Black Friday: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

It’s difficult to dispute the notion that civilization is in decline after watching news footage from Black Friday.

Take this video shot at a Walmart in Moultrie, Ga., during the wee hours of Friday morning. (I’m guessing many of you have already seen it.) One minute and 10 seconds into the clip, a woman actually bites a man—she takes his hand in her jaws and clamps down like some crazed animal. The crowd that swarms around her—apparently, they’re after a cellphone deal—is loud, aggressive, and freakishly barbarian.

I hope none of you saw anything quite this ugly in your own stores and malls this past weekend. But I’m curious: What was the prevailing mood on Friday? Bargain hunters run amok or civilized patrons serenely shopping for the holidays? Or some incomprehensible mash-up of the two?

My hunch is that jewelry stores aren’t typically scenes of such mayhem—security concerns have got to override the desire to attract crowds. (Because Lord knows if a free cellphone package sparks that kind of melee, what wouldn’t people do for something as patently and universally desirable as pretty baubles?)

Assuming that most of you avoided the ugly, did you also steer clear of the bad? Some reports are declaring that sales for brick-and-mortar retailers on Black Friday are down—or at least diffused between the proliferation of early store openings and cyber-sales that tempted consumers during the post-Thanksgiving weekend.

Then again, retailers who opened their doors early reportedly saw good results—attributable to “those evening hours on Thursday appealing more to a new crop of ‘sport’ shoppers,” writes Marshal Cohen, chief industry expert at the NPD Group, a consumer research company.

The good news: Black Friday continues to morph beyond its traditional role as a daylong sales event, providing savvy retailers with myriad new ways to market their goods. To wit: Cohen also noted the “self-gifting tradition” that’s emerged around the holiday:

“Consumers were very strategic in getting the deals on items they wanted for themselves,” he writes. “Last year, 26 percent of consumers bought for themselves while buying for others during Black Friday weekend, making 2011 a record year. Not only may self-gifting approach 26 percent, it could even surpass it.”

Now an opportunity to promote fun, fashionable jewelry to self-purchasing women (and men), the post-Thanksgiving sales period is no longer just a bookend to a season of gift-giving; it has become its very own calendar event, with all the requisite media hoopla. Let’s just hope next year’s version of events is more civilized.