Is Black Friday a zero-sum game?

Every year the stores try to open earlier. However, where I live, it is not legal for them to be open until 12:01 AM Friday. In states where Thanksgiving shopping is allowed, do the stores actually end up selling more by being open Thursday, or are they all just competing more fiercely for the same amount of business?

Everyone opening earlier would seem to equate to a zero sum game however Black Friday has taking on a certain, almost celebratory, life if it’s own. The more stores seem to go all out the more people want to participate in it.

I wouldn’t say it’s entirely zero sum. Black Friday deals whip up some hysteria that you wouldn’t see otherwise. Once you get people to go out and shop, it’s likely that they’ll spend money even if they don’t get any of the limited-quantity loss-leaders.

And while people report every year that they have a strict Christmas budget, it usually looks like this: Average anticipated budget: $250. Average actually spent: $450. So you can argue that the $200 difference between budget and actual is not part of a zero-sum game (or at least not all part of it).

Of course, even if it is a zero-sum game, making sure they spend money at your store is all the more important. If being open an hour earlier than your competitor gets them to spend money with you first, then that’s enough motivation by itself.

Layaway falls into this category. Just getting people to commit to spending money with you is sufficient to win the game, even if they don’t pay you until later.

Here is data on Black Friday spending for the past few years. The question is, would this money be spent later, or does it increase the amount of spending?

I’ve been to one store on Black Friday once. It seems to me that Black Friday is quite inefficient, in that you could spend faster in less time on other days.

It would be hard to determine if Black Friday helps or hurts sales at other times since total Christmas sales are dependent on the economic environment.

Black Friday kicks off Christmas shopping, which has other days of deals. Cyber Monday, the week before Christmas, the week after Christmas etc. Are all big sale periods.

I have no idea if more Friday spending means less Christmas week spending. I don’t have stats on Christmas spending the last few years.

I believe the term is a Red Queen’s Race. It’s a situation where you have to put an increasing amount of effort in just to hold your current position.

I would love to know more about boffking’s area and the illegal opening of retail stores on Thanksgiving. I’m just curious what the criteria is, are groceries allowed to be open? Gas stations? I’m intrugued and would like to visit this magical state (county? town?), as I wish all retail had to be closed on Thanksgiving (and a couple other holidays - not Christmas!).

It’s probably not a zero-sum game, but it’s counterproductive. The numbers aren’t much use, since the only things on the chart that differentiates Black Friday and Thanksgiving Shopping is Internet Sales. There are no numbers that indicate if Black Friday is hurt by Thanksgiving sales.

Stores evidently assume that they will increase sales by bringing in people both days. But how many people do that? How many of your Thursday customers will come back the next day? I can’t see it being that great a percentage, and your sales would hardly be that much different if you gave both days’ worth of bargains on Friday.

The assumption is that the more hours you’re open, the more money you make. Yet as a friend in retail once pointed out to me, for an event-type sale, people will show up whenever the event takes place and, assuming they have $450 to spend, they’ll spend that amount over whatever time is available. People have only so much money to spend, and they’ll spend it in whatever time is available for them.

Large retailers have tremendous amounts of year-over-year, fine grained sales data to inform their policies - I would assume they are pushing the current trend towards ever earlier Christmas shopping/sales so heavily because they find it ultimately increases profits.

The easiest thing to do is compare shopping figures for years where Thanksgiving comes early vs. the ones where Thanksgiving comes late. Theoretically there shouldn’t be any difference, but there are certainly enough cites from the retail trade that take it as a given that a short Thanksgiving-Christmas period means lower sales. Therefore, retailers must try to push the shopping period back.

Is this an English term? The English have such great expressions and I bet they have one for all the Christmas Holiday hype and such.

Re: “Red Queen’s Race”

Never heard the phrase before, but having just now seen it, it’s obviously a reference to

the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, who said "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"ETA: Quite possibly one of the most often quoted passages in all of English literature, BTW.

Also an example of the Fallacy of Composition. Any player can gain advantage by opening on Thursday evening, so all retail stores are thus tempted to open on Thursday, but if they do, then nobody gets any advantage.

Examples of the fallacy from Wiki page:

And perhaps even more relevant to the OP’s question:

ETA: In which case, if everybody has to work harder (by opening on Thanksgiving) and nobody gets any advantage from it, that’s where the idea of Red Queen’s Race comes in.

An example I’ve noticed is with airlines offering in-flight movies. Originally, one airline did it to gain an competitive advantage over other airlines. Then the next thing you know, they are all doing it just to get an equal shot at the same advantage, and now no airline is getting any advantage from that, although now they are all stuck with the expense of having in-flight movies.

I live in Maine, and this law applies for the whole state. Any store larger than 5000 square feet must be closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.

Black Friday is not a one day event, but goes way beyond it - it extends to Christmas (or other compatible holiday). It starts getting people into buying ‘spirit’ perhaps for another month. It starts the season and gets people to go along.

Black Friday also has people who will avoid shopping on that day, but that means they most likely will be coming in soon when it is less crowded.

So even if it’s a loss, the people are now primed and ready to buy till Santa fires up the sleigh again.

The Red Queen’s race is also commonly referred to as an “Arms Race”. As soon as anyone starts building up their weaponry, everybody else must do the same just to stay in the same relative positions.

All of economics is riddled with arms races.

Nothing within the scope of capitalism is zero sum. Capital calls the shots. If there is a margin, it flows to Capital. If there is not a margin, it just doesn’t happen.

Another way to describe it is OPEC. If everyone does the same thing, everyone gets their appropriate share. If some one member of the group (stores, oil producers) cheats, they get ahead… for a while. Then everyone else does the same, and they are all losers.

I see something very similar with car dealers. In many Canadian cities, car dealers were not open on Sundays. Obviously, Sunday is one of the few days when people have the leisure time to shop. However, once one dealer opens they may steal customers for a while; but then they all have to open and then they all sell the usual amount of cars while paying for an extra day of work.

I’m not sure what those other statements have to do with Zero-sum games.

I’ll try again. Business interests decide marketing strategy. They do not use tactics that are not expected to be profitable, nor to break even. If an event occurs, one can be sure that large capital interests have already determined that the outcome will be in their favor.