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The 2021 Black Friday Saga

Image Credit: Trong Nguyen / Shutterstock.com

For generations Black Friday has long been the universally recognized start of the annual Christmas Holiday shopping season. Back in the early 1960’s the day after Thanksgiving became recognized as the official start of gift buying, as Santa Claus’s arrival and visits with eager children served to let Jolly Old Saint Nick know exactly what they expected to find under the tree on December 25th.

Originally getting its name from Philadelphia police officers who struggled with nearly impossible traffic congestion the day after Thanksgiving, the term soon took on a new meaning as the biggest revenue day of the year for retailers. The single day has long-produced more than 20 percent of a retailer’s annual revenue. Black Friday shopping became a holiday tradition and as much a part of the holiday celebrations as bright lights, tinsel, the family Christmas tree and holiday feasts.

Except for the most recent generation of shoppers, the day brings back memories of long lines, overly aggressive shoppers and early mornings camped-out in front of big box stores hoping to get an opportunity to save on gift giving purchases. The final years of the 20th century saw crowds of shoppers that where eager to forgo sleep and shiver for hours in the dark to be the first in line at their favorite store. But the tradition is beginning to fade in the face of changing consumer attitudes and behaviors.

“We haven’t seen that in years,” says Kristen McGrath, the editor of The Real Deal.  “Black Friday is pretty subdued. We’ve been checking parking lots outside major retailers for the past several years and the crowds just aren’t there. I’d say there is really no reason to go into a store if you don’t want to because you can get those same deals online.” It’s not that the tradition of Black Friday is totally dead, it’s just that consumer shifts to online shopping and recent disruptions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic are causing significant changes in consumers’ purchasing habits. “Black Friday used to be a trigger for people to go to the store,” says Barbara Kahn, Professor of Marketing at The University of Pennsylvania. “But as it’s morphed into a general promotional season, Black Friday itself lost its magic — its sense of urgency.”

In 2020, the Thanksgiving weekend drew 186.4 million shoppers in the U.S. who spent an average of $311.75 on holiday purchases. The result saw consumers spending more than $9 million on Black Friday alone. The top-selling products on Thanksgiving and Black Friday last year were Hot Wheels, “Super Mario 3D All-Stars,” “Animal Crossing,” AirPods, Apple Watches, Lego sets, HP Laptops and Samsung & TCL 4K TVs. This year consumers are expected to focus on finding lower prices on clothing, small appliances, electronics, housewares and some remaining toys, but major retailers have jumped the starters pistol by releasing best deals as early as the month of October. The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts that 61% of holiday shoppers had started shopping earlier this year, with an estimated 28% of shoppers finished with seasonal spending. The early start and supply chain issues has many buyers anxious about being able to get the most desirable items in time for the big day in December.

However, despite all the challenges, some market experts are anticipating a record 2021 Black Friday as 2 million consumers set-out to shop on the special weekend. “We’re expecting another record-breaking holiday season, and Thanksgiving weekend will play a major role,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. But those who have waited may be paying higher prices, particularly for the most popular items whose availability may be limited. And with the increased distribution costs and the rising inflationary economy, Santa’s merry helpers may have to spend more this holiday than last year.

Still others are predicting when all those deliveries do begin to arrive at retailers after a merry Christmas day, the best deals may just brighten consumers’ happy new year. Happy shopping to all!