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What Happened to the Real Black Friday?

What Happened to the Real Black Friday?
Image credit: MA1216 | Flickr

As a consumer, I have to say that I miss Black Friday -- not the modern version, but the one I once knew quite fondly.

I grew up in retail, working during high school and college at the local JCPenney -- first in the catalog department and then in men’s. Back in the day, "Black Friday" was typically the calendar day that most retailers finally turned a profit for the year.

Related: How Retailers Shot Themselves in the Foot With Early Black Friday Deals

Since most retail sales, at least back then, happened during the holidays and at back to school, this was a pivotal turning point for retail financials. It was a huge volume/traffic day because everyone was home from school/college and families would start their Christmas shopping together. I know every year I went out with my parents, which always included a fun lunch out.

Black Friday was organic back then. Retailers didn't fabricate the day. Shoppers turned it into a retail holiday and retailers embraced them. The event was driven by the shoppers, nothing else.

Then somewhere along the way, it turned into a bit of a fiasco with huge expectations attached. Competing sales, expanding store hours, packed up displays -- Black Friday got messed up. Now, of course, it's no longer even Friday. For the last few years it's trickled into Thanksgiving day, and now this year we expanded Black Friday into the entire week.

I have a feeling that Black Friday isn’t working anymore. Last year got overshadowed by Cyber Monday, an event that started early, ran long and was far more successful. This year, Black Friday sales are reporting to be down from even last year’s results.

What happened to the real Black Friday?

I can say from my own experience this year that I frequented a few boutique retailers and did buy a few items. I went to one big box retailer later in the afternoon to get one specific item. But then I ordered everything else online, even though I had passed the same merchandise on display earlier in the day. I just didn’t want the bother.

Black Friday just doesn’t seem relevant to me anymore, not when the day revolves around getting up early, fighting crowds and pushing deal after deal. There are now better ways to conquer holiday shopper.

Related: Re-Create the Magic of Manhattan's Holiday Windows: 5 Design Secrets for Small Retailers.

There in lies the opportunity. Here’s where entrepreneurs can step back in and appeal directly to customers.

Reduce the hysteria.

I firmly believe that the last thing we need during the holiday season is more stress. The hype and the hysteria around all of these holiday sales events is merely adding more stress into the system: long lines, anxiety, crowded parking lots and a never-ending sense of not getting enough done.

We don’t need any more of that as a culture. Small-business owners should reduce the hysteria in what you are offering your customers. Make your business a respite from the holiday hustle so that people feel comfortable coming to you.

Focus on customer service.

We’ve lost our sense of service during these holiday sales. It’s become all about the almighty register ring and depleting merchandise inventory. Small-business owners should bring customer service back and fulfill specific customer’s holiday needs better than anyone else. And who better? You’ll win them over quickly, more so than many big businesses that are trying to win over last year.

Offer a unique and real benefit.

It certainly feels like some big businesses are offering the same items at the same prices with the same kinds of discounts. What happened to a real benefit beyond price? Where is the benefit in the shopping experience?

Small-business owners have a real opportunity to take price out of the equation. Think through what your customers really could use this holiday season and offer it to them. Add a unique service that will really add value to their lives, making the holidays less stressful and more enjoyable. Give them a real benefit and they will give you their business. They really will.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s the entrepreneur’s job to make sure that’s the case. If you play your cards right, you won’t just win on Black Friday, but every day throughout the season.

Related: U.S. Holiday Weekend Store Sales Fizzle