A Tale of Two Holiday Bargain Days: Black Friday vs. Small Business Saturday

The ol' Black Friday, she ain't what she used to be. Which is probably for the best. Alternatives "hot shopping days," such as Grey Thursday, Cyber Monday and Small Business Saturday, are spreading out the profits without all the involved liability that the infamous day-after-Thanksgiving has come to entail. This year, consumers have more options to snag up bargains for their loved ones. And they should take them.

Black Friday Times

Black Friday is the derailed child star of the retail world - too explosive and distorted to sustain itself for long. Even though its origins rest in the late 19th century, the horror show we know today didn't start looping into reality until the 1980s. In fact, between 1993 and 2003, its reputation as "the biggest shopping day of the year" was unwarranted.

By volume, Black Friday sales didn't ever crack the top four days. While it has since ascended in the ranks, this comes at the cost of ridiculous crowds and, worse, customers and employees getting hurt or killed for the sake of special deals - many of which aren't even so special after all. Even the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had to issue a list of safety protocols for retailers to follow during Black Friday.

No Furby II is worth spending the holidays on crutches, especially since you may very well be able to pick one up from your cozy desk come Cyber Monday or even the Thursday before. Macy's, Wal-Mart, J.C. Penney and other national retailers are controversially open on Thanksgiving Day this year to try and entice tryptophan-hazed shoppers.

We Hardly Knew Ye, But We Wish We Never Did

Within the next few years, will we be foisting the skull of Black Friday toward the heavens and issuing forth monologues about their much-missed infinite jests and excellent fancies? Probably not.

Come on. If the infamous shopping day gradually dissolves, either by extending into preceding days or consumers preferring the comparative physical safety of Cyber Monday, who is going to miss it, really?

Not retailers. Spreading out their deals throughout November and early December to increase marketplace competition lowers the risk of liability while still ensuring profitability. The one-day crush can be better mitigated when it isn't just one day. Between 2012 and 2013, a two-day model (Thursday and Friday) saw an overall 2.8 percent increase in foot traffic, with 1.07 billion customers in attendance.

Shoppers won't miss it either. Thrusting Grey Thursday, as it's come to be called, into the mix provides them with more opportunities to get out shopping rather than escalating the stress of an already crunched season.

Frankly, shuffling Black Friday as nothing more than a cynical, nostalgic, direct-to-DVD cash grab twenty years from now sounds pretty great.

Small Business Saturday Probably Won't Kill You

The product of American Express, Small Business Saturday (SBS) is the demure alternative to Black Friday for shoppers who enjoy leaving their home rather than finishing their gift lists online. Sure, the intent is to still get people to spend money on holiday gifts - no need to pretend. However, there's a little more complexity to how Small Business Saturday works.

As its name indicates, SBS encourages patronage of nearby operations rather than national chains in order to stimulate local economies. Merchants electing to participate offer up their own showcases and special deals. Through their size and emphasis on location, customers don't have to worry about coming in for the Tickle Me Elmo and leaving with a black eye.

Small businesses created around 8.7 million jobs between 2011 and 2012, and 2013's event generated $5.5 billion to help them grow even more. Not bad for an event that's only four years old! Nurturing neighborhood businesses is profitable in ways beyond the financials, making Small Business Saturday a calmer alternative to Black Friday and a more interactive, sociable solution to Cyber Monday. For this year's holiday shopping, let the turkey digest on Friday and head out on November 29th instead. American Express hosts a map of participating businesses to help you decide where you want to explore.

Whatever your preferred bargain deal day is, please remember that this time of the year is all about giving and caring. Be safe, be patient and be kind - and happy shopping!

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