Black Friday has exhibited a steady decline in popularity in recent years, and this year the ongoing pandemic has made the prospect of cramming into a store with a crowd of other shoppers more unappealing than ever. According to a 1,500-consumer survey by Accenture, 64% of shoppers are less interested in Black Friday shopping this year than in previous years, and 60% said the same for Cyber Monday, which will be kicking off on November 30th, the Monday after Thanksgiving, as usual. These numbers are a slight increase from last year for Black Friday and a dramatic increase for Cyber Monday, with those same numbers previously sitting at 55% and 47% respectively. In fact, many are speculating that this year might finally put Black Friday to rest for good as the CDC has added shopping at crowded stores to their list of high-risk activities.
So what has caused this mounting apathy towards Black Friday? Well for one thing, many retailers were already stealing the day’s thunder by making compelling online offerings as early as October, and these enticements are comparable to those available in stores. This is a trend that has only gained traction considering the present crisis.
Traditionally, Black Friday launches the start of the holiday shopping season, but this year demand is expected to start much earlier, according to Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette. The same sentiment has been echoed by others, including Michael Brown, partner in the Kearney management and strategy consulting firm. Brown says that “Black Friday is not going to be the launch of the holiday season this year” and “it will happen softly over the next month or so.” The advent of Black Friday deals being made available either before or after the day itself was spearheaded in the early 2010s by Sears, Walmart, and Target, who were also the fuel behind the explosion of Cyber Monday sales.
This year however, many of these same retailers who set the relentless consumerism trend by opening on Thanksgiving Day or otherwise expanding their hours will remain closed to allow workers to spend time with their families. Stores signaling this new corporate value system by not opening their doors this Thanksgiving Day include Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and Kohl’s. It’s also highly unlikely that we will be seeing a lot of ‘in-store only’ deals this year from any major retailers, as such an offer is more likely to draw sharp criticism than it is to pull in eager customers.
One upside to the fact that many retailers are canceling their usual in-person Black Friday plans is that holiday deals, both online and in-store, are likely to last longer than in previous years as retailers work to recover their lost Black Friday and Thanksgiving traffic. A particularly extreme example of this is Home Depot and Best Buy, who are both offering their Black Friday deals for nearly two months in advance in an attempt to keep large crowds from flooding their stores. For other retailers, the middle of October came with a flurry of sales from major players including Walmart, Target, and Amazon, who started the trend when they pushed Prime Day back from July. For many companies, the restrictions on traditional Black Friday shopping may be an opportunity to capitalize on boosted online conversions and the boom in ‘buy online, pick up in store shopping’, which has doubled since June according to research by Signifyd. Consumers tend to think about their holiday shopping early, with data from retargeting company Criteo showing first time shoppers visiting retailer’s websites an average of 41 days before Black Friday, and retailers are banking on being able to convert this early interest into a steady and long-lasting stream of sales.
As far as Cyber Monday is concerned, in keeping with the trend of retailers spreading out their offerings over longer timeframes there is Cyber Week to look forward to, with many of Monday’s deals expected to spill over into the following days. For those eyeballs eager to scope out the deals as early as possible, they can expect to start seeing opportunities to grab a bargain hot on the heels of Black Friday itself. Cyber Monday is not expected to experience as much disruption as Black Friday this year due to its implicitly online nature, but with greatly increased saturation in online deals overall during the 2020 holiday shopping season, it will be interesting to see whether people’s appetites for shopping are worn out by November 30th after over six weeks of shopping madness.
Even with these expanded timeframes, retailers will need to stay vigilant and spare some thought towards how to reduce in-store crowds and keep consumers safe. Strategies for this range from expanding store hours to opening pop-up locations, but like with all things COVID related it is uncertain what the future holds, and it is still unclear what the full impact on holiday shopping will be. Both the economic and social effects of the pandemic are still being felt, and consumers may not be as eager to spend money during the holiday sales as during past promotions. With millions of Americans out of work, consumers’ money is not flowing as easily as it has in the past and 2020 has already seen many major retailers file for bankruptcy.
For many retailers, this year’s holiday shopping is incredibly important for their continued survival. As always, there is a need to analyze and adapt to get it right for Black Friday and beyond.
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