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What's Happening to Black Friday?

Posted By Administration, Thursday, December 18, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, December 17, 2014

by Dwight D. Hill, McMillan Doolittle LLP

The air is crisp, the holiday sales prediction from the National Retail Federation is out, and retailer's shelves are stocked high with merchandise and gifts, ready for the masses – and another Black Friday is behind us.

This year's results were anything but stellar. Depending on your news source, sales over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend sank 11% according to the NRF and The Wall Street Journal.1 We shopped at Best Buy on Thanksgiving evening – bravely believing we would be putting our lives at risk with the thought of hordes rushing the store. As it turns out, we arrived to the store 30 minutes after opening to a relatively calm crowd – and even calmly picked up a door buster TV without any altercation or threat of being "tazed" by frantic shoppers. Not too many years ago we would have been trampled!

So what happened? We believe we are witnessing a transformation in the business of holiday. Below are a few "reads" on the season thus far:

1. The early bird gets the worm. Retailers are offering deals earlier. Retailers were offering deals well in advance of Thanksgiving, with promotions, free shipping and price matching of Amazon being several leading indicators. No longer are customers forced to wait until a specific date for the deals to occur or shop a specific channel. Online offers provided a level of convenience for shoppers that didn't necessarily want to camp out in front of their favorite stores.

2. The pie is about the same size. Before we panic and think we are in store for a rough holiday season, we need to look at the numbers. According to Shoppertrak,2 Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday sales have amounted to the following since 2011:

  1. 2014: $12.29b
  2. 2013: $12.35b
  3. 2012: $12.04b
  4. 2011: $11.92b

It is obvious we are merely seeing a shift in the pie, not a dramatic reduction or increase over the Thursday/Friday of selling. Sales are simply moving into the holiday of Thanksgiving, if not even earlier into the month. If you can get great deals the week before Thanksgiving and actually not have to rush out in the wee hours after enjoying a turkey dinner – why not? It did seem a little calmer this year. And for all those lamenting about stores opening on Thanksgiving Day – we agree it does take away from the sanctity of the holiday, but as long as the customer is willing to show up, we will see more of this in years to come.

3. The customer knows what she wants. The other obvious trend this year that will impact sales is the rise of the "purposeful shopper." She has shopped online first and "web-roomed" by reading product reviews, learning about the product and finding the best price – and she stays focused on that shopping mission. Not that impulse or pick-up shopping will disappear, but the rise of the online channel has encouraged shoppers to do their research first, prior to coming in store.

If Black Friday is being diluted, now what? Is it going away? Not at all, but be on the lookout for shopping and promotional intensity to be at its peak the weekend of December 20th. As we've said before, this is another short shopping season and retailers will be pulling out all the stops during that weekend to ensure they clear inventories before January. Thus, save a little of your budget for that big weekend – you're bound to find some bargains!

[1] "Black Friday" Fades as Weekend Retail Sales Sink, The Wall Street Journal, November 30, 2014
[2] "Black Friday Weekend 2014 Store Visits and Sales Update," Shoppertrak,  

Dwight D. Hill, whose background includes leadership roles with Neiman Marcus and Deloitte LLP, is Partner, McMillan Doolittle LLP. Dwight can be reached at

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Tags:  e-commerce  Holiday 2014  Omni-Channel 

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