Retailers’ early focus on Christmas sales diminishes Thanksgiving’s true meaning.

So much for secrets. Walmart gave a glimpse of its Black Friday specials in a Nov. 12 e-mail blast so shoppers could have more than two weeks to salivate over them. had already announced free shipping on all orders for REDcard holders and a price-match guarantee.

With so many stores to be open on Thanksgiving Day or night – and forecasts for online sales to surge again this holiday season – brace for more retail intensity in the coming days and weeks.  

Retailers’ early focus on Christmas gift sales in 2014 looks increasingly to The Lempert Report as one continuous holiday arc beginning immediately after Halloween. Even supermarkets merchandise Christmas products on November 1, with nary a chocolate turkey on the shelf in stores we’ve observed. Turkey giveaways for, say, $400 in eligible purchases do continue to be effective continuity programs in the run-up to Thanksgiving. And chains that make it easy for shoppers to donate frozen turkeys to food banks (collection trucks in parking lots) could connect with them on an emotional basis.  

Yet supermarkets seem to be operating more business as usual these days rather than merchandising reverentially for Thanksgiving. They’ll capture sales and catering orders despite this because dinners happen all over, but the framing of Thanksgiving seems shockingly absent in many stores.

It’s too early to mourn that the Thanksgiving holiday is officially an afterthought. Yet we see more signs that consumer cravings for Christmas deals further subsume the day’s true meaning. We observe an odd turn: millions of Americans will travel to be with families and friends on Thanksgiving weekend, yet shopping trips to score early deals could fracture many of these get-togethers. While people may find joy in securing Christmas gifts for loved ones early and affordably by sharpening their elbows on Black Friday, to do so could well mean sacrificing being together with those same loved ones who are right in front of them at home on Thanksgiving Day.