From humble beginnings
Black Friday as thought of today, wasn’t a mainstream concept until the early part of the millennium. One might have assumed it was the creation of a clever person in advertising or some marketing guru’s master plan. In reality, Black Friday had a more organic, if not unflattering, genesis. Black Friday started to gain notoriety in the sixties due to the working class of the fifties beginning asking off (or faking sick) for the friday after thanksgiving off. Subsequently, it became commonplace to grant the friday after thanksgiving as a holiday. However, allowing people to take that day off created the unintended consequence of crippling traffic logjams around stores in major cities. The cause of the traffic spike was attributed to an influx of people off of work for the full 4 day break. Furthermore, many of these people decided to utilize the down time to get their christmas shopping done. The problem was especially difficult to handle in Philadelphia in the sixties. Which in turn, caused the cops and the papers to start referring to the day as”black friday” (snopes). Over time the term began to take hold, evolved in meaning and became an essential aspect of the holiday shopping season.
A national phenomenon
While thanksgiving weekend may have caused agony to some, it became the perfect amalgamation of free time, season and mentality for retailers to concoct the phenomenon of Black Friday. It marks the official start of Christmas season and most people are off of work. To capitalize on this, retailers try to create a frenzied atmosphere around their goods by employing practices such as doorbuster prizes for the first however-many people through the door. Additionally, they try to create a sense of urgency by offering certain expensive items at extremely low prices, or by only having a very limited stock of an item.
The ethicality of some of these practices is a tad dubious considering the serious injuries and even lives lost because of the relentless stampede of people during the early black friday rush. There is even a site with a counter of the number of deaths and injuries caused by black friday. Another issue is that stores use those aforementioned deals on HD televisions or other big ticket items to draw consumers in and then purposefully under-stock the item so as to run out of it and not to take too big of a hit from the sale. Target recently was called out by a large constituent of consumers on social media for employing such a tactic. While target was far from the only retailer to suffer public backlash it was prevalent enough to be noticed by several media tracking companies, such as Clarabridge- a consumer sentiment monitoring firm. They tracked facebook and twitter during black friday for consumer and retail information and found
“customers being “very upset,” with Target, with the phrase “false advertising” coming up frequently on Black Friday, primarily because there was a 40 inch TV advertised for $119 that could not be found in stores or online” (retaildive.com).
This type of practice is unacceptable but can only be executed by a physical store. You usually have a counter of how many of an item is left in an e-commerce environment. These types of issues, along with the ease and comfort of online shopping has helped e-commerce’s exponential growth. There is a growing fundamental divide between how retail stores operate and how consumers want to engage in the process of consumerism.
An evolving dynamic
The old retail model consists of a physical store with as much shelf space as possible for their goods. However, this space is still a finite quantity and thus places natural limits on the consumer’s options. And while there should always be an emphasis on customer service, there has classically been more energy poured towards getting the best or most profitable product. Rather than the consumer and his/her experience taking center stage in the consumer experience, the product has been king.
However (just like the immortal poet Bob Dylan growled at a paranoid nation back in 1964) “the times, they are a-changing”. That’s why it is important to understand the tenuous creation and existence of “black friday”. It has been seen as an invaluable benchmark used to gain insight into the well being of the Nation’s economy, specifically the retail sector. However, the evolving retail and marketing model, powered by the smartphone era, has rendered meaningless both the measurement aspect of Black Friday…
“In fact, NRF data call into question Thanksgiving weekend’s worthiness as a bellwether for holiday sales. The overall number has gone up even when Thanksgiving weekend sales dropped in five of the last eight years. At times the lack of correlation between the two figures has been pretty dramatic: In 2008, for example, holiday sales fell 4.4 percent after a 7 percent increase in Thanksgiving weekend sales.”
…as well as the economic boost it offers for retailers and producers this time of year.
While the Apple iPhone wasn’t technically the first smart phone, it was the phone that first put a small computer in the hand of millions of people. This innovation coupled with blossoming e-commerce outfits such as Amazon, has completely changed how we, as consumers: gather info, form opinions and make purchasing choices. It’s cliche to say, but the touch screen revolution has changed how we communicate with each other and even how we interact with the world. While tradition, history and legacy are all wonderful things, in order to remain a viable retail business, you must evolve. Former powerful entities such as Circuit City and Borders can attest to the necessity of constantly evolving your model with the continuous changing demands of e-commerce.
A changing narrative
That’s not to say that most of the retail giants aren’t trying to unify their web and physical channels, because they certainly are. Social media is of the utmost importance now to retailers, whether it be interacting with customers or monitoring opinions. Another focus is trying to get their online and physical stores to match up or compliment each other as well, as the ability to pick up an online order in the store. However this is a tall task for retail giants like Walmart or Target as it requires huge investments in technology and staffing.
Despite the difficulty, the desire to make your business “omnichannel”, as it’s being referred to, is a legitimate one. Online shopping is only going to increase as the technology becomes more ubiquitous and ingrained in our society. There are 4.5 billion smart phones in the world right now (retail customer experience). As a result, the goal now for retailers becomes catching up to the leaders in the e-commerce field and discovering how to engage with your consumer base in a new and helpful way. According to the survey done by NRF , over black friday weekend, 45.4 percent of smartphone owners used their phone to look up info into products and retailers. As well as to redeem coupons, use apps and make purchases.
The arduous process of change
One of the things that people do appreciate about going to a store is having an experience and being taken care of by the employees. Extending that feeling to the online realm would not only be helpful but its also necessary for the survival of retail giants. When we are trying to make a buying decision, the most important and transformative arguments made for, or against, a product come from other people. Increasingly, those opinions are being published on the internet
“It was found that 66.3% of consumers surveyed do rely heavily on user generated content when attempting to make purchasing decisions. It was also found that 65% of consumers trust word of mouth on the Internet more than content produced by advertisers” (Elon University).
This form of consumer thinking and discourse is simply going to become more of the norm. So having a great web presence is absolutely vital. The more of a positive and involved web presence a company has, the easier it will be to head off negative sentiments or controversies. Creating a powerful web discourse is growing increasingly important by the day because all statistics point to a steady growth in e-commerce revenue, coupled with a decline in physical retail revenue.
Numbers never lie
The numbers from the most recent black friday continued on the trend line they have been on for years in regards to the two aspects of retail, even if online commerce did slightly underperform. So in this regard, Black Friday weekend can be good for a type of measurement-one that illustrates the transition our society is making away from the big cookie-cutter stores and towards the e-commerce model that allows for a whole myriad of distribution, production and pricing schemes. Online shopping accounted for 40% of the weekend’s spending which is up from 25% in 2006.
This is opposed to the big box stores, as we had an 11% drop from last year according to the National Retail Foundation. This has kept with the trend that Black Friday numbers have been taking in the last 8 years. This is going to lead to an eventual “death of black friday”, as well as cyber monday.
“As online shopping increases in importance, holiday purchases are likely to flatten out during the last two months of the year, says Alan Rifkin, a retail analyst at Barclays . There will be bigger days than others, but the idea that a few frenzied hours after Thanksgiving will give us a window into our country’s economic well-being has outlived its usefulness.”
Consumers are becoming more informed and looking for more long term offerings; not just the instant basement deals offered on black friday. This increased research and care into purchases is only going to put more pressure on retailers, which means better goods and services. Obviously better goods and services are a boon for consumers but the concern for retailers is how to properly become an omnichannel entity without alienating loyal customers or shifting their model in a way that prevents it from being financially viable.