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The Evolution of Black Friday Shopping

For nearly a half-century, Black Friday has been recognized as the kickoff of the Holiday shopping season. It is thought that the day after Thanksgiving became known as Black Friday in the early 1960s when Philadelphia police officers used the term to describe the massive traffic jams generated by the increase in shoppers. Retailers in the 1980s borrowed the term to describe the first day of the calendar year when businesses finally made it into the “Black” or became profitable.

Whatever its origin, “Black Friday” has become an integral part of American society. A day when consumers of all ages and economic statures break out of respective domiciles and join in a collective, and often frenzied, demonstration of bad manners and physical prowess to claim victory in acquiring an unprecedented deal. Stories of shoppers’ escapades often rivaled the best of fishermen’s tales and hunters’ lore. But Black Friday’s reputation for stampeding chaos has been tempered by the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 and the evolution of online shopping.

The Friday after Thanksgiving still produces more than 20 percent of a retailer’s annual revenue. Last year shoppers spent $196.7 million on Black Friday. The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts an increase of 3 to 4 percent in total holiday shopping in 2023. But some new trends are emerging in the traditional start of the holiday shopping season, brought on not only by the post-pandemic era but by the popularity of e-commerce shopping. Amazon’s Prime Day earlier in the year is driving traditional retailers to offer best incentives beginning in early November. Almost half (46%) of consumers started holiday shopping before the month of November last year, and an NRF survey reveals that 39 percent of shoppers said they plan to start shopping even earlier in 2023.

The importance of a single Black Friday shopping day has also been diluted by the addition of Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. Founded in 2010 by American Express and cosponsored by the Small Business Administration (SBA), Small Business Saturday is becoming a popular day to celebrate shopping at small businesses. Consumers spend an estimated $184 billion on Small Business Saturday.

E-commerce sales in 2023 will reach 19.5 percent of all consumer sales worldwide, a trend that is expected to reach 23 percent by 2027. Cyber Monday was founded in 2005 to promote online shopping which was just emerging. The premier Cyber Monday produced a relatively benign $484 million in sales but in 2020, at the peak of the pandemic, consumers turned to the internet to spend more than $9 billion for holiday gifts. In 2023 the influence of mobile devices is expected to amplify online sales throughout the Black Friday trifecta. According to Statista’s Market Insights, “mobile eCommerce, or M-commerce, has experienced steady growth and now constitutes 60 percent of all online sales worldwide.”

Regardless of the reason for the evolution of Black Friday holiday shopping, consumers continue to demand deep discounts and blockbuster deals on every possible consumer product. Marketers will be expected to offer discounts of 20 to 30 percent just to enter the holiday shopping race this year, and the earlier the better for those competitors wanting to capture the biggest share of the spending. With the increasing impact of e-commerce, it is imperative for traditional brick-and-mortar retailers to embrace an exceptional online presence. So, what is coming next in the evolutionary process?

After Santa drops his bag of gifts and makes his triumphant return to the North Pole, marketers of all things will be teeing up for “Boxing Day”, a day where big-box stores and independent retailers slash prices even further to clear out remaining inventory. While the rules of Black Friday may be changing, consumers will likely continue to be the biggest winners.