What’s going on with Black Friday?


Black Friday is changing, and it’s not just because of the pandemic.

We’re a week away from Black Friday, aka November 27 aka one of America’s largest retail holidays. Unlike previous years, much of this year’s Black Friday shopping is expected to take place online. While this is largely due to the effects of COVID-19, brick-and-mortar turnouts were already dropping in recent years.

Last year, an estimated 189.6 million people in the US shopped over the Thanksgiving weekend, per the National Retail Federation (NRF). NRF’s survey of 2019 Black Friday shoppers found that 142.2 million shoppers made purchases via retailer websites. 124 million people shopped in-store, and 75.7 million did both. 2019 also marked the first year that Black Friday overshadowed Cyber Monday in terms of online shopping. The lines between online and brick-and-mortar deals were already starting to blur.


COVID-19 is catalyzing an e-commerce transition

This year, the pandemic has all but guaranteed a record-breaking amount of online holiday sales. As another wave of COVID sweeps the nation, shoppers will probably be more hesitant to crowd together in the aisles of brick-and-mortar stores. Some states — such as Oregon, Washington, and California — have also renewed restrictions that limit store capacity, which creates even more logistical challenges for in-store shopping.

Retailers have been planning for this. Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, and many other retailers are offering more deals online and with a myriad of delivery and pickup options. Retailers have also expanded deal windows beyond the traditional Black Friday to give shoppers more time to make purchases. In fact, some deals began as early as November 2 and will continue into early December. Black Friday and Cyber Monday have officially melded into one giant discounting extravaganza where just about anything goes.


For brands, there’s a lot of opportunity for visibility

Whether brands are discounting during the holiday or not, this year’s Black Friday presents a unique opportunity for brands to increase their visibility. According to a report released by CBRE, online sales are expected to grow a whopping 40% over the holiday season and capture 32% of total retail sales in November and December. More shoppers than ever are going to be online, making it a great time to double down on digital initiatives.

Go big on digital advertising – There’s never been a better time to increase digital ad spend, especially in search. Search is one of the main ways consumers discover products online, and Amazon search is one of the top channels to invest in this year. Amazon Search is considered the second largest search engine in the world. In 2019, it was estimated that 54% of product searches were taking place on Amazon, and that percentage has likely grown significantly since the start of the pandemic.

Avoid the discounting race – Most brands are going to be discounting, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your brand should. Discounting can hurt just as much as it can help, especially if it’s being done without a specific goal. For some brands, maintaining brand equity is more important than achieving a temporary boost in sales.

Bring shoppers back with retargeting – Consumers are going to be bombarded by an overwhelming amount of deals across tons of brands. Just because shoppers don’t commit when they initially find your brand doesn’t mean your brand is out of the game. Retargeting through email, social media advertising, and display is a great way for brands to keep up with shoppers throughout the holiday season.

If you must discount, do it strategically – Discounting for the sake of discounting is not a great strategy, but there are certain circumstances where it makes sense. For instance, brands could consider discounting if they’re launching a product in a competitive category. Or, if a brand is trying to clear inventory or sunset a product, discounting could be a good option.


Black Friday is going to continue to move online

This year’s holiday shopping season could signal a significant shift that will carry on into the future. In 2019, NRF found that the increase in online shopping was motivated by free shipping, in-store pickup options, and easy-to-use websites. Black Friday was already starting to move online before the pandemic. COVID-19 has accelerated this process. Right now, concerns about public safety are driving consumers online, but once safety is no longer as much of a concern, it’s convenience that will get them to stay.