Black Friday Shopping – a Phenomenon in Survival Mode?

This article was written by Ushma Kapadia.

Black Friday is popular speak in the United States, for the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. It is believed to signal the start of the Christmas shopping season. Retailers open up their stores in the wee morning hours, to welcome a horde of eager shoppers. Shoppers queue up overnight, to secure a place at the front of the queue; sometimes even leading to instances of violence. For some, Black Friday is a tradition, for others, it is the holy grail of deal-hunts. Whatever the shopping motivation; over the years, Black Friday has emerged a barometer, to judge shopper (and hence, consumption) sentiment.

In the past decade, another shopping milestone emerged, christened ‘Cyber Monday’ by Like its Friday counterpart, Cyber Monday is ‘celebrated’ on the Monday after Thanksgiving Day, and caters to online shoppers. Interesting to note that these two milestone shopping events each year, are somewhat complementary to each other. For those intimidated by the hustle-bustle of shopping at brick-and-mortar stores, Cyber Monday is the perfect solution. Like the feel & touch shopping experience of brick-and-mortar? Go shop there on Black Friday. Like the anonymity & convenience of home-ordering? Go shop on your laptop/ mobile, on Cyber Monday.

Consumption during this period is a given. The festive mood is just about kicking in, access to products is more simplified than ever before, much-postponed purchases are certain to be completed given it’s the beginning of the year-end. Shoppers are exposed to an entire ecosystem egging them to spend – brands, retail stores, popular media, social media influencers, credit card companies, perhaps even banks.

However, the needle appears to be slowly shifting. Reports are beginning to trickle in, about a counter-narrative to the huge spending phenomenon of Thanksgiving-Black Friday-Cyber Monday. On 24th November 2018, CNBC carried a story about ShopperTrak reporting a year-on-year decline of 1% in shoppers’ visits to brick-and-mortar stores on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

Ipsos’ Retail Performance study reported similar results:

Brands in markets other than the U.S. appear to be slowly joining in, on this counter-narrative. For instance, consider Hawkins and Brimble, a UK-based male grooming brand. This is what it tweeted on Black Friday eve, stating that “Black Friday doesn’t align with” their brand and personal values:

Instead, the brand announced they were donating 20% of the day’s sales to @RestartRugby, a charity supporting professional players forced to end their Rugby career due to injury or illness.

Or, consider the growing use of #AntiBlackFriday, among brands. It signals growing awareness about excessive consumerism and subsequent ill-effects on the environment. Instead, multiple #AntiBlackFriday posts call for responsible consumption. In fact, some local brands are taking higher ground and even flipping tradition, by charging a premium on Black Friday. Profits from the price-hike are donated to charities that work on the damaging effects of extreme consumerism.

In markets where Black Friday is not known of, there are local Black Friday equivalents. Depending on which part of India one resides in, one celebrates Baisakhi (North), Ganeshotsav (West), Ugadi & Onam (South), Pujo (East) and so on. All of these are landmark festivals, often triggering a surge in consumer spending.

The counter-narrative against Black Friday spending has steadily gained traction, in Western markets. In part, thanks to the role that Social Media platforms have begun playing, in shaping perceptions about social traditions, hitherto undisputed. The 3 v’s of Social Data – volume, variety and velocity – are instrumental in spreading messages about Black Friday spending, at a pace not known before. However, it would be interesting to see how the story pans out, as emergent consumption economies like India; grow, mature and saturate.

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