Firstly, Happy Thanksgiving! Or as some are calling it, grey Thursday. It is the calm before the storm as Black Friday draws nearer by the hour. Many retailers are displaying countdown timers on their websites to drive up the anticipation until all hell breaks loose in shops across America.
What is Black Friday?
Black Friday is the biggest shopping event of the year, rivalled only by Boxing Day in the UK. It’s an American tradition that has only recently taken off as a phenomenon in the UK but is now globally recognised.
Black Friday kick-starts the spending season. Together with Cyber Monday, these key events sandwich the last weekend in November as retailing momentum ramps up when consumers will be encouraged to buy early and buy big.
Bargain hunters far and wide will come out of the woodwork, ready and willing to spend aiming to get a good chunk of Christmas shopping done. The average spend per person was $407.23 in the US last year (see this brilliant infographicfor more), so it’s an epic day for retailers but can turn into a bloodbath for consumers.
When is Black Friday?
It’s tomorrow (Friday 28th November) and always marks the day after Thanksgiving. In 1941, the date of Thanksgiving was amended to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, ensuring an extra week of shopping before Christmas. Thanksgiving has been tied to consumerism for years and Black Friday epitomises this. Amazon already began launching deals earlier this week with new offers every 10 minutes until 9pm each night, but you’ve got to be hot on the clicker - I watched and waited for the countdown on an offer but they sold out in seconds and I was left disappointed. The fastest finger wins. Many brick and mortar stores are opening their doors early and online deals will be available immediately after midnight tonight in most cases.
Why is it called Black Friday?
Black Friday gets a lot of bad press, but is its history as black as its name? It’s not all fun and games, we’ve seen photos and videos of crazed stampedes and shootings in the USA as hungry shoppers fight to get their hands on the latest gadgets and gifts. But this is just a tragic coincidence and has no bearing on the origin of the name. Further speculation draws parallels with retailer profits going from in in the red to black or employees pulling a sickie the day after thanksgiving to have a 4 day weekend. In reality It was actually in Philadelphia where they coined the term to describe the hoards of traffic in the city following Thanksgiving and the Army -Navy football game and the term just stuck.
How much will people spend?
The culture of flash sales is growing and Black Friday cleverly tricks shoppers into panic buying early in the month as they would do in the final days leading up to Christmas. Product marketers use ‘the fear’ to their advantage with the time pressure of a deal with an expiration date. This limited time calls for consumers to think fast and checkout. Experian predict Black Friday sales in the UK will total £555.5m (An incredible £385K per minute) whilst Visa Europe is forecasting that around £360,000 will be spent every minute on Visa cards - that’s a whopping £6000 per second!
Experian anticipate a 17% increase in sales on Black Friday alone compared to 2013 and in addition to this early splurge (which dangerously coincides with payday for many), consumers will continue to spend throughout December as the theory is that we forget what we’ve already bought (I think I am guilty of this). When it’s so easy and convenient to shop online, why bother joining the fight in store when many retailers match their discounted prices on their websites anyway.
Shoppers are pressured into purchasing quickly to bag the best deals, but the concept thrives on targeting the impulse shopper. And this persona is also the repeat offender in the returns sphere. So although in-store and online sales will be massive, the knock-on effect of the rise of ‘unwanted’ and ‘changed mind’ returns will also be considerable. The Christmas holiday season is the biggest period for sales, but it’s also the biggest time of year for returns too. Retailers should be prepared for the aftermath of increased returns as well as sales when consumers assess the damage and regret their impulse buys. We may start to see Black Friday and Cyber Monday followed by ‘ReBOUND Tuesday’ as shopper’s slump into a spending hangover and begin creating their return lists.