I miss the old Black Friday

This past week, most of the tweets and TikToks I’ve seen about Black Friday have been along the lines of “I miss when they gave away TVs for Black Friday and people died in crowd crushes trying to get them.” My immediate reaction to this is that we’re having the first real Black Friday after all COVID-related restrictions were lifted, so people are looking back at the heyday of malls and in-store sales 15 years ago. Obviously there’s also humor here- people aren’t earnestly wishing for deaths in the name of 4k HD 180cm screens. It’s mainly meant to highlight a change that I wouldn’t otherwise have thought about- the way shoppers and stores approach Black Friday really has transformed dramatically since the advent of online shopping.

Black Friday itself has kind of merged with the formerly separate Cyber Monday. The acronym BFCM is used to cover both of them, and those who observe BFCM mostly do so online. This has had the side effect of sales going from 85% off to 35% off due to the lack of restrictions on the number of people who can participate in the sales, but the reasons one would prefer to BFCM shop online remain pretty clear. 

  1. It’s just safer- there’s no risk of the aforementioned trampling deaths or the media frenzy and late night talk show jokes meant to humiliate those who participate in it
  2. You can peruse a greater amount of stores without physically having to travel to them or line up early in front of them, and you don’t have to prioritize which store to line up early in front of either
  3. There’s a near-endless amount of lists telling you exactly which sales to shop from every influencer under the sun

The essay Bleak Friday by Em Sealy-Katz focuses on this last point. They propose that while in the past the role of the shopper was to entertain and create news stories about crazy people who would do anything for a deal, now the shopper is a curator and a choreographer who plans and picks which online deals they and their followers should partake in.

The sense of potential for both opportunity and disaster that once fueled excitement has been streamlined into a practiced routine. Weeks in advance, we are inundated with promotional emails, “exclusive” previews, and detailed shopping guides so that in recent years, shoppers are no longer the dancing monkeys—we’re now the choreographers

Em Sealy-Katz

Much like I saw this as an opportunity to “create content” I need for this class, influencers and bloggers on the wider internet must “create content” in preparation for Black Friday. Affiliate links give them (however minuscule) profit for every click they get, but more than that it’s seen simply as an opportunity to reach new audiences and grow your platform by compiling the best list, even if neither the influencer nor most of their audience can actually afford the 30% off $500 dress. 

Should we really miss the old Black Friday?

The Bleak Friday essay comes to a pretty negative conclusion. Sealy-Katz sees the song and dance of email sending and list compiling as just a new more insidious version of the Black Friday news stories of the 2000’s- everyone uses it as entertainment, but this time the onus is on the masses to entertain each other, and the sales aren’t even that good anymore. I don’t think it’s that bad, but I also have never really participated in Black Friday. I was too young to participate in the big Walmart crowds when they were a thing, and now I don’t really find the sales appealing enough to drop money on. Do you guys like shopping BFCM sales? Or do you maybe look at hauls or lists online without actually buying anything? What’s your perception of how its changed since it was more of a physical event?