A decades-long tradition which has come to signal the start of the festive season around the world, Black Friday has evolved tremendously since its incarnation.
For the past three decades Black Friday has traditionally been the biggest day for individual shopper spending. For stores around the US it is a time of reliable mass sales and a huge boost to the revenue of the last annual quarter.
Black Friday occurs each November on the day after Thanksgiving Day, and has represented the start of the holiday spending season. Traditionally, significant discounts and offers become available for a single day, to which customers all over the nation scramble for the best deals, urged forward by a trend fuelled by opportunity and competition.
The Black Friday period sees the considerable rise in sales and revenue for companies across the board, and its roots harken back to the mid-twentieth century.
During the 1950s workers were known to widely call in sick the day after Thanksgiving, which was one of the many factors towards the naming of “Black Friday”. This was historically a four-day weekend period for workers around the US and calling in sick meant that they were able to spend more time with their families. Shop owners saw this as a great opportunity to begin discounts and offers, to maximise sales before people went back to work.
The increase of electronic goods for the purposes of watching or listening to news and sports became more widespread across America during the 50s, and retailers watched as year by year revenue increased dramatically on this single day. Accountants widely made use of different coloured inks to represent financial positions in records – red indicated debt (still used to this day), and black, or ‘being in the black’, represented having excess money. For the retailers, every day after Thanksgiving Day was black.
The name “Black Friday” was used by agencies such as the American Philatelist magazine in 1966, which aided the spread of the term, but it would be around another 30 years until the term was known around the nation as a day linked to post-Thanksgiving sales. It would become synonymous with American shopping and hit records sales going into the 90s and 2000s, even managing to influence countries abroad in later years, namely the UK.
But with the digitisation of shopping, and specific challenges posed by 2019 onwards, things have changed.
According to a survey by Accenture, 64 percent of consumers (US) are less inclined to shop on Black Friday than a few years ago.
This is primarily down to the explosive change that has occurred in the past decade. As the same Black Friday sales and offers are available online, and a huge amount of the US population has access to digital platforms through which to shop, physical stores and their shoppers are in decline.
On top of this, with the unpredictable occurrence of COVID-19, the notion of Black Friday has adapted. The concept has shifted from a 24-hour timeline to extend itself over several days or even beyond that. This year, 2020’s Black Friday was extended by many retailers in order to to reduce mass crowds of shoppers, as to curb the spread of the virus, and consequently gain an advantage in the e-commerce space Companies such as Amazon, that only have online shopping as an option, had promoted deal periods outside Black Friday altogether – a sales tactic employed by few other competitors. The company’s press release on October 15 noted that Amazon’s “Prime Day” (between 13 and 14 October) saw Amazon sellers take over $3.5 billion in sales spanning 19 countries collectively.
When you compare this alongside the $75.5 billion in the entire first quarter of 2020, up from $59.7 billion the same quarter a year ago, the 48 hour “Prime Day” period of sales was substantial.
According to CNBC, the commercial conglomerate Walmart’s deals were not kept to a 24-hour period, or even a 48-hour window like Amazon’s. The company featured the October “Big Save Event”, that ran from the 11th to the 15th of the month. This tactic called to anticipating holiday season buyers in an attempt to outplay the market, catching earlier sales than the usual late November period.
And from the same source, Home Depot, the US homeware giant that sells furniture, tools, and holiday furnishings among other items, had extended its Black Friday period over almost two months. This was intended to both reach the annual customer spending trend early and help quell the curve of coronavirus through reducing the feeling of limited time offers.
It is now the general norm that Black Friday extends itself at least over a five-day period that ends with Cyber Monday – a day of sales specifically regarding the technology and electronics sphere of products and services. “Black Friday Weekend” is the new version of the November period of sales.
But US sales are not level across the five days. As of 2018, Cyber Monday topped Black Friday $7.9 billion to $6.2 billion, making the former the largest shopping day in the US. It has retained that title through 2019 and is set to do so again in 2020.
However, 2020 is a different year. COVID-19 has proved to the world many things: the modern workplace can be shifted to digital work from home, saving time and money for companies and workforces; communication is more important than ever; and the benefits to the environment stemming from the multiple forms of reduction in emissions are clear to see. With regards to the market, it has ushered in the growing view that online shopping is the way forward.
To this end it is not inaccurate to say that Black Friday, at least in the traditional way we saw it, has gone; replaced by a larger form of lengthened deals, offers, and sales, to cater to everybody everywhere.
The globalisation and inter-connectivity of customers and online stores has lessened the meaning of physical shopping. With both the digital growth and effects of the pandemic in full swing, availability and affordability of products and services globally has replaced the notion of person-to-store contact.
It is likely that this trend will continue into the future in its increasingly digital form – however, the question remains as to how far companies can take these sales periods before deals merge with existing and standard pricing.