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It started innocuously enough. In the 1950s, financial analysts discovered that by the end of November, most retailers had covered their costs for the year. Any sales after Thanksgiving put them “in the black”, meaning they could focus all their efforts on the holiday season which makes up the lion’s share of retailers’ annual revenue. Today, by some measures, the holiday shopping season (kicked off by Black Friday) comprises 30% of the year’s sales.  

Retailers’ focus on the American Thanksgiving weekend continues to grow. In the States, between 2012 and 2017, there was a 20% increase in Black Friday sales.

And it’s not just south of the border. Like many American phenomena, Black Friday has become more international. The UK, for instance, expects roughly ¾ of retailers to offer promotions this year.

We know why retailers participate. But, despite the continued forecasted sales growth, this year, nearly 60% of people in the US are saying they’ll not participate in Black Friday. As a brand or retailer, you need to really understand why that is and what to do about it. Fortunately, the tricks to proper holiday season marketing etiquette are the same as for your family event. 


If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all

People behave the way they’re incented to behave – and at Black Friday, they are looking for a deal.

Exaggerated discounts are the main motivation for a {Black Friday} consumer, but the second biggest incentive is that they are time-limited deals that are difficult to replicate.” As with any LTO, the marketing for scarcity can be a strong driver to action.  Consumers are shopping for others and themselves, and are often focusing on big-ticket items where savings can have a real impact on their pocket book (55% of the spending goes to electronics, followed by clothing and then furniture).

But, recent studies are showing that “shoppers can often find cheaper prices on days during the holiday shopping season other than Black Friday, including Cyber Monday, AND the vast majority of people believe they can get “a good deal all year,” so there’s no need to line up for these sales. 

Studies have also recently shown that major retailers often offer the exact same deal (price and product) every year, year after year. These products have proven to be big traffic drivers, but let’s be honest, the story’s got to be pretty fantastic for you to want to hear it every Thanksgiving…

Also, there’s a high cost to being competitive. Like booking a restaurant for a Friday night holiday party, demand is high and supply is low. Media costs (particularly in digital) increase significantly during the holiday season while everyone competes for those high-intent customers.

So, Lesson 1: If you’ve got a truly great deal that your customers are bound to love, by all means, promote it this season. 


If people you love aren't inviting you into their home, maybe it IS you

Your customers know best. They are more informed and have more options than ever before. Having them choose you takes a lot of work and that process doesn’t just start on the fourth Friday of November.

Searches for “Black Friday” have increased by 80% in recent years and BRANDED SEARCHES (ex. “Nike Black Friday”) steeply climb right before the holidays. If they don’t know and love your brand before Black Friday, they’re not going to be searching it out.



Lesson 2: Year-long brand building is essential in order to get on the decision set for holiday buying. If you’re not lovable, consider building some brand equity during the holiday season (for the future) with a non-retail focused message like these lovely Christmas ads from last year.


If you really want to celebrate the season, host a party where the people want to be

Like any party, the time, place, and atmosphere need to be right. Black Friday has become synonymous with conspicuous consumption and poor behavior (ironically smack dab in the season of thankfulness and connection). Fun fact: You’re more likely to die while shopping on Black Friday than in a shark attack. Sounds like a party, right?

While there are those who revel in “the hunt”, that contingent represents only 20% of consumers. Many people find the day stressful and has them “spiraling out of control”. So, you’ll have door crashers (apparently about a quarter of Black Friday consumers consider themselves open to that), but most store foot traffic occurs between noon and 5. Store visits are increasing in advance of Black Friday and decreasing annually on the actual Thanksgiving weekend (See graph below).


Deals are now coming out earlier, they are pre-promoted, and are available online. The truly equipped consumer is now able to be truly informed, “negating any reason to hit the store.” The stats don’t line up:

Also consider that 50% of dads are likely to make mobile purchases, from bed.

No matter how you look at it, consumer behaviours are changing and retailers need to adapt.

Lesson 3:  Make your party (aka seasonal deals) a long-running drop-in event, not a sit-down meal. People can come and go as they please – or they can just pop-in virtually (from bed).


In conclusion

Shoppers have been participating in increasingly frustrating events and they’re catching on. They are still highly motivated, but they are informed and have innumerable alternatives. If you truly know your customer and you customize the experience to their preferences, you’ll be successful. If you don’t, you're liable to set up a party that no-one enjoys… and alienate loved ones in the process.