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Why Black Friday 2018 Isn’t Necessarily Worth Your Pursuit

Lindsay Tjepkema
Lindsay Tjepkema , Marketing Director, Americas , Emarsys

Black Friday still projects to, once again, be one of the single biggest shopping days of the year — but should a priority on Black Friday continue to hold as much magnitude for brand marketers? Likely not.

The paradox is obvious, but the reality is that even though it represented the second highest-grossing shopping day of the year last year, it’s only one day. Black Friday just isn’t all it once was all hyped up to be.

With more and more consumers shifting to online shopping (couch commerce), should brick-and-mortar retailers have reason for worry? For the first time in 2016, more people spent their Black Friday buying online ($103M) than in-person ($102M).

“The whole idea of Black Friday and Cyber Monday … is becoming less relevant as the consumer is generally accustomed to great deals, or at least getting a deal,” said Josh Elman, a consumer and retail analyst at Nasdaq Advisory Services (via Business Insider).

In addition to consumers’ increased expectations for and use of coupons, more Black Friday (and general holiday season) shopping is being done online than off.

This year, I’d urge you to think about — and certainly not discredit — Black Friday as a viable opportunity to boost sales… but to not focus so extensively on this single 24-hour period as the core of your holiday marketing strategy.

Don’t solely focus on #BlackFriday as the core of your #HolidayMarketing strategy — but use it as an opportunity to boost sales     CLICK TO TWEET

Don’t get me wrong — Black Friday is still a wonderful chance to drive sales, and you should still make the register ring on Friday Nov. 23. We’ll go over what to expect this year… but also how not to get lost in the allure of this single day.

It will be equally important to apply the last year’s worth (plus more) of customer data to drive sales during the month-or-so holiday period that encapsulates several of the biggest holidays of the year (some retailers can generate upwards of 40% of their yearly revenue during November/December!).

Black Friday: Looking Back at the Past?

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Black Friday is the official kickoff of the holiday shopping season, taking place in late November on the day after Thanksgiving in the U.S. Severe price slashing on Black Friday has historically earned the attention of shoppers who’ve become conditioned to expect such grave discounts, and this is both hurting and helping the brands they buy from.

That being said, let’s take a look at the previous two Black Fridays to see what it might tell us about what to expect this year.

What does the 2016 data tell us?

For Black Friday 2016, online sales exceeded predictions ($3.04B) with a resounding $3.34B, up 21.6% over the previous year. The number of people shopping went up with more than 151 million people searching for the best deals. Though many of the sales took place online, brick-and-mortars still saw 102 million visitors compared to 103 million online. That means approximately 50 million people shopped both channels, further proving that online isn’t necessarily eclipsing the importance of physical stores; online and offline complement each other (Source).

What does the 2017 data tell us?

2017 was an extension of the year prior. U.S. retailers saw a record $7.9B of sale roll in — an improvement of about 18% (Source).

$3.52B in sales were made via desktops, tablets, and mobile phones Black Friday 2017 — a boost of 5.4% from the year before. Total Black Friday e-commerce purchases from desktops eclipsed $2B for the first time ever, according to comScore.

According to Criteo, 40% of all Black Friday online transactions took place on smartphones, up 11% from Black Friday 2016. Mobile spending also increased markedly from $1.2B to $1.4B.

Amazon led the way as the most used online store, following by Wal-Mart and Target.

Black Friday — one day of shopping — attracted more than 6x as many people as did Disneyland in 2017.

So, safe to say Black Friday is still a big deal — but it also has its fair share of big deals (steep discounting, crazy couponing, and incredibly high incentives). Is that a good thing, or bad?

Why Black Friday is Losing Relevancy

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For all intents and purposes, Black Friday has lost its relevancy.

It’s lucrative potential falls into a bigger bucket, encompassing the week-ish following Thanksgiving, including Cyber Monday — which sees higher sales than Friday, anyhow.

Additionally, the online vs. offline seesaw is less notable than it was a decade or even half decade ago. It’s not as if you have to be “extra prepared” on Black Friday as opposed to any of the days hugging it on either side of the calendar.

And finally, there is a mass exodus underway among today’s consumers from shopping in-store to online. It’s this final trend that’s perhaps most noteworthy — it’s time to shift resources from in-person to the digital world — specifically, mobile — if you have not yet done so.

The retail-pocalypse requires a mobile-first shift this holiday season

It seems that so much of what made Black Friday the popular craze that it was, indeed was spurred by the mass flock to malls and stores around the country to get the hottest items at low prices.

But times are changing, and in-person shopping isn’t what it once was.

As we succumb to the supposed retail brick-and-mortar apocalypse in 2018, the opportunity to sell more via mobile devices is clear. More and more retail sales are expected to be made via mobile devices as we move forward, too:

Source: eMarketer

Two years ago, Black Friday saw record highs in terms of mobile shopping as more than $1B was generated in a single day through purchases made on mobile devices — $1.2B total, up 33% from the previous year (Source).

The challenge will be thinking truly mobile-first, and optimizing your app and browser experience for personalized interactions with customers, something many brands have not yet accomplished.

Related Content: How to Increase Mobile Sales for the 2018 Holiday Season

High discounts are expected now more than ever

Discounts in-and-of themselves aren’t bad. The problem is that — especially during the holiday season — consumers have become conditioned to expect steeper and steeper discounts in order to buy.

Last year, record highs were hit for discounts. About half of all U.S. apparel merchandise went on sale last Thanksgiving, with an average of 47% off of the full price (Source). Last year, accessories were the most discounted category, followed by tops and footwear.

As an article in Business Insider states, “The strong sales are a positive sign for the struggling retail industry. But a closer look reveals a far more ominous reality: Retailers have had to drop prices lower than ever to get shoppers to spend money.”

Instead of slashing prices until you’re blue in the face and simultaneously damaging your brand reputation — and costing unnecessary revenue — let the machine handle it for you.

AI marketing technology automatically identifies the best offer, most suited for each individual customer so that you don’t have to. The holidays are a prime opportunity to leverage smart incentives when customers obviously require and use them.

Final Thoughts

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Black Friday is a single 24-hour period in a much larger holiday puzzle that marketing teams across industries are working to piece together.

This season, your time will be best spent focusing on how to leverage your marketing technology to create online holiday campaigns that increase your digital footprint among a mass of companies all vying for that purchase.

The real opportunity for success lies in reaching a defined audience where they spend their time online and with 1:1 messaging — both the Friday following Thanksgiving and every other day of the year, too. ◾

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About the Author


Lindsay Tjepkema is the Director of Marketing at Emarsys Americas. She and her team deliver resources that empower marketers to seek out solutions and strategies that will allow them to thrive by focusing on what they love – strategy, content, and creative – not the technology, itself. Although her true love is tech marketing, she has worked in a range of industries, from life science to talent management, economic development to software development, eProcurement to social networks and more. She has crafted and executed B2B and B2C strategies for brands like Intel, LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, OfficeDepot, SalonCentric, Ashley Furniture, and more. Her experience is built on time spent leading in-house teams, in agency settings, and independently running her own marketing consultancy.

Connect with Lindsay: LinkedIn@blueprintmkt