There's little question that Black Friday has lost some of its mojo.
The frenzied post-Thanksgiving shopping experience that traditionally draws turkey-satiated shoppers out of the house before dawn for years sparked long lines, bustling crowds and fever-tossed shelves. But in the past two holiday seasons, Black Friday lost its title as the busiest shopping day of the year. With competition from e-commerce, along with doorbuster specials offered earlier in the month and selling on Thanksgiving Day itself, shoppers discovered they don't have to wait for Black Friday to grab a deal.
Experts have noticed the fall off in foot traffic on Black Friday. Consultancy Deloitte says its researchers, sent out to gauge shopper interest on Black Friday, have been saying "is it supposed to be this dead?'' over the past couple of years, says Rod Sides, vice chairman of the U.S. Retail & Distribution practice leader. "It’s interesting how much traffic has fallen off in the last three or four years around that particular event, and on that particular day.’’
The Black Friday shopping marathon surged in the 1980s, and over the years, retailers opened their doors earlier and earlier, leading to the now common starting time of 6 a.m., says Scott Bauer, the lead of PwC’s digital retail practice.
It became the biggest shopping day of the year. But, in 2014, the Saturday before Christmas surpassed Black Friday in actual sales. In 2015, “Super Saturday’’ once again was the top shopping day of the year. And this year, with Christmas falling on a Sunday, the Friday before is poised to potentially usurp both Black Friday and Super Saturday when it comes to sales, according to the National Retail Federation.
Black Friday net sales in store have been in decline, according to analytics firm RetailNext. Sales dropped 1.6% last year as compared to 2014, and declined 14.1% in 2014 from the previous year. Traffic also took a dip, dropping 1.8% in 2015 vs. the previous year, and 16% in 2014 as compared to 2013.
But while it trails CyberMonday, Black Friday revenue from online sales continues to grow, increasing from $1.39 billion in 2012 to a projected $3.05 billion this year, according to Adobe Digital Insights.
The recent trend of retailers opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day has had an impact on Black Friday’s selling power. Macy's, for instance, will open at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving, an hour earlier than last year.
But some stores and malls are closing on Thanksgiving, in part, because the extra shopping day was dimming some of Black Friday’s gleam.
“There is no question that heavy discounting early in the holiday sales season, both online and in stores, along with retailers opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day have cut into Black Friday sales,’’ says Ana Serafin Smith, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation. “However, Black Friday remains the official kick-off to the holidays and an important tradition for millions of shoppers across the country. There is no indication that will change in the foreseeable future.’’
The move away from starting Black Friday on Thanksgiving is growing.
“There really was a strong push back to the concept of being open on Thanksgiving just from an employee point of view,’’ says Stephen Lebovitz, president and CEO of CBL & Associates Properties Inc., which after being open on the holiday the past three years is closing 72 of its 89 malls this Thanksgiving.
But while he says giving mall and store employees the holiday off was the primary motivation for the decision to close, sales were also not getting an overall boost from being open that extra day. “The sales tended to spread out over a longer period of time, but they weren’t increasing,’’ he says. “The other factor was we felt Black Friday had traditionally been a really fun, exciting experience for the shopper and that it was losing some of its luster and being diluted . … A lot of the 'doorbusters' and specials were moving to Thanksgiving and weren’t being offered on Black Friday as has traditionally been done in the past.’’
Deals are popping up as early as October. Amazon starts offering Black Friday deals next week on Nov 1. And this year, Lord & Taylor will kick off its Black Friday promotions the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, while Gilt will have online promotions that begin Wednesday.
Nearly two-thirds of consumers indicated they will begin holiday shopping before the start of Black Friday week, while 29% will have completed most of it by then, according to consultancy PwC's holiday forecast. And a Deloitte holiday survey found that 52% of respondents say they won’t rely on Black Friday as much this year as they used to, up from 47% in 2014.
To be sure, Black Friday remains a critical promotional event particularly for traditional retailers who bring in the lion's share of their revenue from in-store, rather than online, purchases. A trip to get a Black Friday discount on a flat-screen TV may result in a customer also spontaneously picking up headphones or a set of speakers while browsing the aisles.
“Between 70% and 90% of total revenue is made in store for most (traditional) retail brands,’’ says Deloitte's Sides. “So big retailers have to be compelling and bring people in. . . . They’re all growing their digital footprint at pretty high rates, but that growth at the end of the day doesn’t make up for the decline in the mainline business.’’
And for many, Black Friday still delivers.
Electronics and appliance chain hhgregg followed the lead of Walmart and other store chains in 2012 when it began opening up on Thanksgiving Day. But this year it will shutter all of its 220 stores on the holiday and reopen for what it still considers to be the main event – Black Friday.
"It will be the No. 1 day for hhgregg,’’ says Chris Sutton, the retailer’s senior vice president of marketing.
While deals in the appliance sector flow throughout the month of November, Sutton says, and the electronics industry launches sales roughly a week before Thanksgiving, for hhgregg and many fellow retailers, “Black Friday would still be, not even by a little, but ... by a lot, the largest shopping day of the year.’’