Will we ever see the likes of Black Friday again? (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA ... [+] AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)AFP via Getty Images
At the risk of mixing religious references, why will this year’s kickoff to the Christmas shopping season be different from all other years?
In a year when virtually everything is different, the traditional kickoff to holiday shopping promises to be nothing like what we’ve ever seen before. With Black Friday and the entire post-Thanksgiving weekend period being downplayed due to pandemic conditions, it is going to be nothing short of a toned-down, recolored, mutated version of the past.
Call it Gray Friday.
Black Friday was once an industry-only term that according to business legend originated with the day when retailers supposedly broke into the profitable black ink due to robust business. There is also an alternative history that the term comes from the city of Philadelphia’s police department description of the vehicular and pedestrian traffic that was generated by both holiday shopping and the annual Army-Navy football game that weekend.
Whichever story you choose to believe — or not — the term migrated into the consumer mainstream over the past decade or two, exacerbated by its use by retailers to promote sales and events for the period. The annual videos of shopping mayhem, first on TV local news broadcasts and then later on social media, only fed the frenzy. Stores began opening on Thanksgiving Day itself, remained opened 24 hours a day for the entire weekend and generally did everything in their merchandising power to drive business.
Until they didn’t. The pushback first showed up a year or three ago when, in the midst of employee complaints about the amount of hours they were being asked to put in, some retailers curtailed or even eliminated Thursday hours. The non-stop hours also were trimmed back a bit but of course the real game-changer was e-commerce which allowed shoppers to hit their buy buttons without waking up at 0-dark-hundred and fighting off offensive lines in stores that would put the Green Bay Packers to shame.
But this year, in the midst of the worst health crisis to face the nation in more than a century, the weekend will be drastically different.
• The holiday shopping season truly got off to its earliest-ever start in October with Amazon Prime Day, corresponding events from Walmart, Target and many other Big Boxers, all of which was capped off by the American debut of Alibaba’s Single Days earlier this month. The Christmas music, TV commercials and decorations started even as Halloween had barely begun.
• In combination with the early promos, retailers are engaging in what almost could be described as sales-prevention tactics, downplaying the need to visit stores on the day after Thanksgiving. It’s rather a remarkable turn of events for businesses so conditioned to do everything in their power to make the weekend the biggest thing since sliced bread…or at least sliced bread makers. `
• In the meantime online sellers have assumed the mantle of conspicuous consumption, with all manner of promotions and pricing to get shoppers to buy. They are expecting unprecedented levels of business this season between current customers and those who have migrated to e-commerce during the pandemic. Recent surveys on buying intents show that somewhere between 80 and 6000 percent of all consumers expect to make an online purchase this season.
• And it’s not just an American phenomenon. In France the government has forced Amazon to push back its heavy promotional push until December so local merchants have a chance to compete. Effectively they have cancelled Black Friday in the country, an irony that shouldn’t be lost on anybody aware of the fact that very few Parisians celebrate Thanksgiving in the first place.
While it’s fairly clear how the holiday shopping season will play out this year the big question, of course, is what will happen next year, when theoretically at least there is a vaccine that will return things somewhat back to pre-pandemic shopping patterns. Will these new habits and practices become part of the way the country shops or will consumers return to the way they were? Again, as with most everything this year, it’s impossible to tell. Socialists will tell you how hard is to change behavior but that once it does change it often becomes the new normal.
So is the Black Friday we all came to know and both love and hate about to become history? Is Gray Friday the new color of shopping? And if so, how Gray?
We understand there are 50 shades.