Shedding Light on the Black Friday Phenomenon

We’ve all seen – or perhaps even witnessed first-hand – the Black Friday phenomenon. Like rubber-necking on the highway, it’s become an anticipation of who is getting trampled at what store and for what item. And in a lot of cases, it’s not even a must have, highly needed, deeply coveted item. Instead, it seems to be for the bragging rights of having been one of the lucky few to, say, snag as many cheap towels or rolls of toilet paper as you can.

Black Friday in the USA, many people grabbing at LED TVs

The folklore around Black Friday is intriguing. Many believe that it got its name because it was the day that retailers brought their books from red to black thanks to increased sales. But, as is often the case with marketing, this is just a pretty spin on a different story.

“Black Friday has traditionally been a branded marker in the sales cycle for most retailers. They feel compelled to engage in heavy price promotions while consumers have been conditioned to expect bargains in all categories,” says Dr. Hugh Munro, Lazaridis MBA director. “Deviations are becoming more noticeable with some specialty retailers choosing not to participate and others either extending the promotional window beyond a single day or accelerating the start of the next spur in the sales cycle (i.e., Christmas).”

While Black Friday originated south of our borders, in recent years it’s reared its marketing head in our own waters. Canadian retailers – whether US chains or otherwise – are getting in on the door smashing, people crashing deals. But, is it really worth it?

A New York Times article suggests that this clever marketing ploy has duped even the savviest of shoppers. The most startling statistic? Less than one per cent of 2015’s Black Friday online deals were actually good.

With our dollar in a precarious position and many holding concerns about our southern neighbour’s future, is there any value for Canadians to continuing buying into this holiday shopping phenomenon either at home or with a jolly jaunt over the border?

“Online retailing continues to displace store sales generally and to some extent softens the Black Friday rush to bargain hunt in the malls,” Munro continues. “Many online retailers use this promotional window as well but there tends to be less pressure for them to comply and less urgency for consumers to spend when products are conveniently accessible with more price transparency.”

Regardless of which queue you’re joining this Black Friday – be it online or in person – there are some great ways to navigate the pressures of a good deal. First, be sure to plan. Look at prices leading up to Black Friday to discern if you’re getting a deal or falling victim to a great ad. Camel Camel Camel, for example, is a great online tool that will help debunk Amazon’s real deals from a fool’s errand.

Whether you’re walking, running, pushing, shoving or rapidly typing your way into a Black Friday frenzy, beware of buyer’s remorse. To leave the day and enter the holiday season on a high note be sure to make a list – and check it twice! Don’t simply buy it because it looks like something you must have or will be sorry to have missed out on.

As marketing leads and managers, you may be feeling the pressure to buy-into the Black Friday hype. Like consumer psychology – there is a temptation to make a big entrance into the holiday spending spree.

“Intense short promotional windows like Black Friday can obviously generate revenue for retailers but with lower margins.  If the overall effect is a shift in the timing of sales as opposed to a major uplift then it is not as great for store retailers,” says Munro. “On the other hand, getting increased traffic into your stores is always desired as it increases the opportunity for impulse versus planned purchasing. The bigger strategic challenge is creating more meaningful shopping experiences that can help to stave off or complement the migration to online buying. For consumers there can be some good bargains to be had but the timing and the value needs to be watched. Just because it is a significant price reduction doesn’t mean that it is the right buy or the right time to jump.”