“Black Friday” has established itself as a tradition on the American calendar – this day after Thanksgiving is traditionally a huge retail frenzy. One of the biggest shopping days of the year, Black Friday kickstarts the holiday season that leads up to Christmas in December. So, a “Black Friday in July” sale may seem strange at first – Black Friday is typically associated with the month of November, with wintry weather, and with the prospect of Christmas holidays around the corner. The summer of 2013 has seen an increase in the number of big retail stores and chains running “Black Friday in July” promotions and sales.
Black Friday itself, as a heavy shopping day, has expanded from its beginnings in Philadelphia in the late 1950s or early 1960s. In the 1970s and later, the Black Friday tradition spread throughout the United States; by the 2000s, all the major retail stores were involved in Black Friday promotions and advertising. Store hours were expanded on Black Friday – for many years, it was common for stores to open at 6:00 a.m. to allow early-bird shoppers at the Black Friday bargains. In recent years, the early opening has been pushed back earlier and earlier, with stores opening in the small hours of the morning and shoppers camping outside for hours before doors open. In 2011, stores including Target started to open at midnight on Black Friday, pushing the start of this unofficial “holiday” right back into Thanksgiving Day itself.
So perhaps it was foreseeable that Black Friday, having reached maximum expansion in terms of location and hours, would start to expand into other parts of the year. In the summer of 2013, major stores including Best Buy and Target were marketing “Black Friday in July” promotions, otherwise advertised as “Bonus Black Friday” sales events. Target offered discounts of up to 40 percent on items including electronics, baby goods, furniture and DVDs. Toys R Us offered free shipping, and a range of buy one, get one free deals on kids’ toys. The stores involved in “Black Friday in July” were offering deep discounts on a range of merchandise; however, the overall discounts and range of products in the sale were smaller than typical November Black Friday deals.
Part of the reason for this is competition. In November, almost all retail businesses want a piece of the Black Friday action, and so they compete to offer shoppers the best possible deals and the biggest discounts. Because there is a tradition of Black Friday shopping, stores can rely on a large group of eager shoppers showing up as soon as doors are open. In July, there is no specific, traditional date for discount shopping, and so there is not the same in-built customer base of shoppers. Further, relatively few retail stores were involved in promoting Black Friday sales in July, and so there was less competition between the various retailers. This means that discounted prices do not reach the rock-bottom levels we’re used to seeing in November on certain goods. Essentially, the attachment of the “Black Friday” name to summer sales was little more than a marketing ploy and an attempt to grab attention in the media. Because summer Black Friday sales were unprecedented, retail promotions branded as “Black Friday in July” or “Bonus Black Friday” received significant media attention from mainstream news channels and from social media and blogging networks. In this way, just by using the phrase “Black Friday”, these retailers achieved fast and broad promotion for their rather ordinary summer sales. The tradition of Black Friday is closely tied to the winter lure of shopping malls, the anticipation of holiday season, and the chance to pick up some bargain gifts a month ahead of Christmas. The same feeling can’t be recreated in July, when kids are out of school and thoughts turn to barbecues rather than baubles and sunbathing rather than shopping.