Black Friday: Then and Now

Posted by Hayley Mink on November 24, 2015

Seems like Christmas deals and advertisements start earlier and earlier each year. The standard used to be after Thanksgiving, but in recent years displays and advertisements have begun popping up even before the start of Halloween.

Black Friday has been evolving since the early 19th century, and its origins have always signified the start of the holiday shopping season. It wasn’t until the Great Depression that retailers really pushed the idea of celebrations, deals and parades to kick-start holiday spending. Cue Macy’s first parade in 1924. It was held on Thanksgiving Day but really meant; ready, set, shop!

Americans fully embraced these traditions and the term Black Friday was coined in the 1950’s. However, it had several different meanings before it arrived at its current definition- retailers turning a profit and getting out of “the red.”

The rise of technology introduced new opportunities to holiday shopping, such as Cyber Monday which was invented in 2005 by the National Retail Federation. This year Cyber Monday is forecasted to bring in $3 billion in sales.

U.S._Digital_Retail_Holiday_Sales_-_eMarketer.jpgSource: eMarketer

People are increasingly connected and making more online purchases via computer, tablet and smartphone than ever before. It’s only natural that consumers are shifting their Black Friday shopping experiences online. According to Accenture’s Holiday Survey, 54% of respondents said they prefer online options when compared to in-store shopping if a retailer has a presence in both channels.


Retailers have been paying attention and have made adjustments to address these new behaviors. This year, Walmart decided to simplify Black Friday by offering shoppers almost all the same deals online as in-store. They also have moved away from door busters to eliminate confusion and reduce the frenetic urgency to make all purchases in one day. On the other side of the spectrum, REI is rejecting Black Friday by deciding to close stores and encourage everyone to spend their time outdoors. There’s also a mix of retailers that refuse to open doors on Thanksgiving, but remain open for Black Friday.

U.S._Internet_Users_Who_Plan_to_Shop_During_Cyber_Monday_-_eMarketer.jpgSource: eMarketer

Don’t worry though, there are plenty of options for your holiday shopping. And let’s face it, there are yearlong deals and Thanksgiving weekend attendance is not essential.

Savvy shoppers know that at some point most items will go on sale, or there will be a promotion reducing the cost of items, at least temporarily. According to eMarketer, 24.2% of Americans shop for their holiday needs throughout the year, with 2.4% consumers already finishing their holiday shopping by September. A greater percentage of U.S. shoppers (32.8% ) will wait until early December to start their holiday shopping. Lucky for procrastinators, early birds and those in the middle, there are plenty of opportunities year round.

Amazon’s Prime Day
is just the first of these opportunities to crop up. July 15, 2015 marked the first Prime Day and was exclusively available to Prime members. Amazon claimed the event would have more deals than Black Friday. Not wanting to be outdone, competitors have responded in kind with their own deals. Lo and behold, a new shopping holiday has been created.

So what do you do when you can’t create a new shopping holiday? Make changes. Retailers have adjusted how they market to consumers during this season, including:

  • Equaling in-store and online purchases
  • Start the holiday shopping season earlier
  • Increasing the number of promotions over a greater period of time
  • Putting less emphasis on Black Friday

Does this mean Black Friday may no longer exist? Not just yet. Black Friday is still a big day for retailers despite appearances of decline. But let’s face the Christmas music - Black Friday has evolved and must continue to evolve if it’s going to keep up with consumer’s behaviors and preferences.

Topics: Retail, Insights