Black Friday Trends on Social Media

Every year, millions of Americans rush to stores on the day after Thanksgiving in celebration of “Black Friday,” when retailers have traditionally offered steep discounts to kick off the holiday shopping season. Over the last several years, we’ve seen the rise of “Cyber Monday,” the digital equivalent of Black Friday that occurs just a few days after its predecessor. However, this year, I’ve noticed a new trend: brands choosing to forgo the holiday shopping madness.

Last month, REI launched a campaign urging customers to #OptOutside, and do something outdoors instead of participating in the shopping madness. (For an overview of this campaign, read Jessica Hand’s post here.  Since then, several other companies have leveraged social media to promote their Thanksgiving/Black Friday/Cyber Monday initiatives – or lack thereof.

With the addition of this new trend of companies forgoing Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales, I have noticed four categories of brand attitudes toward this week’s retail activity:

  1. The brands opting out entirely. REI is the biggest firm in this category, with its #OptOutside campaign. I’ve also noticed local family-owned businesses choosing not to open on Thanksgiving or Black Friday, but none have launched social media campaigns surrounding the decision. One piece of REI’s campaign that I missed prior to writing this post was that the store plans to pay all employees for the workday, even though they have the day off. Paid time off is a rare luxury for retail workers, so REI is most likely fostering a considerable amount of good will with its employees (and their families).
  2. The brands closing on GameStopThanksgiving,
    but opening on Black Friday. Companies like Staples and GameStop have announced that they will be closed on Thanksgiving, but are using Twitter to actively promote pre-Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday specials, both in-store and online.
  3. The brands pushing Thanksgiving and Black Friday deals HARD. Walmart and Kohl’s are two of the most visible brands in this kohlscategory. Walmart tweeted a link to its Black Friday catalog a full two weeks before the big event, and the store’s Black Friday prices will be available online on Thanksgiving Day (though notably not in-store). Kohl’s, on the other hand, will open its doors for Black Friday shoppers at 6PM on Thanksgiving Day. The company has been tweeting on a nearly-hourly basis to promote its Black Friday Sweepstakes, consistently using the hashtags #KohlsSweepstakes and #BlackFriday.
  4. The brands focusing on doing good in the community this Thanksgiving, rather than selling GeorgesDetroitgoods and services. These companies, for obvious reasons, haven’t been promoting their own activities. However, news sites have picked up on many incredible stories, which have subsequently gone viral on social media. One particular story shows a picture of George’s Senate Coney Island Restaurant in Detroit, which posted a sign in its window offering a free meal to those who find themselves alone on Thanksgiving Day. The story has been shared by USA Today, NBC, The Washington Post, and countless Facebook and Twitter users.

Ultimately, each firm must choose the category that makes the most sense for its unique brand. If Walmart suddenly chose to close its door on Black Friday and not offer any sales, it would face backlash from its customers, who are used to steep discounts on electronics and other holiday gifts. On the other hand, if REI went out of its way to promote the fact that employees will be given paid time off on Black Friday, rather than the fact that everyone should #OptOutside, critics would be likely to argue that the entire campaign is nothing more than a publicity stunt. While there is some flexibility to move between the second and third categories on my list, it seems that overall, each company chose the best holiday messaging to fit its brand image.

Have you seen any interesting social media campaigns for this holiday shopping season? Do you think stores should remain closed on Thanksgiving? And most importantly, will you be participating in the annual Black Friday shopping stampede?


  1. Kudos to the brands who are taking route number 2, AKA, the CORRECT way to do Black Friday, at least in my opinion. Companies pushing for Thanksgiving, or even deals starting today or yesterday, are really ruining the fun that Black Friday shopping used to be. Now, by the time Black Friday comes around, there is nothing left on the shelves and people are sick and tired of the advertising campaigns for the stores anyways! While I do commend REI for being closed on Black Friday, giving employees an extra day off, I do know that they must be suffering some backlash for promoting their actions so heavily on social media. In a sense, this campaign sort of corrupts and undermines any positive aspects that come out of the entire push. Great post!

  2. I agree with @shapirobenjamin. If a company wants to push Black Friday sales, it should foster a working environment that allows its workers a day off on Thanksgiving. It’s interesting to see how companies promote their deals via social media, especially if they’re pushing for online sales rather than in store sales. Just a few minutes ago, I noticed on my Instagram feed that Opening Ceremony, a high end luxury brand, is starting their Black Friday promos tonight! I think social media is a game changer for retailers and their Black Friday promotions, especially when it comes to online sales.

  3. Erin, very interesting post at this time of year. I was actually shopping all day today to avoid the thanksgiving – black friday madness, but I noticed that most customer reps in stores were really mad. It looks like most of them were just annoyed to have to come back all day tomorrow and Friday, so I liked the strategies to close for one day and open for another as the case of Staples. I also really loved the brands that focus on doing good in the community this Thanksgiving. It is great to see brands participating in this thoughtful strategy. At the end of the day, as you mentioned, each brand should choose a unique category that fits it most. Thank you for sharing this post. It gave me ideas of what brands are doing out there. Most importantly a very relevant topic. Good job.

  4. I feel like Black Friday is now more and more a marketing tactic and less about what brands do on Friday to start the season of holiday shopping. I delete most emails I receive about Black Friday deals (wish I had saved a few) and wait for the 24 online deals that will start flooding both social media and my gmail inbox for Cyber Monday.

    Two days that draw less attention — Small Business Saturday and Giving Tuesday. Interesting to look at how these days use marketing.

    I have been disappointed by the lack of deals that Amex is trying to promote for Small Business Saturday. Is that wrong of me to expect deals from local stores this weekend?

    Giving Tuesday – I can take some credit for the success of Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund on Giving Tuesday. Starting in 2013 we started to promote Giving Tuesday on Facebook and Twitter pages as well as in emails to donors, a few weeks before Giving Tuesday. More non-profits are also trying to get attention well before Giving Tuesday to encourage giving during the holiday season.

  5. At the end of the day, a company has the sole purpose of making money. I would like to believe that a lot of companies actually feel socially responsible and are opting out of Black Friday because they genuinely care about their employees. In reality, each company probably thoroughly weighed the costs and benefits of this move on their bottom line and it made business sense. However, this still works because many employees that deserve a day off on Thanksgiving and Black Friday are having a day off to spend with their family. I could be completely wrong about about this and I hope I am because truly caring about the employees of the company is the right thing to do.

  6. I think that it is a positive thing that different brands are trying to find the right mix for them and/or in the spirit of the holidays, instead of prescribing to the traditional formula. However, I think there are better and worse ways to approach it.

    I don’t really like when stores host their blowouts on Thanksgiving or start Thanksgiving night because I think that intrudes on family-time and “thankfulness” that Thanksgiving is all about. It kind of cheapens the holiday by introducing the superficial. On the other hand, brands that somehow combine sales with giving to a cause are more aligned with the spirit of the holiday. For instance, @shapirobenjamin ‘s tweet this week about zappo’s fronting pet adoption costs from Black Friday to Cyber Monday. I am a huge proponent of pet adoption (my pug was adopted) so that automatically created a new bond/association with zappos for me.

    In regards to brands hosting longer-term sales periods instead of just on Black Friday, I have mixed feelings. On one hand, it’s nice to have more time to get the sales and avoid the crowds, but on the other it makes Black Friday less special. One of my favorite brands, Free People, straddles the line by offering early access to the sales to people who have the Free People app on their phone. Everyone else will have to wait until Black Friday. In that way, they are rewarding loyal customers (who are most likely big FP shoppers) with exclusive offers but retain the singularity of Black Friday to the masses.

  7. Nice post with great insights! To answer your question about whether stores should stay open or remain closed on Thanksgiving, I think it is really hard for a company, especially a multinational company (such as Walmart) to change its strategy after years of the same holiday operations. Like you said, it Walmart suddenly decided to close its doors this holiday season, customers will no doubt be furious. I actually just made a post about startups offering alcohol and grocery delivery on Thanksgiving day, and while these services can be of huge help to people needing last minute supplies, I do think that if I were the owner, I would close for business on Thanksgiving day. I’d rather opt to spend time with family and friends rather than trying to make money off the holiday craze. As far as Black Friday shopping goes…well, I’ve only ever gone once, and it was a pretty bad experience and I bought absolutely nothing. So, it’s going to be a solid no for me, although I may still go on to Amazon to see what they’re selling. Just for fun.

  8. I’ve never braved the crowds on either Thanksgiving or Black Friday, so I’d be fine if stores closed BOTH days, but I know that will never happen. At the very least I think stores should close on Thanksgiving because it’s time to be spent with family/friends and not to be sprinting through a Best Buy trying to grab the last 70″ flat screen (a 70″ flat screen would be nice though …). If brands, even a multinational company like Walmart, were to give enough advanced notice that they’ll be closed on Thanksgiving I can’t see them getting an overwhelming amount of blow back. Just like Facebook with their UX tweaks over time people will be frustrated initially and eventually (the following year, likely) it’ll be their new normal. Take a break and eat some turkey.

  9. Great post! I have seen REI’s Thanksgiving campaign all over the place, which I think helps their brand in the eye of consumers. I think the second strategy, the brands closing on Thanksgiving
    but opening on Black Friday would be the ideal strategy. Most companies rake in an inordinate amount of sales on Black Friday, so they do not want to close shop for that day. I think shopping is less prevalent on Thanksgiving, so I would let employees spend time with their families then open up the next day. I think it does depend a lot on a store’s target demographic. For electronic or retail store such as Best Buy or Target, Black Friday is another holiday for shoppers. However, for other stores their customers might stay away from Black Friday shopping. I did participate in Black Friday shopping, but I went in the afternoon and only shopped for about an hour. For my own health, I hope I never convince myself to join the frenzy of early morning shoppers.

  10. I did see an article over the weekend about how black Friday was becoming less important to the financial health of retailers overall. Maybe that explains some of the alternative trends we’ve started to see this year. Shopping online is easy and can be done from the privacy of your home (when you need a break from relatives).

  11. I’ve definitely seen all of these trends happening this year. I think that majority of it is done for publicity reasons. For example, I first noticed it with Amazon in the summer when they decided that they were going to “opt out” of Black Friday and instead they did their own version of the blowout sale. This was obviously very much for the publicity because they ended up taking part in the post-Thanksgiving sales as well. I think that everything revolving around Black Friday has become so different in recent years and that is largely due to the fact that everything is now moving to online. The whole experience itself has completely been altered. Social media has taken this concept and ran with it and we definitely saw it with many of these trends this year. Nice job!

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