The day after Thanksgiving has been considered the biggest shopping day of the year for decades. It was the day that kicked off Christmas shopping. When retailers realized that they could draw large crowds with deep discounts on loss leaders, they turned an active shopping day into an event dubbed Black Friday. Cyber Monday was launched shortly after the Internet became a shopping mecca.
The events were a one-two punch for multichannel retailers. Together, they created a golden goose that consistently delivered revenue year after year. Newspapers loaded with advertisements landed with a thump on doorsteps Thanksgiving morning. Sifting through the promotions became a favorite after dinner activity. Strategic planning by serious shoppers could rival any military coup. In many American homes, planning the shopping on Black Friday was part of Thanksgiving tradition.
Stores that normally opened at 10 AM had early bird specials that usually started at 6 AM. As popularity for the early morning shopping grew, stores started competing to see who could open the earliest. Last year, Black Friday crept into Thanksgiving for the first time. There was an outcry and protests but people still showed up to take advantage of the super deals. This year, the event creep continued. Cyber Monday and Black Friday started before Thanksgiving for some retailers.
In theory, increasing the number of hours people are allowed to shop for super discounts is a good idea. A representative from Walmart told ABC World News Tonight that the company took in over $10 million during the first hour last year. He was so excited that you could almost see dollar signs in his eyes. So much revenue in a short period is enough to turn heads. I can imagine the conversation in the boardroom.
“What if we could do that for two hours?”
“What about 10?”
“What if we started before Thanksgiving?”
If the deals are good enough, people will come out. This year may be good but it is the beginning of the end for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The after Thanksgiving shopping event that turned into a tradition has been altered. Once the line was crossed from Friday to Thursday opening hour creep was bound to follow. The people envisioning hour after hour of cash registers ringing forgot to consider human behavior. Three factors affect the dynamics of after Thanksgiving shopping.
First, tradition and experience are key triggers for people participating in the shopping events. Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales have turned into Black Cyber Week events. People now have a span of time instead of having a targeted time and date to start shopping. The excitement and anticipation are diminished. This will have a direct effect on how much money people spend because people buy more when they are excited.
Second, the simplicity of Black Friday and Cyber Monday just got very complicated. Early bird specials have morphed into varying hours over multiple days. The combination of Black Friday and Cyber Monday was perfect for multichannel retailers because both events benefited the company. Now, it is one big ball of confusion for consumers. They don’t know the best times for shopping at the store or online. Understanding the process requires more effort than the discounts are worth.
Third, traffic will decrease because the people who decide not to shop on Thanksgiving will presume that all of the great deals are already gone. If there aren’t any great deals available, why venture out on the busiest shopping day of the year? Less traffic means less perceived competition and the shopping frenzy that makes people buy more than they intend is gone.
It’s probably too late to save Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Retailers will adjust their hours next year to match their competitors. The creep will continue. The golden goose is cooked.
This may be a wonderful gift for small businesses. So far, event creep has not affected Small Business Saturday. It may turn out that the downfall for Black Friday and Cyber Monday is a boon for small businesses.