Each Thanksgiving, three distinctly American events occur that usher in the holiday shopping season: 1. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, an hours-long extravaganza of dancers, high school marching bands, and celebrities; 2. Thanksgiving Day football, replete with advertisements shown to a captive (read: stuffed) audience; and 3., Black Friday shopping, when Americans get up early and set out on a quest for the best bargains that money can buy.
Audiences for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and NFL games that day remain similar to recent years. Black Friday’s impact, on the other hand, is decidedly different.
While Black Friday continues to act as a motivator for getting shoppers in the doors of major retailers, its significance — both monetarily and culturally — is waning. According to research from Price Waterhouse Coopers, a mere 35% of shoppers who plan to shop during Thanksgiving week this year will do so on Black Friday. These numbers reflect a significant downshift, from the 51% who shopped on Black Friday in 2016 and the 59% in 2015.
As a marketer, I study these figures, step back, and ask: What’s happening? Are Americans tightening their belts, or are bigger trends at play?
Several factors influence how and when we spend, but I’ve narrowed it down to the top three: Intel and Analytics; Consumer Options: and the Inevitability of Change. Let’s take a No BS Marketing look at each.
Intel and Analytics: Big data means big business. Gone is the guesswork of what will motivate consumers to spend and when retailers have us at our most captive.
The No BS Marketing takeaway: You can bet your bottom dollar that retailers are experts at putting big data to work. Price-testing strategies yield such actionable data that retailers can make scientific predictions about our spending habits. No longer does the consumer have to chase down a Black Friday deal. Instead, retailers are applying analytics to strategically promote discounts specifically for each of us, influencing us when we are most motivated to purchase.
Consumer Options: Market research shows that as consumers, we care about who reaps the benefits of our purchasing power. We also seek convenience. And we’re concerned about the impact that our spending has on the environment.
The No BS Marketing takeaway: This is a big one. Why? It’s all about messaging that moves us. We want choices that match our lifestyles, and we make those choices based on the messages we hear. Seeking to eschew big box shopping in support of the mom and pop stores in your neighborhood? Small Business Saturday — with messaging that connects communities and makes an emotional impact — is your answer. Hate the thought of leaving your couch and facing a stampeding Black Friday crowd? Then Cyber Monday — with messaging built around convenience — is for you. And if you choose to shop with a focus on the environment, Cyber Monday’s counterpart — Green Monday — is brought to you by the environmentally-friendly folks at eBay. Plus, according to thebalance.com, Green Monday holds strong appeal with environmentally-conscious Millennials and GenXers. A whopping sixty percent of those under 40 buy their holiday gifts online, compared to just 40 percent of Baby Boomers. Consumers want to shop with their heads and their hearts.
Change is Inevitable: “In life, change is inevitable. In business, change is vital.” The late Warren G. Bennis, who is recognized as the pioneer of Leadership studies, spoke these words. He was right. Change is inevitable. Black Friday is not what it was ten or even five years ago. Companies continually need to adjust to market realities.
The No BS Marketing takeaway: If retailers don’t adapt to the cultural, political and emotional trends that motivate consumers, then their business withers. As marketers, our job is to find out what makes consumers tick. We must tweak and develop messages that move. We must deliver those messages when and how consumers want to hear them. And we must do so repeatedly. Retailers, in turn, must work in lockstep with marketers. They must ensure that the prices consumers want are reflected in their options, and in the Black Friday messages that reach their minds, ears, and hearts.