The Changing Role of Black Friday

 It’s showtime for retailers – the financial performance for the year will be influenced heavily by store sales occurring from now until Christmas. When I worked as a manager for McRae’s, a department store chain that is now part of Belk, our efforts focused on the “9 Weeks of Christmas.” It was the period from the first week of November through the end of December. Of course, the centerpiece of that key period was Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. The event was marked by great deals throughout the store and special promotions designed to bring shoppers through our doors.Fast forward to today and the intensity of Black Friday has increased substantially with many stores not waiting for Friday to get in the swing of low prices.

The role of Black Friday in retailers’ marketing plans is undergoing a change… or at least it should be. According to research reported by eMarketer, more people plan to shop on Cyber Monday (the Monday following Black Friday) than on Black Friday. Only 41% of persons surveyed said they intend to shop on Black Friday compared with 57% planning on Cyber Monday shopping. Many factors have contributed to the shift in consumer behavior when it comes to post-Thanksgiving shopping including:

  • Fuel prices – As the cost of gas increases, consumers weigh venturing out on Black Friday against shopping from their computer. Many retailers offer free shipping on e-commerce purchases, removing a cost of shopping online and enjoy shopping with geographic restrictions.
  • Convenience – It seems that there are more stories every year about unruly customer behavior at stores on Black Friday as shoppers vie to snag products that are available in limited quantities. Or, if you want an item that is on sale at a store you may be forced to stand in line waiting for a store to open at an odd time like 4:00 am. Or, you can shop online when you want minus the crowd and traffic.
  • Assortment – Shopping online overcomes the limitation of brick-and-mortar stores’ merchandise assortments. What you see is what you get in a store; e-commerce expands assortments significantly.

Instead of writing an obituary for Black Friday as an American cultural and business event, let’s rethink the role it plays for retailers. Two ways come to mind in which Black Friday continues to be relevant. First, many shoppers loathe Christmas decorations and merchandise hitting stores prior to Thanksgiving. Black Friday can continue to be the traditional start of our Christmas shopping season. Second, advertising and promotions around Black Friday are effective for sparking interest in Christmas shopping (even though 59% of us are not planning to do shopping that day). Consumers still need to be nudged or persuaded to get busy with Christmas shopping. Black Friday deals and promotions are an established event capable of putting people in the shopping spirit.

I, for one, plan to be part of the 59% sitting on the sidelines for Black Friday. However, I will eagerly look at retailers’ Black Friday advertising inserts and watch their Black Friday TV commercials. And, stores create a physical environment that can entice shopping. Retailers should embrace their experiential marketing capabilities and use Black Friday to build excitement, all the while complementing the store experience with a user friendly online shopping environment.

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Author: Don Roy

Marketing educator, blogger, & consultant- Having fun with all of the above!

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