Is Black Friday Dead? 

Were any of you bribed to go Black Friday shopping when you were kids?  

I was and I remember it clearly. My mom would bribe us with McDonald’s breakfast to wake up really really really early (looking back now, it wasn’t that early but still) to go with her to the mall on Black Fridays. I remember the buzz of the people in the stores with the holiday decorations up, having to carry a lot of bags and inevitably complaining by noon that we wanted to go home. Fast forward to today – do not judge me but I finished all my Black Friday shopping from the comfort of my bed before 9am today. Not to mention that I have been blasted with Black Friday online shopping deals since last week marketing deals starting the week of Thanksgiving and that you “didn’t have to wait” until Black Friday. This made me wonder, is Black Friday as we know it dead

Before we jump into that question, I learned that there are a lot of myths around why Black Friday is referred to as Black Friday including: 

  • The Philadelphia police coined the term in the 1950s to describe the chaos that ensued on the day following Thanksgiving, because of holiday shopping and the Army-Navy football game that was hosted locally. 
  • The assumption that it is a result of retailer’s profit margins finally going into the black (profit), after a year of being in the red (debt).  

Whichever one you choose to believe today, an estimated 174 million US consumers take part in either online or in store shopping over the Thanksgiving weekend, spending on average $520 per person. As shopping habits change, I am curious to see how much of this is done in person versus online especially as Black Friday and Cyber Monday have merged into a single weekend of discount deals.  

Historically, Black Friday has been a store-centric retail sales holiday, with consumers braving packed aisles and waiting in long lines to grab doorbusters. Every year, retail chains have extended more Black Friday sales to consumers buying online, and the trend was magnified in 2020 as merchants sought to discourage crowds at physical stores. As online shopping has become commonplace this has forced brick-and-mortar stores to shift more effort and expected profits through online platforms. Looking at Amazon, last year they recorded online spending on Black Friday increase of 22% setting a record of $9 billion dollars in sales. On the contrast brick-and-mortar store traffic decreased by 52% noting that many malls looked more empty than full. As we look at this year still missing are the long lines of shoppers camping outside of a Best Buy for a deal on a flat screen TV that were common in holidays past. Also, the NPD Group Chief Industry Advisor Marshal Cohen tweeted a photo from inside a Walmart store on the East Coast around 10 a.m., with nobody waiting in line at the register. 

Today to remain relevant in a world where Amazon and online retailers are outpacing brick-and-mortar stores, there is a need to ramp up online presence. To do so many have turned to Shopify which makes tools for companies to sell their products online and counts more than 1.7 million merchants who use their services. They have already announced that by mid-morning on Black Friday merchants were selling at a rate of more than $100 million dollars per hour, surpassing the Black Friday rates they saw in 2020! I am sure I contributed during my morning Black Friday shopping. 

Cyber Monday, which originated as the internet’s answer to Black Friday, grew in importance for the season, and had steadily increased its lead over Black Friday in the battle for ecommerce dollars, until 2020, thanks to the pandemic. This led to small dip in sales in comparison on Cyber Monday, but  Digital Commerce 360 is projecting those sales will be just shy of $12 billion dollars in the United States alone this year. 

I myself have not adventured out into a physical store today and will most likely not. However, if this continues to be the trend and shoppers no longer shop in stores at the same rate, and instead take advantage of online deals and Cyber Monday, do we think brick-and-mortar businesses will continue in store discounts the day after Thanksgiving? Is Black Friday as we know it dead and now a race to who can shop the fastest from their home?  

Happy shopping whether in person or from the comfort of your bed.  

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14 comments

  1. My kids were asking this morning about Black Friday and if it was just during the day or for the full 24 hours and I responded, “It’s always Black Friday now…”

    My one experience with actually waking up early to wait in line was like 15 years ago at a Circuit City and I wound up buying stuff I really didn’t need due to the mad frenzy, so I’m all for a more relaxed online approach. If someone only has sales today, that seems short sighted.

    My one retail experience for today was going to an independent restaurant/record store/book store in JP this afternoon to pick up some vinyl LP releases that came out for “Record Store Day, Black Friday.” Free coffee & donuts, good conversation and ultimately something I actually want — you could say it’s a Black Friday Miracle!

  2. greenmonsterbc · ·

    I saw a good tweet from another classmate last week that hit the heart of this question, why not just go online? Almost every media source has pushed individuals to stay at home and away from crowds during covid, so its not surprising to see the dip here. Frankly, the weather today is the only reason I even considered going to the store, would much rather do almost anything else! Thanks for the post.

  3. Carlos Montero · ·

    Excellent blog and perfect for today! I never knew about black Friday until I moved to the US. We have “Las rebajas” in Spain, which is pretty much the same thing, but not as crazy. I am a Cyber Monday type of person. I wouldn’t say I like shopping, but I would go to pretty great lengths for a deal. I am glad people are not fighting each other in the stores. I am all about this digital transformation.

  4. barrinja1 · ·

    One thing I liked about black friday that is that it’s hard to replicate online is the feeling of controlling your own destiny in regards to getting an item or offer. In the past, if you wanted it badly enough, you could camp out outside. Now, with things like limited time sales on limited inventory, it often feels like an impossible black box of luck to actually get the deal you wanted online (whether that be attributed to bots or just really fast clickers around the world).
    One other benefit to in-store shopping: lessens the blow on the supply chain – https://www.wsj.com/articles/holidays-are-looking-less-scary-for-fedex-ups-and-the-postal-service-11637663585

  5. Reading this blog made me think that my future children will ask me, “did you really fight through mobs of people to buy a television at Walmart the day after Thanksgiving?”. The idea of Black Friday feels antiquated already.

    At this point, I think the only in-person shopping I’ll be doing is to support local stores. Otherwise, with the convenience of shipping these days, there doesn’t appear to be much upside to going to a big box store on Black Friday.

    As with the other posters, I share the sentiments of why not just go online and if you are going to go out and shop, support small local businesses.

  6. bccryptoassets · ·

    I tweeted about the decline in Black Friday sales this year and predicted its YoY decline in future years. I personally enjoy going to stores to shop, but this one day never really woke me up that early and motivated me to shop in large crowds. Cyber Monday is another holiday where numbers will be skewed. We see the shift from Black Friday to online, so over time, Cyber Monday sales will also plateau, then decline. It’s a cost-saving and hassle-free process for large retailers to extend sales throughout the course of the year. Think of Victoria’s Secret semi-annual sale–for them they generate the most sales on this day, and not Black Friday or Cyber Monday. It’s all a marketing game and an experience like you mentioned at first.

  7. allietlevine · ·

    I was a brave soul and headed to the mall for Black Friday. Anecdotally, it seemed less crowded than previous years. The checkout line at Target was a breeze. I did run into a supply chain issue when trying to purchase a jacket for my mother. Nordstrom didn’t have her size in stock for three different jackets.

    I have always found it interesting that electronics like TVs, Video Game consoles, and computers were hot ticket items on Black Friday as these items don’t need to be “tried on”. I wonder if we will see different items discounted as online shopping increases.

  8. The fun fact about Cyber Monday is that it was the first day after Thanksgiving where people were back in the office and had sufficient bandwidth speeds to actually do online shopping. Ah, the good old days!

  9. shanpopzaruba · ·

    My partner and I had one massive success on Saturday with the Banana Republic sale for his new suit, but otherwise, our holiday shopping was not really impacted by the sales for Black Friday. I know last year retailers looked to offer more online sales to de-densify the stores and I am sure with the shortage of entry-level retail employees, they were short staffed for the holidays. I wonder how things will continue to feel post-Christmas season with staff members potentially able to make career changes and how retailers will remain staffed enough to stay open.

  10. Great post! I have never participated in the craziness of Black Friday intense shopping in the middle of the night. But I did do some online shopping on Black Friday this year! Came across some great online sales and figured that it’s not so bad if I get to do it from the comfort of my own home. If Black Friday becomes more like Cyber Monday in the future, then I will be okay with that.

  11. bengreen123 · ·

    I think Black Friday is an experience for many and not so much about the deals. For that reason, it will never truly go away. And certain products are going to be best purchased in store (until with have the viable VR that Ravi talked about in his presentation).

  12. Great post! I personally have not been an in store black Friday shopper but I do think that if the sales are all moved online the sales people would not have to work long odd hours during the holiday season. While I love Black Friday and holiday shopping, I always find it unfair to those that are working at these retail stores. I think everyone should be at home with their loved ones during these times!

  13. lexgetdigital · ·

    I really loved our Black Friday discussion in class yesterday, and your input during the discussion. I seriously learned so much — and will be looking to BUY on the Saturday before Christmas. Thanks for that tip!!

  14. kaylacyrs · ·

    Loved the black Friday discussion in class! Thank you for the background because I did not know the history on the naming of the day. I personally have never been black Friday shopping in the traditional sense. I am on Martha’s Vineyard the Friday each year after Thanksgiving so it is not quite as wild. One year my mom and I drove to different stores (Walmart, Target, etc.) around 10pm on Thanksgiving and NOT ONE was open. Apparently the Blue Laws in MA make it illegal for them to be open overnight so they just open really early in the morning. I feel like black Friday has been drawn out to so many weeks I no longer feel the urgency I once did. It is also hard to tell if I am actually getting a good deal as we discussed in class. I like to buy this time of year but Black Friday does not drive my personal holiday shopping anymore.

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