When did this become a national thing?
Black Friday was supposed to be called that because it was the day where businesses turned their annual ledgers from red ink to black ink, but in the last few years it seems to have morphed into something else. It has been reported for years that the big deals aren't necessarily really deals at all, or that some companies raise their prices in the weeks (months?) before the day so that what would have been a normal, small discount from MSRP suddenly seems like a deal. It's being reported that more and more people are carrying their smartphone into the stores to price check things, check for price and availability at other stores, or get coupons.
Once there started to be a perception that good deals came on black Friday, it was only a matter of time until it became just another way of saying "BIG SALE!". But shoppers like to think they're getting big deals, and there are stores that put one or two items on a massive discount to get some people to line up the night before. Maybe they can get some buzz on the news. Of course, now that stores are opening on Thanksgiving itself, Friday seems like it loses some drawing power. Still, every year there's some incident where people get violent over something stupid.
It always pays to know what going prices are. I've heard that generally speaking, the best time for deals is closer to Christmas, especially right before Christmas. You'll get better prices than this week, but it's a gamble. You're betting that the stores will be stuck with some of an item you want and would rather discount it than not sell it. If they sell out first you lose. If they don't sell out and don't/can't cut the price you lose. That said, it has worked out for me in the past.
Retail is a rough way to make a living. I'm sure you've heard how airline reservation systems base the seat price on the apparent interest in a flight. If you go back and check on the price of that seat every week, the system says there must be more demand for that flight and raises the price. What if stores could measure real time demand and adjust the price. Say you're looking for a new tool or other gadget, what if they see you checking the web site regularly and interpret that as more people interested in that and raised the price. Would you be upset or offended? What if they dropped the price to see at what level you can't resist pushing the Glistening Candy-like "BUY IT" button? I don't have any hard evidence that anyone does that, but it seems trivial for an online store to track interest in something. The biggest risk is scaring away customers.
To me the Golden Rule is the willing seller/willing buyer. My inner engineer drives me to optimize things, but if people are happy with what they paid, regardless of whether or not it really is "the best price of the year", and the seller is happy with they got for it, that's definition of a fair price. I'm sure not gonna poop in anyone's Post Toasties.
As for me, I've never gotten up early to go do a black Friday shopping expedition, and it's doubtful I ever will.