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Shopping season hits Harford [editorial]

BusinessBlack Friday (shopping)Small Business SaturdayCyber MondaySmall BusinessesThanksgivingAmerican Express Company

Calling the day after Thanksgiving Black Friday, at least according to one explanation, came into being as a business term.

Its location on the calendar, coupled with it being a perfect day for people with the day off to do a little shopping, made it the day many businesses crossed the line into profitability for the year. In other words, it's the day when retail operations that are going to be successful stop using red ink and start using black.

The mobs at the stores on the day after Thanksgiving can give the day a slightly darker tone than the subdued Thursday family holiday, giving the name Black Friday a rather populist ring. Not surprisingly, another explanation of the day's origin relates to there being a lot of traffic accidents involving people out shopping. According to this version of the tale, officers in the Philadelphia Police Department who had to deal with the crashes came up with the name.

Regardless of its origin, the day after Thanksgiving has not only taken on a life of its own in popular culture, but also it has spawned offspring, notably Cyber Monday and Small Business Saturday. The former has roots a bit more clandestine than taking a day off on Friday and doing some shopping; Cyber Monday is regarded as the day when people, back at work and in front of their computers, look for shopping deals on the Internet.

Paradoxically, even as Cyber Monday cuts into entrepreneurial productivity for some businesses, it enhances profitability for others. Possibly, this is why any criticism of its having entered the lexicon has been muted.

Small Business Saturday, at first glance, is a bit of a forced shopping holiday.

Even as Cyber Monday and Black Friday are rather natural progressions of modern markets, Small Business Saturday is the product of an active marketing campaign initially orchestrated by American Express, the credit card company.

As a shopping holiday, however, it is every bit as legitimate as the modern incarnation of Black Friday. Before Black Friday took on an official name, the day after Thanksgiving was a shopping holiday up for grabs.

Not surprisingly, large stores, with large budgets for promotions and the ability to absorb the cost of offering door-buster prices (door-buster being another term that has slipped into common usage from the marketing world), evolved into unofficial shopping destinations of first resort.

Coordinating and marketing an official Small Business Saturday is a perfectly reasonable small shop business response to the most recent evolution of Black Friday. Essentially, it is specialty shops saying: "Go ahead and take advantage of the Black Friday bargains and door-busters, but don't forget to check out the wares offered in more out of the way settings."

Businesses in Bel Air, Aberdeen and Havre de Grace and other communities in Harford County joined the promotion full force this year, hopefully to good effect.

It is worth keeping in mind, though that good effect for expanding sales on Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday (and any other must-shop days that happen to crop up) is likely to result in a dilution of the impact of Black Friday.

Then again, the degree to which Black Friday had been built up in recent years was kind of a mutation from what it had been way back when the police in Philadelphia were filling out accident reports and ledger keepers were switching to black ink.

It went from being a coincidental busy shopping day to something worthy of Super Bowl style hype. It was only natural those who were left out would seek to increase their share of the pie.

Similarly, it is reasonable that certain shoppers can be counted on to avoid retail outlets on predictably busy days using a sort of nobody-goes-there-anymore-because-it's-too-crowded kind of logic.

Shopping holidays have their place, but the business textbook basics – quality product, effective promotion, prominent placement and reasonable price – will always carry the day when it comes to attracting and keeping customers, long after the hype has faded.

Anyway, relying on a single make or break shopping day is kind of like putting a full collection of eggs in one basket.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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