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Black Friday: An American institution that does not necessarily offer significant savings

Published: Monday, Nov. 19 2012 5:20 p.m. MST

Merchants, understandably, disliked the ominous-sounding phrase, preferring "Big Friday" and "Big Saturday," but the moniker stuck, and spread. Within a few decades other cities were using it and by the late 1980s it had become something of a national institution. By then, retailers had come to embrace the appellation as an apt description of the change on their income statements from red to black.

Having long blanketed the nation, Black Friday is now creeping across the calendar. Promotions in early November and even late October are no longer uncommon.

In its 2012 Holiday Retail Outlook report, Booz & Co. reported, "consumers are increasingly viewing Black Friday as 'irrelevant.'"

Cliff Courtney, chief strategy officer of Zimmerman Advertising, agrees. "Unofficially, Black Friday will stand as the kick-off to the holiday season," Courtney says, "but its impact will continue to diminish as the onslaught of sales will defuse its core proposition."

Web retailers aim to capitalize on any decline in the traditionally brick-and-mortar deal day. Some online promotions tout "Black November" sales, reminding consumers of the ease with which they can, on any day, hunt for bargains while avoiding cold weather, rowdy crowds and stock-outs of advertised items.

Tradition trumps transactions

Whether Black Friday waxes or wanes remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain. Come early Friday morning, Nov. 23, Stephanie Goldman and her two sisters will be braving the New Jersey cold for the eighth consecutive year of Black Friday.

Count on them to scour stores for deals, such as the $500 Ann Taylor work wardrobe Goldman's sister bought one year for $100.

But make no mistake, the main draw is the shared experience.

"It's sister bonding time," Goldman says. "Black Friday is a ritual for us, so we're unaffected by the pre-Thanksgiving deals or those online. It's a family tradition that's the start of the holiday season. You cannot help but be joyful with that kind of rush."

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