ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Black Friday can signify a lot of different things. It can mean braving freezing temperatures in Minnesota like this.
SHACARAH REYNOLDS: I'm out here with everyone else for a TV.
SHAPIRO: That's shopper Shacarah Reynolds bound and determined to get that 50-inch TV set for just $200. Black Friday can also be a sign of retail trends. This year, the ritual seems to be losing its edge as retailers start offering deals throughout the month of November. And Black Friday can be a symbol worth protesting. NPR's Richard Harris has the story of today.
RICHARD HARRIS, BYLINE: Organizations that object to our consumer-oriented culture have tried to single out Black Friday as a day to avoid shopping. That hasn't gotten much traction. This year, there's also a social media campaign to boycott Black Friday in protest of the Ferguson, Missouri grand jury's decision not to indict the policeman who shot and killed Michael Brown. Jessie Davis of Chicago took part in that movement at the Galleria Mall in St. Louis.
JESSIE DAVIS: Black lives matter more than your iPhone, more than your new dress for New Year's Eve. This is what we're saying. People got to lift their heads, get out of their houses and into the streets.
HARRIS: That protest led some stores in that mall to shut their doors this afternoon. Advocates for higher wages also chose this day to stage protests at many Wal-Mart stores. I came across the results of that in downtown Washington, D.C.
There's a man outside of the Wal-Mart here with a bucket and a brush and he's scrubbing off some chalk graffiti that was put on the sidewalk in front of the store. And among the things that it says is workers deserve a living wage, and a frowny smiley face that says always poverty and is pointing toward Wal-Mart. Shoppers here, like Dominique Small, seemed unperturbed by both the protests and the Black Friday hype. What were you shopping for?
DOMINIQUE SMALL: Right now, just kind of things to put in the house. And I just was looking at some prices for toys and stuff for Christmas.
HARRIS: But not buying the toys today?
SMALL: No, not today. No.
HARRIS: Is it crazy in there?
SMALL: No, it's actually really good. No lines - a lot of people just available if you need them.
HARRIS: Wal-Mart gave an upbeat report, saying 22 million people came to their stores on Thanksgiving. The top items sold were tablets, TVs, sheets, kids clothing and videogame gear. Marshall Cullen, chief retail analyst at NPD group, says early indications are that sales for both Thanksgiving and Black Friday are strong, and that the protests didn't make a dent.
MARSHALL CULLEN: The consumer didn't see the direct connection between the grand jury's decision and the retail opportunity.
HARRIS: He was a bit surprised that shopping trips on Thanksgiving itself didn't steal the Black Friday thunder. But Chris Christopher at IHS Global Insight wasn't quite so enthusiastic.
CHRIS CHRISTOPHER: Black Friday seems to be a little bit lackluster - still relatively an important day, but not just what it used to be.
HARRIS: Sales are now spread out throughout the month of November, and online sales are also increasing by the year. Black Friday leaves Boston College sociology professor Juliet Shor with complicated feelings. On the one hand, she says, Americans attach too much importance to consumer goods, and a shopping extravaganza plays into that.
JULIET SHOR: I think the one thing about Black Friday that I would say I like is it does make things more affordable for people who don't have enough purchasing power.
HARRIS: Wages for most workers have been stagnant for years. And Shor says Black Friday gives many Americans a chance to buy more or more generous gifts for their loved ones. Richard Harris, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.