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When Every Day Feels Like Black Friday

Many retail promotions, such as Best Buy's pre-Thanksgiving shopping event, are prompted by this year's forecasts of low holiday sales growth.
Many retail promotions, such as Best Buy's pre-Thanksgiving shopping event, are prompted by this year's forecasts of low holiday sales growth. (Photos By Richard A. Lipski -- The Washington Post)

"I said, 'Wow, do you need to do that?' " he recalled. "She said, 'Yeah, but it's a great deal.' "

Black Friday got its nickname because it marked the beginning of the season when retailers traditionally begin making money, or went from being in the red to the black. A strong Black Friday can cement a store's reputation in shoppers' minds and strike fear into the competition.

But it seems that one day of no-holds-barred shopping is no longer enough. Online retailers have claimed the Monday after Thanksgiving as Cyber Monday and are planning incentives such as free shipping to boost customer traffic. According to a poll sponsored by trade organization Shop.org, nearly three-quarters of online retailers said they have scheduled promotions for the day, up from less than half last year.

"As more people rely on the Internet for holiday shopping, retailers have stepped up their game to compete," said Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org.

Even infomercials are jumping on the holiday bandwagon with Info-Mania Sunday two days after Thanksgiving. Barbara Tulipane, president of the Electronic Retailing Association, a trade group for direct retail sales, said the number of infomercials jumps substantially after Thanksgiving. She said they are targeted at viewers who may have gone through the Black Friday blitz and are relaxing at home in front of the TV.

Because it expects Saturday to be so similar to Black Friday, Wal-Mart has requested that the two days be merged into one, creating a 48-hour Friday. The company even sent a letter to honorary Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, professor of cosmology and astrophysics at the University of Cambridge in England, to request his blessing.

"Does a week always have to contain seven days? And do those days always have to be the seven we're accustomed to?" wrote Nick Agrawal, vice president of Wal-Mart's corporate communications. "Certainly here in the U.S., those seeking more time for their holiday shopping, the addition of a second Friday might be just what they're looking for."

However, Wal-Mart is petitioning the wrong person. The International Bureau of Weights and Measures in France is the world's official time-keeping organization. Its U.S. branch is the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which falls under the Department of Commerce.

Reached by phone in his office in Cambridge, Rees was at a loss for words on Wal-Mart's double-Friday request.

"I am completely flummoxed over this conversation," he said.


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