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Will Black Friday remain a key festive tradition?


Victoria Usher

Published On:

December 1, 2020

Published In:

Advertising & Marketing | Business

Will Black Friday remain a key festive tradition?

Black Friday has become a modern festive tradition, just as synonymous with the start of seasonal celebrations as switching on the Christmas lights. It is therefore little wonder that the decision of several major companies to shun it this year made headlines.

So, why the move away from this annual bargain hunt? One key argument against it was centred on sustainability. Amid heightened environmental concern, big names from Public Fire to GiffGaff rejected the regular buying frenzy; using their marketing campaigns to drive awareness of the impact overconsumption can have and discourage unnecessary purchases.

But this isn’t the whole story. As highlighted by the increasing number of global firms opting out — including Target Corporation, Marks and Spencer, and B&M — the rising movement against Black Friday isn’t just about climate change. Gradually shifting before the pandemic, consumer habits and retail conditions are now developing at a much faster pace; and it seems they could be on track to transform Christmas shopping trends for good.

The big question is: what can today’s changes tell us about Black Friday’s future?

Black Friday turns green

The ‘anti-black Friday’ campaign is far from new; almost 10 years ago, outdoor clothing brand Patagonia infamously opposed the event with its ‘Don’t buy this jacket’ initiative. But the latest wave of campaigns reflects the increasing demand for principled action rather than just greenwashing. In a world where 80% of consumers now want brands to solve society’s problems, simply speaking out against issues isn’t enough; brands also need to stand for something meaningful and fuel positive change.

Many of this year’s pro-planet efforts took the smart approach of mixing education about the issues high consumption can cause with opportunities to help drive solutions.

Public Fire’s ‘Buy More Rubbish’ campaign fuelled awareness and raised funds for The Ocean CleanUp: holding a ‘sale’ of the top 10 ocean polluters and allowing consumers to donate via virtual purchases. Patagonia promoted the circular economy by serving recommendations of its pre-worn clothing range to users as they browsed online, while GiffGaff followed a similar tack with ‘Check Your Drawers’; encouraging shoppers to recycle old handsets before buying more.

Black Friday has so far largely revolved around quantity, urging consumers to seize great deals and purchase as much as possible. The growing emphasis on ethical quality could mean that future events are more about buying with care — making it essential for brands to frame messaging around the value they offer, as well as their guiding principles.

Ecommerce moves into hyper speed

In keeping with the move away from excess, scenes of shoppers jostling for bargains may soon be Black Friday history. But reasons for this go beyond the rising inclination to buy less.

Given the global situation, it wasn’t surprising that many businesses steered clear of physical events due to safety fears and the need for social distancing. B&M for instance, said its choice not to hold sales was about avoiding “excessive crowds”. From here on, however, the shopping bonanza is set to go increasingly digital thanks to the vast growth of ecommerce.

By now, it’s widely recognised that COVID-19 has accelerated online shopping’s progress five years ahead of schedule. But with preliminary US data showing a 52% drop in foot traffic and 23% rise in online revenue — totalling $12.8 billion — there are strong indicators that Black Friday is already well on its way to making a significant online switchover.

For participating brands and retailers, leveraging digital is therefore essential. In addition to catering for consumers who still prefer to do their Christmas shopping in person, providing online deals, streamlined services and experiences will be crucial to continued success.

Sales exceed the 24-hour window

Last but not least is the strong probability that Black Friday will cease to exist — at least in its current form. In part, this is a result of the growing urge among brands and retailers to maximise revenues by launching offers before competitors.

Holiday season sales have been creeping in earlier for some time, steadily eroding the importance of Black Friday as a one-day extravaganza: see, for instance, the decision to run Amazon Prime Day in October this year. In fact, data analysis from performance optimisation experts DMPG reveals dependence on the event among retailers declined by 25% between 2017 and 2019.

But there is also increasing recognition that squeezing the biggest festive deals into one 24-hour period isn’t necessarily beneficial for anyone. As a B&M spokesperson recently noted, on the buyer side it has meant chasing fleeting offers that don’t always “represent real savings or are only available in limited stocks.”

Meanwhile, businesses face highly complicated logistics, as well as the possibility that gains won’t last. Peter Fader — professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School – has even described Black Friday as “the worst thing marketers can do” if they want to retain loyal customers and optimise long-term returns.

Companies such as M&S are realising that consumer appetite for time-limited jumbo sales is fading — especially with soaring ecommerce making deals easier to find and compare — and moving to deliver “great value throughout the whole season”. In festive periods to come, we can expect more brands and retailers to follow suit; setting their sights on standing out by offering consistently enticing products, services, and experiences.

Traditions change over time, and like many other festive customs, Black Friday is evolving. No longer just about racing to the high street in search of unmissable fleeting deals, it’s getting greener, more digital and breaking out of its restrictive one-day time slot.

But these changes aren’t to the detriment of consumers, retailers, or brands. Far from it; a new look Black Friday – or whatever replaces it – will be a better fit for conscious and digitally savvy shoppers, alongside businesses keen to ensure genuine revenue growth and customer relationships that aren’t just for Christmas.

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