11/25/2013 08:44 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

Is Black Friday At Risk of Extinction?

Catherine Lane via Getty Images

For adventure seekers that want the thrill of getting the real deal, the controlled chaos of Black Friday is a day that millions of American consumers have historically planned for days, if not months, in advance.

Shoppers from all over the country carefully eye their targets, with many devising clever techniques for being among the first in line to snatch up some incredible (perhaps even once in a lifetime) deals. Camping out in front of their favorite merchants is just part of the tradition. For many retailers, this $40B annual event is where they earn a majority of their profits.

History of Black Friday

The original Black Friday event occurred on September 24, 1864, but it represented a much darker period in American history. It was on this day that a plunge in gold prices resulted in a severe stock market crash so devastating that many believed the financial market would collapse. During the 1960s newspapers in Philadelphia started to use the phrase to describe the mad rush at retailers the day after Thanksgiving that pushed sales revenue into the black.

Biggest Shopping Event of the Year

Retailers understand that Black Friday shoppers don't brave the crowds to browse. They are hungry for a deal with plenty of cash to spend. It is expected that more than 134 million shoppers will participate this year, according to the National Federation of Retailers, making Black Friday still the biggest shopping event of the year. To lure buyers that prefer to shop from the comfort of their living room, many online and offline retailers are bringing the Black Friday experience online. However, it's widely thought that you really need to be physically present if you want to snag an amazing one-of-a kind offer that is only available for a very limited time.

Staying Ahead of the Competition

It's a race to the starting line. In an effort to stay ahead of the competition, some retailers are opening stores earlier than ever, some starting their Black Friday events on Thursday (if not sooner) to be first in line for sales of the season. As a matter of fact, nearly half of retailers participating in a survey indicated they will begin promoting the holiday shopping event at least five days prior.

Many people believe that retailers who will morph the holiday into another shopping day are casting the Thanksgiving tradition of spending time with families and friends aside for money. "The floodgates have opened," said Roger Beahm, marketing professor, Wake Forest University School of Business. "People will turn Thanksgiving Day shopping into a tradition as they historically have on the day after Thanksgiving." The risk to retailers is that eventually you get to a point where you dilute the value proposition of the Black Friday shopping tradition in such a way that it kills the excitement altogether.

There is already some indication that the excitement has already started to wane. According to marketing research firm Nielsen, interest in Black Friday has been steadily declining for the past four years. Only 13% of shoppers plan to visit brick-and-mortar retailers on Black Friday down from 17% in the previous year. With more than half of consumers doing their holiday shopping online, offline retailers need to give consumers a much stronger reason to visit their stores before Black Friday erodes to extinction.

Source: Thanksgiving store openings make Black Friday a gray area (Courier Post Online, 11/16/13)

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