Black Friday Is a Lost Indicator

Sales Aren't Going Away, But the Day Has Lost Its Meaning

Oct 24, 2018
Marketing

SMITH BRAIN TRUST –  If sales on the day after Thanksgiving appear gloomy this year, try not to read too much into that, says Maryland Smith’s Jie Zhang. It doesn’t mean the economy is weakening or that the holiday season won’t be as jolly this year.

It’s just that with discounts offered year-round now, the celebrated shopping day – dubbed Black Friday because it was long considered the day when the bottom line of the balance sheet for many retailers would go from “in the red” to “in the black” – just isn’t as important as it once was.

The number of people visiting stores in the United States on Black Friday slipped 4.5 percent in 2017, compared to the year before. Online sales on that day, meanwhile, clicked 16.9 percent higher over the prior year.

“Black Friday is definitely losing significance as a day of getting deals from a consumer perspective, or to generate sales from a retailer’s standpoint,” says Zhang, professor of marketing and the Harvey Sanders Fellow of Retail Management at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. “It plays a symbolic role more than being the best day to find deals or the best opportunity to generate sales.”

While Black Friday is still a go-to shopping day for some, it’s not a day when non-shoppers feel compelled to go out, to brave the exhausted crowds and to battle for bargains. They know there will be deals in the weekends before Thanksgiving or the weeks after. And they know there will be bargains to be had online as well, throughout the traditional holiday shopping season. And for those non-shoppers, the ability to snag discounts without entering a shopping mall is an added bargain unto itself.

“Deals are being spread around,” says Zhang. “Retailers are offering Black Friday-like deals earlier and earlier, and they also have many more opportunities through multiple media and multiple channels along the way.”

Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, and Green Monday, the Monday after the final shopping weekend before Christmas, are playing a more significant role. “That’s what we are seeing, each year those days become more and more prominent,” she says.

But don’t expect Black Friday to just go away, she says. “It will always play a symbolic role in Americans’ shopping. That won’t go away.”

That’s partly because infrastructure for the shopping day is built in.  The Friday after the Thanksgiving holiday is a day off for many Americans, and with Christmas just four or five weeks off, it becomes a natural day to spend in stores, getting started on those gift lists.

“And for some people, it is a family tradition,” Zhang adds. “It’s not necessarily the drive to get the best deals, it’s about spending the time together and joining the crowds.”

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About the Expert(s)

Jie Zhang

Jie Zhang is a Professor of Marketing and the Harvey Sanders Fellow of Retail Management at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. She received her Ph.D. in marketing from the Kellogg School of Management at NorthwesternUniversity. She was a faculty member at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan prior to joining the Smith School. Her general research interest is to apply advanced econometric and statistical models to study consumer purchase behaviors and retail strategies.

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