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A Study in Black and White

"Black Friday has moved from an insider industry term to a signal for consumers that this was a BIG shopping event."

Warren Shoulberg PUBLISHER/ EDITORIAL DIRECTORWHEN BLACK FRIDAY comes, at least according to Steely Dan, "I'm gonna dig myself a hole, Gonna lay down in it ‘til I satisfy my soul." Now, however, when Black Friday comes, it's going to be followed by Black Tuesday ... and Black Thursday and Black Whatever. There will certainly be no soul satisfying going on.
     As we head into that most wondrous time of the year, Black Friday has moved from an insider industry term - one that frankly really wasn't used very much by anybody anyway - to a signal for consumers that this was a BIG shopping event the day after Thanksgiving to the overdone catchphrase du jour it has now become this year.
     I think I saw my first Black Friday reference over the summer when some poor demented retailer decided they needed a little merchandising fix. Ever since, both the volume and the veracity have been turned up in ever increasing doses to the point where a virtual Black Friday Feeding Frenzy has broken out all over the shopping highway.
     It's become not just black out there, but downright dark.
     Which leads to the inevitable question of exactly what will retailers do on the real Black Friday?
     Will it be Very Black Friday? Really Black Friday? Blacker than Black Friday?
     Wait. That's it: Blackest Friday.
     Retailers never met a promotion they didn't like and having overused coupons, percents off, one-day sales and events - whatever that means - they have now hitched their merchandising wagons to this Black Friday thing.
Won't you boys ever learn?
     The single biggest promotional event on the home textiles merchandising calendar was traditionally the January White Sale. It began as a vehicle for stores to promote bed and bath products right after the Christmas selling season, textiles never being a real core classification for the holidays. They could promote a product category that hadn't been overdone to death in December and get weary consumers back into the store one more time.
     And it worked. So well, in fact, that stores started holding a second White Sale later in the year, often over the summer but sometimes whenever there was a lull in the promotional calendar, usually sometime between St. Swithin's Day and President Polk's Birthday.
     Pretty soon there were White Sales all over the place and the shopper knew that if they missed one, they needn't worry. Like the cross-town bus, there would be another one coming along before not too long. Whatever cachet White Sales had got watered down to the point where they were just one more time when sheets and towels were put on sale. That a mattresses sale is perhaps the only home product event more common than a White Sale has become a fact of retailing life.
     Now the same thing is happening to Black Friday sales. This year they've generally only turned up in the second half of the year, but my memory faintly recalls at least one in the spring. You know in 2011 there are going to be more Black Friday sales and they are going to happen every day of the week.
     And they'll probably still be called Black Friday. After all, if The New York Post can put Page Six on page 12 and 47th Street Photo was on 45th Street for years, why can't Black Friday be calendar-neutral?
     It's just one more example of retailers beating up on whatever they can. Maybe they should call it Black and Blue Friday.

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