Is Black Friday Going Gray?

November 20, 2019

While it may seem that there has never been a time without a Black Friday shopping day, it’s rise in prominence as a national shopping trend is more recent history than some may think. Following with overall trends in American consumerism, Black Friday first burst onto the national stage in the 1980s. The mid-to-late 1980s brought booming shopping malls (where 50% of all retail dollars were spent by 1987), the launch of QVC and the Home Shopping Network, and the rise of the new :15 second TV commercial as brands scrambled to reach audiences who now had more channels to choose from and VCRs that could be used to record live TV and fast-forward through commercials. Brands were hungry to reach consumers through every channel available, and consumers were repaying the attention with massive spending.


But in a retail world that now includes multiple major shopping days and the rise of digital events like Amazon Prime Day, which brought in $6.2 billion this year during a single day – is Black Friday going gray?


As a concept, at least, it is far more complex than it was in the 1980s. What was once a single shopping day is now a full weekend: Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday all play a part in jump-starting the holiday shopping season. Consumers are also increasingly handling their shopping online over the course of the weekend. In 2018, online Black Friday sales increasing over 23% YoY, while Cyber Monday produced a new sales record of $7.8 billion, an 18% increase from 2017. Black Friday itself pulled in a total of $23 billion in combined online and offline sales in 2018, far out-running Amazon Prime Day 2019. However, looking at online sales alone, it matched Prime Day almost exactly, with $6.2 billion spent by consumers in online environments.


In other words, Black Friday hasn’t gone gray just yet. Despite the rise of additional “shopping holidays” surrounding Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Thanksgiving itself are still the busiest shopping days for brick and mortar stores, although there is a trend of decline in physical store activity. In 2018, in-store foot traffic was down 9% YoY, and 2017 saw a 4% decrease YoY compared to 2016.


Black Friday trends tend to fluctuate year after year, but two facts remain the same: first, it’s an exciting time for consumers. Second, it can be a challenging time for brands as they navigate the ever-changing landscape and shifting consumer behavior. That’s why we’ve put together a few Black Friday predictions and insights as we prepare for the 2019 holiday shopping season to begin.

The Trends


  • Consumer spending will continue to increase as in years past: Despite economic uncertainties, there are no indications that the steady rise in consumer spending will slow down this year. In fact, consumers say they anticipate spending an average of $502 on Black Friday this year, up from $472 in 2018.


  • More consumers will go digital: We’ll see a continued increase in online shopping (14.8 million online transactions were processed on Black Friday 2018), as well as consumers leveraging “buy online, pick up in-store options” like those of Walmart and Target.


  • A truncated shopping season will require more efficient spend: With Thanksgiving falling so late in November, brands will need to focus on spend efficiency throughout the truncated holiday shopping season. For some brands, this has simply meant starting holiday advertising early – with a few beginning in early October, the earliest in recent years.


  • What does that mean for brands?


Multi-channel reach will be crucial: Our latest ROI Genome report dives into the initial trends we’re seeing in emerging media, and the data is clear. Multi-channel strategies that include emerging media like alternative video (i.e. OTT, Addressable TV), streaming audio and influencer marketing – in the right context and with the appropriate strategic backing – can have a positive impact for brands and extend reach. For example, a comparison of terrestrial radio performance vs. streaming radio demonstrates that streaming radio provides over 2X the return:

  • streaming radio outperforms terrestrial
  • These emerging media trends are something brands should be cognizant of throughout the holiday season and beyond, while also maintaining a robust, diverse media strategy. According to the National Retail Federation, omnichannel consumers spend nearly $100 more on Black Friday than single-channel consumers, making it vital for brands to reach consumers wherever they are with consistent cross-channel messaging.


  • Online advertising will drive offline impact: As our recent report on omnichannel shows, online advertising can drive strong offline impact – a key finding for retailers with a large brick and mortar presence. In order to drive an omnichannel consumer, marketers need to be aware of the effects that online and offline marketing have on brick and mortar and ecommerce sales. The chart below demonstrates that even offline channels such as TV and Print have an outsized impact on online sales.
  • online advertising drives offline impact
  • Don’t place too much value on ‘place’ over ‘time’: The right timing is crucial for sales conversions – even more so than where a customer saw an advertisement. This even holds true when it comes to a giant like Amazon. In fact, up to 70% - 90% of the impact of Amazon display ads actually drive non-Amazon sales. Brands should focus on relevance and context, understanding that the new omnichannel experience means that consumers will frequently be exposed to marketing on one channel and purchase on another.


The Questions


Will stores continue to remain open on Thanksgiving given recent backlash? Over 57% of Americans surveyed prefer that stores be closed on Thanksgiving, and a growing number of retailers have followed the majority opinion and closed on the holiday – whether by company choice or by the force of societal pressure. The rise of online shopping may also be contributing to this trend, with storefronts being closed while warehouses remain open.


  • Will companies be able to avoid technical capacity issues that could wreak havoc on their ability to meet the fury of more and more demand online? As the chaos of Amazon Prime Day has demonstrated in the past, more online shoppers also mean that brands must better prepare from a technical standpoint to handle the web traffic and fulfilment to avoid any glitches in the customer experience.


  • Will the economic climate impact Black Friday revenue? Although we predict sales will continue to rise this year, Consumer Confidence is on the decline, with a marginal drop off in October following a fairly significant drop in September. Time will tell how this might impact consumer shopping behavior this holiday season.


Black Friday – as a single day and now as a full weekend-long event – has been a key driver of the holiday shopping season for retailers and consumers alike for nearly 40 years. It seems that regardless of national and international economic trends, Black Friday remains almost as much of a tradition as the holiday it follows. For brands, the important thing to remember is not if consumers will shop, but how they will shop. A smart retail strategy will play to multi-channel consumers, experiment with emerging media where relevant, and be prepared – both digitally and in-store – for the holiday rush to come.


Joshua Bayne, Director at Analytic Partners

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