Black Friday used to rule over the holiday shopping season like a despot, ushering in major sales under one banner and encouraging consumers to get out and take advantage of the largest deals possible. Then, Black Friday shopping started extending into Thanksgiving night. Cyber Monday emerged as a way to offer an experience similar to Black Friday, but tailored to online shoppers. Now we have Black Friday weekends, Cyber Monday, promotions like Amazon’s 12 Days of Deals and even Small Business Saturday to emphasize the holiday season is a prime time to take advantage of sales.
With so much variety in place, when should merchants ramp up their promotional efforts as they prepare for the holidays? The simple answer – it’s complicated.
Black Friday is dead … Long live Black Friday
The traditional idea of Black Friday is dead. It is no longer a one-day sales event featuring huge deals for people who want to trek out to stores to kick off the holiday shopping rush. Instead, it is a multiple-day, omnichannel sale experience that still highlights in-store experiences but features a wide range of ways to get the right deal. This trend really came to a head last year, something that is clear in a December 2015 report from the National Retail Federation’s publication, STORES Magazine.
According to the news source, reports of Black Friday’s demise are a bit exaggerated, but the holiday has shifted considerably as shopping patterns change and the economy grows stronger. In the recent past, Black Friday became such a popular event in reflection of the general economic situation. Consumers had less expendable income and were, therefore, much more willing to go out and get the best sale possible even if it was inconvenient. Now, the economy is stronger, people tend to have more to spend at the holidays and there are a wider range of large-scale sales surrounding the shopping season. These factors add up to make Black Friday a less attractive option, but it is still extremely popular.
Black Friday has shifted into an experience featuring a wider range of ways to shop in response to this trend, but the timing of holiday sales promotions has also changed considerably. The report explained that just as recently as 2015 retailers began to offer smaller sales and promotions – such as free shipping – to lure holiday shoppers to stores or encourage them take advantage of online deals shortly after Halloween.
Are the holidays starting earlier?
A NerdWallet report from November of last year highlighted that Veteran’s Day sales events increased as retailers worked to take advantage of the extra day off many employees get to kick off the holiday shopping season early.
With discussion around holiday shopping truly getting going on Veteran’s Day and the STORES Magazine report pointing out that many promotions begin right after Halloween, retailers have to be prepared for an earlier holiday shopping season, right?
It’s not that simple. The NRF article pointed out that many stores worked to buck the trend of a Black Friday that seeps into Thursday by focusing their sales specifically for Black Friday itself and intentionally closing on Thanksgiving night. Moreover, some retailers expect consumer fatigue to emerge around the quantity of sales that are available.
The theory here is fairly straightforward – major sales are a big deal when there are only a few of them. Once the number and quality of sales increases, consumers will have less reason to care about the huge event that, in reality, offers deals that are only marginally better than smaller promotions. An eMarketer study highlighting data from the 2015 holiday sales season and projecting trends for 2016 found a few key trends to in mind for this coming year:
- 2015 holiday sales rose considerably (13.4 percent) for online stores but only 1.7 percent for brick-and-mortar retail locations. A similar trend is anticipated in 2016.
- The retail industry as a whole experienced slow growth in 2015, so the scale of the holiday sales increase is particularly exciting.
- Dec. 23 was the date with the highest sales growth in 2015.
Discussions about shopping right after Halloween being in vogue are followed by data pointing to Dec. 23 as the fastest-rising shopping date. Lauren Freedman, eMarketer president, explained that this trend was possible because consumers were confident that they could push off shopping until later with confidence that items would still arrive in a timely fashion.
“We saw that the average number of days to ship [via] ground delivery was about 3.45,” said Freedman. “This year, there were 10 percent of the retailers [in our study] that actually shipped in one day. … Retailers feel a logistical sense of urgency to deliver faster.”
Holiday shopping events may start earlier, but that doesn’t mean you have to rush ahead and get sales going as quickly as possible. Instead, it points to a longer and more nuanced sales season as special promotions can begin earlier and continue for longer than they may have in the past. Last-minute online shopping is a viable – and apparently popular – option.
What’s the right timeline for you?
This is not a rhetorical question. The reality of sale fatigue can become extremely problematic as consumers are inundated with opportunities to spend heavily over the holidays. If you zig when your competitors zag – perhaps by holding a sales event at a completely unconventional time – you may gather consumer attention, or they may spend all of their money on competitors’ sales and ignore you. If you just follow the new sales cycle of frequent events, your sales may slip into the background.
You must carefully consider your brand identity and relationships with your customers as they plan holiday events. Be strategic about not only when to have a sale, but also when to sit a popular sale day out, and you can end up getting the timing just right this holiday season.
Interested in chatting about your 2016 holiday schedule? We’d love to chat. Contact Us!