It’s not really Black Friday anymore

Oct 30, 2015
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It’s not really Black Friday anymore

Oct 30, 2015
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‘Tis about to be the season. In stores across the land, first shall come the plastic pumpkins, and then the expressive Turkeys, and then the Santas and the icicles.

Holiday sales are expected to grow about 4 percent this year — some predict increases of up to 5.6 percent, and the big kickoff, we are told, is Black Friday. A day that’s been around since the 50s.

But it’s changed a lot. “I’ve been in retail for 30 years, and I remember a time when Black Friday was not a discount-driven holiday,” said John Talbott, associate director for the Center for Education and Research in Retail at the Kelley School of Business. He said retailers don’t make a ton of profit on Black Friday, but they do make a lot of sales: 15 to 30 percent of the whole month. Stopping would look really bad on paper.

“It’s almost like a drug they can’t get off. They have to keep the Black Friday thing going because they’re up against it from the previous year,” he said. If a publicly held company decided to skip that day and its sales were off, shareholders would respond with fury and “Wall Street would crush them.” 

But in one sense retailers have moved away from Black Friday as a single day.

“During the 2014 season, we noticed that every day was Black Friday and every day was Cyber Monday,” said Kathy Allen, spokesperson for the National Retail Federation. Retailers, she said, “were innovative enough to split out sales early for their shoppers and that has dramatically changed the atmosphere.” 

Part of this has to do with online sales, which are growing two and a half times faster than in-store sales. Yoram Wurmser, a retail analyst at eMarketer, said “a lot of retailers are trying to get ahead of Black Friday with online deals on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and then Thanksgiving day itself.”

These days, people can go straight from carving their Turkey to shopping on the couch using their phones, said Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail. “The Black Friday concept is very valuable.” The Black Friday day, she said, is far less valuable.

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