In a year where nothing is normal, why would we expect the holidays to be any different? Black Friday, the informal name for the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season. Already having a tough year due to the pandemic, retailers are scrambling to salvage what has traditionally been their busiest and most profitable time of the year.
Quick History Lesson
The term “Black Friday” had different connotations when it was first used in 1952, but as it gained popularity in the early 1980s. It became known as the day retailers moved from being in the “red” (debt) to be in the “black” (profitable). So yes, you can blame pesky marketing professionals for dissing turkey day and moving right into Christmas.
Shoppers fight over TVs at an electronics retailer on Black Friday in 2018 (Cris Faga/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
In the past, stores would open at 5 am and swarms of shoppers would stand in line for doorbusters – severely discounted items with limited quantities. Electronics and home items are some of the most popular doorbusters amongst big box stores, but nearly every retailer participates in Black Friday sales. Comparing prices and making your list from the circulars in the Thanksgiving Day newspaper was a favorite post-meal activity.
But in recent years, Black Friday morphed into Black Thursday, with Kmart beginning the tradition of opening on Thanksgiving evening in 2009. Soon other retailers followed suit, and opening times became earlier and earlier. Only a few retailers chose to remain closed on Thanksgiving. And although many people disliked that Thanksgiving became less about family and more about consumerism, many participated in the act, including this author.
Online sales have been steadily increasing, with 40 percent of shoppers making online purchases in 2019. While shoppers still ventured out on Black Thursday and/or Friday, online shopping afforded many the option of spending the day with family and friends. I especially liked that the sales started at 12am on Thanksgiving so that I could shop late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning while preparing my noon meal.
Some retailers would mimic the in-person deals with identical online deals – including doorbusters – while others conducted “online only” specials and/or “in-person only” deals. In all reality, online shopping was meant to add to the overall success of the day, not to replace it.
Black Friday 2020
So it’s 2020, and while some of us are fully expecting the Grinch to steal Christmas, retailers and their “annoying” marketing departments are busy reimagining Black Friday. In a year when our nation has suffered so much loss, we find a silver lining: Most stores will be closed Thanksgiving Day. Even the most serious shoppers can appreciate the change.
But how do we do Black Friday in 2020? We can’t have lines of shoppers waiting with social distancing in place, nor can we have too many people in the store. With infections on the rise, will shoppers even show up? How can the stores keep us safe?
By now, I would expect that you’ve seen some Black Friday sale ads. In some ways, things look a lot like other years in terms of what is on sale. But how they are doing it is different.
We are seeing that retailers are communicating how they plan on keeping people safe while giving them options – shop in person, online, in-home delivery, or curbside pickup. They are also extending the shopping season all month long. Stores like Target, Walmart, Kohl’s and Best Buy are revealing a variety of Black Friday deals each week in an effort to reduce crowds and to engage those shoppers who are at risk or otherwise uncomfortable venturing out on Black Friday.
I particularly find the themes interesting, but of course, I would. Target’s “Deal Days”, Walmart’s “Deal for Days,” and Kohl’s “Too Great to Wait” all signal to shoppers to shop now. That’s cool, but from my own personal experience, it is confusing to know what is on sale where and when. And will it be on sale for a better price later? Target is promoting a price match guarantee if an item you buy early goes on sale later. That gives me some confidence, yet I still find it challenging to know when to buy and from which retailer.
It’s no surprise that online shopping will be huge this year, with curbside pick-up adding to its attractiveness. But we’re curious, what will you do? Will you venture out on Friday morning or stay home and shop from the comfort of your own home? A combination of both? Or will you avoid these big box stores and shop local instead? Make your own gifts?
I expect to do both online and in-store shopping, a tradition I would like to continue with my daughter, with safety in mind, of course. Have a happy and safe holiday shopping season!