Retailers Lower Expectations for Black Friday

November 16, 2017

For decades Black Friday has served as the country’s symbolic start to the holiday shopping season. Each year local news teams honor the event by turning their cameras onto the post-Thanksgiving crowds who gather in front of stores and wait patiently for the doors to swing open. Once inside, some deal-seeking shoppers frantically seek out products before anyone else can get to them, occasionally leading to arguments or even fights.

Of course, this perspective on Black Friday may be more of a stereotype than the truth. These days most so-called “doorbuster” sales proceed without incident, perhaps because Black Friday simply isn’t as special to shoppers as it used to be. Instead of scattering major sales throughout the year, many retailers now offer constant deals so that consumers will keep coming in to stores. A recent survey showed that this upcoming Black Friday could have 15 percent fewer customers than in 2016, continuing a downward trend that’s plagued the retail industry for years. “Black Friday has lost its significance,” said Steven Barr, an analyst at the consulting firm PwC. “Retailers have conditioned the consumer to believe everything’s on sale every day, which means the deals on Black Friday are not significantly different from any other time.”

Although Black Friday’s influence appears to be slipping, that doesn’t mean Americans are turning their backs on holiday shopping altogether. Experts estimate that people will spend $680 billion during the Christmas season, marking a potential 4 percent increase from last year. Today’s consumers tend to see the holiday shopping season as more of long haul effort than a quick activity you can get done in one day. This presents a stark contrast with Chinese consumers who last week took part in Singles Day, an annual shopping event created by the online retailer Alibaba. Sales increased by 39 percent to more than $25 billion during this year’s buying bonanza, with Alibaba CEO Jack Ma saying he wants to take the holiday global within the next few years. If Americans continue to demand deals at all times, however, Singles Day could have trouble gaining traction in this part of the world.

Questions:

  1. Why is Black Friday not as appealing to consumers as it used to be?
  2. Do you think Singles Day could be a major shopping event in the U.S.?

Sources: Abha Bhattarai, “The Era of Holiday Deals Is Dead, and So Is Black Friday,” The Washington Post, October 3, 2017; “Alibaba’s Singles’ Day Goes Global With Record $25 Billion in Sales,” Bloomberg, November 12, 2017. Photo by Diariocritico de Venezuela.

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