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Black Friday: Consumer Lure vs. Holiday Lore

Over the weekend while scrolling through my personal-email inbox my mind went foggy and blank for a few seconds. Reading subject lines like “Black Friday Sale Extended!” had me seriously asking myself “Wait, did Black Friday already happen?” and “Is Black Friday even still a thing?”. It has been clear for quite some time, especially since the birth and growth of “Cyber Monday” into “Cyber Week” that the “good-old-days” of eager, yet bleary-eyed shoppers lined up outside of suburban malls, clutching newspaper circulars in hopes of scoring a great deal or the season’s “it” toy have become stories of legend to tell around the Christmas dinner table. But here we are, over a week later (what 20 years ago would have lasted a day) and retailers are promoting an event that seems to hold little to no impact, or excitement, in the eyes of holiday shoppers. Which makes me wonder, is the notion of Black Friday more lore than lure these days. Or is it just part of the seasonal landscape of Christmas and the holidays, as essential to the cultural tapestry as a red-nosed reindeer or chestnuts roasting on an open fire (does anyone still roast chestnuts?).

To answer my first question, Black Friday has in-fact already happened, though the start time is fluid depending on retailers’ new and surplus inventories (Nancy Chen, ABC News). Likewise, because of the agility provided by e-commerce programming and drag-and-drop interfaces, Black Friday sales and offers can last well into December aided and influenced by real-time sales results. With no longer having to rely on print, retailers can start and stop online offers with a few simple keystrokes. Some consumers even site this flexibility as a replacement for the excitement of shopping-seasons-gone-by of “grabbing a deal before it disappears.” Said Margaret S., a retired school teacher from Minneapolis. And with reports that 80% of holiday shoppers were planning to shop Black Friday events, both online and in store in '22 (Deloitte Insights), it becomes clear that Black Friday is in-fact still a thing.

Lynne Sladky/AP

As advertisers, it seems we are approaching the tail-end of formulating and recognizing a holiday hybrid-shopping model that allows room for Black Friday methodologies of the past to coexist with continuing innovations in tech-centric e-commerce practices. But the space is continuing to evolve each year as more online-focused and trusting generations secure buying power. But for now, we sit slightly past a crossroads where the visceral satisfaction and sense of community (no matter how chaotic it may be) of the Black Friday brawls of the past still holds a special place in the hearts of holiday shoppers. Getting back to Margaret in Minneapolis, she said, “even though I do most of my general and holiday shopping online, I still go to the mall to buy at least one Christmas gift. If I’m not standing in a checkout line sweating under department store lighting it just wouldn’t be Christmas.”

-Stephen Castrianni: Director, Digital Media & Planning


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