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Black Friday: Street View

“Black Friday is dead. We killed it with the Internet.”

Such were the words of one Vaughn Chisolm, shared with PYMNTS on the curb outside of the Pheasant Lane Mall in New Hampshire at about 7:30 Friday (Nov. 27) morning as he prepared to begin a day of shopping till he dropped.  

Chisolm’s statement begged an obvious question: If Black Friday is so dead, just what exactly was he doing at the mall in the wee early morning hours the day after Thanksgiving? 

“Well, the mall is open and I have Christmas shopping to do and New Hampshire will let me do it without sales tax. And I mean look around, does this look like Black Friday to you? Like a couple of years ago there were like lines and [expletive deleted] like people fighting over [expletive deleted]. This is just like any other busy day at the mall.”

And on the one hand, Chisholm was right: This Nashua, New Hampshire super regional mall – one of the largest in the state – was active yesterday morning, but by no means as packed at 7:30 as the tax-free shopping destination has been in years gone by.

And a few miles down the road, Boston area shopping malls looked like they were still trying to shake off that turkey coma.   

But that was just the greater Boston area.  

According to the New York Daily News, the sort of enthusiasm bordering on dangerous insanity that Black Friday historically brings out in people was on proud display nationwide. Kentucky had two separate shoppingrelated “punch-outs” in two different malls in the state. (One was over seating in a food court, another reportedly over shoes.)

But at least Kentucky’s Black Friday brawls stayed between the customers. One shopper in Texas thought the best way to ring in the holiday season was to try to assault a cop.

But, back to our Black Friday view from the street, there were two Black Fridays in play in 2015. There was the one everyone said they definitely weren’t doing this year, in favor of buying online — and the one that motivated people to punch each other over shoes.  

“Well, I mean I didn’t plan to go out today,” Claire (who declined to give us her last name) told us. “I was planning on buying online, but then all of a sudden my family was like ‘Hey, let’s go on a hike,’ and I suddenly needed to get to a mall.”

And, as it turns out, Claire was not the only consumer actively rejecting #OptOutside. 

“Because that is what I want to do in late November in New Hampshire — I want to go outside to hike through the barren, frozen woods in the creepy silence of no birds singing, ” David Evans (who is of no relation to Dr. David Evans, Chairman of MPD) told us. “That sounds much better than listening to Christmas music and getting a new television.”   

Or, as mother of four and long-time Black Friday enthusiast Carolyn Johnson told us: “Opting outside after eating an eight-course turkey dinner is how Thanksgiving is celebrated in hell.”  

But why not just opt inside in her own home?  

“I have four children between the ages of 5 and 15.  I need the deals, and this year has actually been incredible.”

And Johnson didn’t seem to be exaggerating. The deals yesterday were intense even by Black Friday standards.

Discounts at most clothiers were knocked off a minimum 40 percent, with some places offering to take as much as 75 percent off the MSRP. H&M – as is their annual custom – handed out coupons to the first few people standing outside in line at their Boston store this morning.

“Yeah I got $100 coupon- so honestly that alone made waiting in line worth it,” Jordan Hansen noted. “But I also bought my mom an entirely new collection of pots and pans, and my boyfriend a smart TV and I haven’t even spent $1000 yet.  I haven’t gotten like close – it has been literally awesome out here.”

Hansen also noted this was a much better, and more discounted experience than she had even expected.

“I have never actually been out for Black Friday before, but the deals everywhere have been awesome.”

And consumers weren’t the only ones aware of the big discounting going on.

“Gosh, I don’t think I’ve ever seen us handing out deals like this,” Irene Finkler, Barnes and Noble Store Manager noted. “Black Friday is obviously a big discount day, but this has been very different.” 

“You know, we’ve been sick busy today,” Daryl Johanson, Best Buy assistant manager noted. “And all week we’ve been having staff meetings about ‘Oh my god, no one is going shopping this year,’ but I mean you can see the line at the cash wrap,” he said, gesturing to the extremely long lines looping around the store’s front section, “and I’m just not at all surprised by what I’m seeing. There is something totally thrilling about buying something you really want, spending less and then getting to hold it in your hands. Especially if you didn’t know you wanted it before you saw it in the store.”

And that, the employees note, is just fine with them, since despite media reports to the contrary, most of the 12 retail employees we spoke to yesterday bemoaned the retreat of Thanksgiving physical commerce. 

“I think people were like ‘How great, employees get to spend the day with their family,’ when it is really a lot of the employees — especially for people who this isn’t their home from college job, it is their real job — like working Black Friday and Thanksgiving just fine. Because we make time-and-a-half that day,” one employee told us.

Another, also on the condition of being anonymous, put it a little more pointedly. 

“We buy Christmas gifts too – but make like $8 an hour. Those time-and-a-half shifts really help. Not this year though.”

Still, not everyone was quite so discontent, as Jacques who works at REI noted. 

“So I’ve worked in retail literally my whole career, and so this is my first Black Friday as a customer,” he said.  

Did it live up to his expectations?

“I think if I could resist my urge to re-merchandise the shelves I would enjoying myself more. I do like sales though.”

So was Black Friday 2015 a bust?  

Depends on who you ask. There were, for sure, folks out ready shop, save and in some cases fight to the death. But the crowds were notably smaller, snapping up deals that may have run the register, but perhaps making the physical retailer’s bottom line all that happy.

“I think there will always be a Black Friday, but maybe with a lot less craziness going forward,” Finkler noted.

But then Black Friday (minus some of the crazy) may not be the worst thing that ever happened to retail

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