Published on November 16, 2020, at 4:50 p.m.
by Katey Quinn.
As I set out Black Friday shopping last year for the first time since I was a teenager, I realized what keeps people coming back year after year: tradition. We certainly do not put ourselves through the havoc just for the bargains anymore, as today’s deals abound every day in-store and online through Christmas and long after.
But Black Friday shopping has become as much a beloved part of the American Thanksgiving family tradition as turkey. Groups scour the stores with custom Black Friday team T-shirts with nicknames on the back such as “coupon queen” and “discount lover.” It all made me realize that the communal bonding exhibited on Black Friday is of deep significance to both brands and consumers.
Of course, this year the pandemic threatens the Black Friday tradition. Daily COVID-19 infections are rising, and stores are scrambling to adapt plans to meet safety guidelines and restrictions. Not only will it alter this year’s holiday customs for many, but it also will drastically impact the largest shopping day in the U.S., which in 2019 accumulated a total of $7.4 billion in sales revenue.
This year poses many different consumer-facing challenges for Black Friday retailers. With one in four U.S. adults reporting that they are struggling to pay bills since the start of the pandemic and many cities still operating under some restrictions, it is safe to say that this year will not look or feel the same. Many people may be forced to spend less due to financial distress and become more resistant to buying on impulse.
Retail brands will have to be inventive and resourceful to foster a somewhat “normal” Black Friday shopping experience, create a sense of community in a socially distanced world, and generate the holiday revenues they need to survive.
Closed on Thanksgiving Day
With Black Friday typically bringing together over 165 million American shoppers, closing storefronts on this day is a controversial and costly decision. Press releases announced plans for Thanksgiving Day closure of some of the biggest name brands,such as Bed Bath & Beyond, Best Buy, William-Sonoma, Costco, GameStop, Target, Ulta Beauty and Walmart. The reasoning varied from brand to brand, but essentially “it is not the year for crowds.”
From a public relations stance, these decisions are bound to have ramifications, since many of these large chain brands have already sacrificed millions of dollars in revenue due to the shutdowns at the beginning of the pandemic. Q2 financial results for brands such as Ulta Beauty tanked 33% due to being closed for much of the quarter. Many brands had to opt for safety at the expense of profit and were slow to revamp their online marketing strategies to replace lost in-store sales.
Online and in-person sales all month long
Although many brands are closing their doors on what ordinarily has been the opening day of Black Friday, brands are promoting both in-store and online deals throughout the entire month of November. Target, Walmart and Best Buy are all offering month-long sales as a way to reduce the crowds around the Black Friday shopping events and are offering same-day delivery or curbside pickup.
While closed on Thanksgiving Day, they all are strategic in their hopes of generating the same amount of revenue by offering discounts for a prolonged period of time and on specific in-demand products. For example, Target is offering gift cards to customers if they take advantage of certain discounts, and Walmart is offering major deals on televisions and electronics. Discounting televisions is a very clever and calculated move on Walmart’s behalf, as more people stay at home and the global TV market expects to grow from $107.8 billion to about $134.8 billion in 2020.
Amazon is the online shopping giant that all retailers are closely monitoring. Last Black Friday, Amazon set a record for its largest shopping day in its history. Amazon’s free-to-low-cost, rapid delivery system made consumers flock to the site. But with competitor brands like Walmart and Target now offering same-day local delivery and curbside pickup, Amazon has some real competition for the shopping holiday. It will be fascinating to see the data on who wins the “online shopping wars,” as the sky is the limit for this year’s deals as long as the search bar exists.
Overall, this year has been turned upside down. Brands need to be increasingly innovative, clever and proactive in engaging consumers and wooing them back “into” their stores. Consumers are adjusting their shopping lifestyles and expectations as this year’s holiday conventions and traditions are impacted. But I am still confident that some diehard Black Friday shoppers will ban together and put on their custom team T-shirts — whether it be from the comfort of their homes or lined up, socially distanced, outside of their favorite stores.