5 Black Friday Myths the Media Wants You to Believe

#2. It's Good for Everyone

What You Think:

Black Friday is a time when you can earn big savings and the stores can earn big profits. Everyone is a winner!

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"This $499 TV is saving me money."

But Actually ...

You might not save any money, and the stores might not make a profit.

If you see an advertisement for a giant discount on a big-ticket electronic item, you might think that you can snatch up the bargain as long as you're one of the very first people in line. Think again. While "door busters" sometimes list the number of items available, say 100, many advertisements don't list a quantity at all. Stores may only stock a couple of the items, just so they can run the ad. Some may not stock the item at all. In 2010, a Walmart in Alabama stocked zero of the Xbox systems they advertised at $199. A Sears in the same town didn't stock any of the gaming systems they listed as door busters, despite telling customers the items had come in that Tuesday.

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Those are all actually display units. But they were half off!

Many retailers will put a "Black Friday" sticker on items that aren't discounted any more than they have been for weeks. Expect to run into "Black Friday" and even "lowest price ever" labels that mean absolutely nothing. Stores also use the shopping holiday to get rid of the excess inventory that hasn't sold yet.

If you think all this customer screwing means that the retail executives are just lounging around lighting cigars with $100 bills, think again. The educated customer can still get incredible deals, and savvy consumers are becoming less of a minority. A dedicated Black Friday website can help you plan ahead. Facebook and Twitter can alert you to the best sales. Black Friday apps can compare prices at the touch of a button. All this increased competition cuts into profits for retailers. In 2010, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. recommended that their readers sell off all stocks held for retailers before Black Friday. They predicted that disappointing holiday sales would lead to a decrease in stock prices in most retail chains between Black Friday and January.

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We're not even sure who is screwing who anymore.

#1. The Name Has a Special Meaning

What You Think:

A common explanation of the name "Black Friday" is that is has to do with accounting. In older accounting practices, negative numbers were written in red ink and positive numbers in black ink. Thus, a business losing money is "in the red" and a profitable business is "in the black." Black Friday is supposedly the first day many stores turn a profit for the year.

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"No more cat food for a whole two months!"

But Actually ...

In reality, Black Friday earned its name because it sucks. The term was coined in Philadelphia in 1966. "Black" was an adjective given to disastrous days in history. "Black Friday" also refers to the stock market crash in 1929 that started the Great Depression, as well as a flood in Cincinnati in 1937.


And an unsuccessful Allied air attack in 1945. Never forget.

In 1966, the Philadelphia police hated the first day of the holiday shopping season because of the massive traffic jams and the packed sidewalks it caused. Also, presumably because they wished they could be off from work like everyone else. Frazzled retail workers and exhausted shoppers were more than willing to accept the term.

The red ink/black ink explanation was never heard of until the early 1980s. Store owners who were satisfied with their sales started to become disturbed by the negative-sounding nickname. The president of Strawbridge & Clothier (bought out by Macy's in 2005) said, "It sounds like the end of the world, and we really like the day. If anything it should be called 'Green Friday.'" Another department store executive was even more hot and bothered, calling the name "the most disgusting thing I've ever heard. Why would anyone call a day, when everyone is happy and has smiles on their faces, Black Friday?"

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"Who doesn't love this?"

Realizing that a name associated with national disasters might hurt net sales, the more optimistic explanation was encouraged by retailers. Campaigns spinning that the day made you max out all of your "love cards" and commit "funicide" were less successful, but at least the name stuck. A few decades later, even the New York Times is convinced.



Geoff Young also writes tennis articles and editorials, which you can find here.

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