Why Black Friday got big

A few years ago, Black Friday was a cute, small-scale day where a few online retailers slashed their prices for a single day. Now, it feels like a multi-day affair that never ends, with dubious discounts at almost every retailer. If you, like me, have been wondering how it got so big, you aren't alone.

It's actually been around for a long time, becoming the 'busiest shopping day' of the year in the US annually since 2005, with people regularly getting up at the crack of dawn and lining up at places like Target or Best Buy to fight over TVs.

The event really didn't start exploding into the general consciousness until 2009, when websites started realizing something obvious: people would rather brawl online for deals than do it in real life. Amazon was the one that made it a global phenomenon: it pushed the event onto all of its global properties, in the UK and beyond, dangling discounts in front of consumers.

That drove the competition to jump in as well, with everyone from NewEgg to local retailers in places like New Zealand starting to compete. It's one of the busiest, most heavily traficked shopping days of the year online, so much so that many retailers actually struggle to keep their websites online (at Shopify, we're in a code freeze for almost two weeks to ensure stability during traffic surges).

Essentially, it's an excuse to get people like you and I to pull out our credit cards and splurge on things we probably don't actually need, because those discounts feel time-bound, and aren't likely to happen again. That's why some reports say that $58 billion was spent in 2017, a huge surge in sales for an event that's largely marketing.

Here's how I approach the Black Friday sales, as someone who's bad at impulse buying things usually:

  1. Make a list of things you need to buy, before the event, and don't buy anything that isn't on that list. I made a list of camping gear I definitely need for next season, and that's all I'll be buying, if I see any outstanding deals.
  2. Slam that list into camelcamelcamel.com, a website that automagically tracks deals and pricing history, and will email you as soon as it hits the price you're willing to pay.
  3. Try to avoid browsing for deals, particularly on company websites like Amazon, as you'll probably end up buying something you didn't really need on a whim.
  4. When you inevitably do browse them once, only read guides from companies with no vested interest in selling you things. I try to stick to The Wirecutter, which has good collections of actually real sales.
  5. Consider the impact of your purchases, as well as the discount, before hitting buy. Black Friday has a real, human toll on the people that actually have to ship that crap to you.

Anyway, happy consumerism week! We've almost made it through 2019.

Tab Dump

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