Black Friday, but not as we know it

Black Friday has now existed for such a long time that it seems as much an American tradition as the Thanksgiving celebrations it follows, on the fourth Thursday of November each year. This unofficial holiday represents the start of the Christmas shopping season, and is so named because it represents stores moving from the “red” into the “black”, in recognition of the retail industry’s seasonal trend in profits.

Outside of the US, other (mainly Anglophone) countries have only recently begun to participate in Black Friday. In the UK, for example, Black Friday only really became recognised as a major retail event in 2013, when it was heavily promoted by Walmart subsidiary ASDA.

It seems, however, that we are now no longer asking when Black Friday was born. Now many are asking when will it die?

That may seem like hyperbole, but let’s consider the facts. According to ShopperTrak, this year’s brick and mortar sales for Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday amounted to $1.8bn and $10.4bn respectively. Both figures denoted a year-on-year decline.

In attempts to increase sales figures, many brick and mortar retailers announced promotions earlier than in the previous year. Already, most are now opening early on Thanksgiving Day, and continuing sales through the night and into Black Friday itself. As observed by the head of North American retail practice at Accenture; “it’s becoming much more about the whole week.”

Yet this looks to be a loss making exercise, as more people than ever are staying at home. Instead, they are shopping online.

As such, it looks that, rather than being driven to extinction, Black Friday is just migrating to a new environment. According to data from Adobe (drawn from 4,500 US websites), this year’s Black Friday brought in $2.72bn in US e-commerce sales, marking year on year growth of 14%. Adobe also noted that the e-commerce figures for Thanksgiving Day, at $1.73bn, were up by 25%.

Even in the UK, where Black Friday is a relatively new phenomenon, this year’s sales were primarily driven by e-commerce. Amazon announced that it had recorded its biggest ever sales day in the country, whilst the spike in demand caused 1 in 5 e-commerce websites to crash, including those of Argos, John Lewis and Boots.

Whilst all of this was going on, retail footfall across the UK for the weekend was down 9.6% on 2014, as recorded by Springboard. Part of the reason for this, as noted by the company, was the aforementioned trend towards spreading sales out over several days, though e-commerce was undeniably also a factor.

To sum up, the Black Friday of old is well and truly disappearing before our eyes. A recent article in Wired asserted that technology will soon make the shopping event obsolete, and whilst this may be a slightly premature assessment, it is clear to see which way the wind is blowing.

It’s still Black Friday, just not as we know it.