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22 November 2019

Black Friday: tradition or just a label for another sales period?

There's no escaping the frenzy: Black Friday is all over the place. From your mailbox to your social media feed, from advertisements on Spotify to promotions on Waze on your way to work – the promotional messages keep popping up. Most people, however, don’t even know what the tradition of Black Friday exactly stands for (watch the video below). So, we’re questioning whether we’re facing a phenomenon that is breaking out of its borders or if we’re just dealing with another sales label to justify early promotions. 

Black Friday - what's in a name?

Black Friday, Black Saturday, Black Sunday and even Black Monday. And actually, we could even speak of a Black Thursday since the majority of the discounts are already applicable from that day onwards. With only 2 days missing, we could easily jump to an entire Black week. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving in the US, originally represents the start of the Christmas shopping season. And although we don't even celebrate Thanksgiving here in Europe, retailers are taking the opportunity to push their promotions under the label of Black Friday.

Another example of this opportunistic labeling is Black Monday, since it is in fact Cyber Monday. In 2005, smartphones weren’t introduced yet and a lot of people didn’t even have internet access at home. As a consequence, they had to postpone their online shopping until they returned back to work on Monday. The National Retail Federation noticed a huge increase in US online sales the first Monday after Thanksgiving and decided to launch the concept of Cyber Monday. 

In today’s society, however, where people are interconnected 24/7 and omnichannel has become the new standard, we can ask ourselves if we still need to make a distinciton between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Hunting promotions is no longer mainly done in physical stores on Friday and shopping online is no longer exclusively reserved for Cyber Monday. Since the original drivers behind the traditions are lost, we feel it’s more about promotions than about traditions.

Traditions vs. promotions

As the roots of Black Friday lie in the US, it’s fair to say that here in Europe we’re just surfing along on the waves of promotion. On this day, Americans initially rushed to large retail stores and queued for hours before opening time to get their hands on the best deals. On our side of the ocean, we didn’t really participate in this shopping madness, as it’s not a public holiday for us. While The Economic Times stated that Black Friday in the US still lures people to physical stores in an online retail era, the deadly scenarios or human tsunamis smashing doors to get in the shop, never reached our news programs.

First of all, retailers in Europe chose to prolong their deals over the weekend, extended their opening hours and boosted principles like BOPIS (Buy Online Pickup In Store). IKEA recognized that Black Friday could be a bit busy and offered their customers alternative timings to visit their stores by going for a Black Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Are these initiatives driven by customer centricity or just another excuse for shops to dump their stock?

From the customer’s the point of view, we also noticed a different mindset here compared to the US. Since we’re mainly embracing Black Friday for its promotions and only stepped in when online shopping was already the standard, we do things differently. We focus on checking prices online and placing our orders from behind our PCs. Instead of fighting in the store, we fight with our tabs comparing all different shops to find the lowest price with fastest delivery. Could we then say that we just embraced the online Cyber Monday phenomenon, fed it with steroids and placed it under the Black Friday label so we could benefit from it all weekend long?

As expected, retailers also increasingly tried to grab their customers’ attention with personalized Black Friday emails. Your mailbox probably exploded with promotions on (coincidence?) that pair of shoes you’ve been hesitating to buy the last few months. But why are we so easily seduced by these promotions on Black Friday compared to any other day of the year? Is it the correct use of data – connecting all digital dots to target the customers in the most effective and personalized way? Is it the correct use of lead generation – feeding the customer for weeks already with relevant content to make him buy-ready by the end of November? Or is it the Black Friday momentum that convinces people to go into impulse buying mode?  

Black Friday marketing unveiled

Promotions: temporarily or always-on?

Some retailers go beyond the traditional sales events and offer various promotions throughout the entire year. Consequently, it does not come as a surprise that the frequency and duration of these promotional periods have increased considerably. Next to the classic promotion periods such as Christmas and sales in January and July, think about more recent concepts like Back to School, Singles’ Day or as previously mentioned Black Friday, that has simply evolved into Black Week. Is this overload of promotions really what customers want? By changing the Black Friday discount sticker by one with a Christmas logo, retailers risk losing their reliability. If the conditions related to these discounts don’t even change, we’re really shifting towards an always-on promotion pricing and customers will not know what your brand is worth anymore.

Always-on promotions could hurt your brand value. We believe it’s more convenient to shift away from this promotion perpetuum. If customers expect products to be in promotion all the time, they will increasingly move towards periodic buying and postpone their purchase until the next promotion period. Therefore, we advise you to limit the number of discounts in time and reflect wisely upon other opportunities. Think customer centric, think outside the box!

Instead of lowering your price on moments such as Black Friday, offer more value for the same price. Use the momentum to overdeliver instead of underprice. Create great and genuine customer experiences that connect clients to your brand instead of building superficial promotion-driven relationships. In the long run, experience will keep them loyal to your brand for longer and strengthen them when the next big promotion wave of your competitor comes by. Eager to see if next year brands use the Black Friday momentum to connect with their customers and move towards the same experiences that we see during Christmas holidays, or if they just stay stuck in a promotion war nobody wins.

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References: Economic Times, ForbesKibo CommerceMcKinseyPopsci and Reader's Digest.