Three Lessons for Marketers From Black Friday

By Conor O'Malley  | 

For the duration of nearly this entire year, the pandemic has exposed and accelerated new and preexisting trends in marketing, sales, and retail, and so it comes as no surprise that a very different year would have a very different holiday shopping season. Black Friday is routinely and historically the busiest shopping day of the year, and despite cultural and institutional shifts in shopping, it was predicted to again carry that title in 2020. What happened was, like the year itself, both predictable and not: the 2020 holiday shopping season began with the biggest sales day of the year, but saw significant losses and significant gains in various sectors. Brick-and-mortar suffered a decrease in foot traffic and in-person shoppers, while digital, mobile, and ecommerce posted the number-two day of all time in online sales. The rift between in-person and online shopping and a dip in total shopping provide a forecast of potential trends regarding value shoppers, online presence for brands, and an ever-expanding holiday-shopping season that marketers should be interested to follow.

So, sales were down. Not only fewer shoppers shopped, but those who did shop also spent less, a 14% drop according to the National Retail Federation. Coronavirus is once again the culprit: suppressing foot traffic, which meant less browsing as customers have increasingly become “deliberate” with their purchases in a time of uncertainty. Curbside pick-up was up 30%, demonstrating the deliberation and planning that these times demand.

Still, the shopping holiday’s tough news was countered with equally positive reports. Thanksgiving Day itself posted 21.5% year-over-year growth, to $5.1 billion, and Black Friday hit $9 billion, showing similar growth. Shopping apps — with Walmart, Amazon, and Shop leading the way — posted nearly 3 million downloads and buy-now, pay-later programs provided customers with options for purchasing this holiday season.  Another positive take-away from the shopping weekend was that small businesses, despite the massive growth of Amazon and big-box retailers this year, fared relatively well vs. their larger competitors, possibly due to an outpouring of support from their communities. Whatever the reason, it was a good sign of consumer confidence.

As one sector of the economy endured a setback and the other accelerated, there are a lot of signs marketers and brands can absorb, because even as the economy recovers in 2021 and beyond, many trends are likely to remain. One is the ever-growing shopping holiday. By having Prime Day in mid-October, Amazon established an earlier start to the holiday-shopping season. Businesses would be keen to follow suit, because sales throughout October indicated a public ready to extend the season. Secondly, mobile is here to stay. Online shopping — its ease and safety — is likely going to remain a preference for many shoppers, especially as large-scale retail outlets and Amazon continue to fortify and expand their online footprints. Lastly, the value shopper is also likely here for the long haul. The savvy marketer and retailer would be smart to expand their omnichannel and online presence, provide aggressive value-deals or discounts targeted at the deliberate buyer, and consider “starting early” when it comes to Black Friday.

All in all, Black Friday 2020 mirrored most shopping and retail discoveries this year — it was neither boom nor bust, and despite an economy relatively humbled by Covid-19, customer and consumer decisions demonstrated a great deal of faith in the economy and still remain a vital signal for our economy as well as an exciting, value-packed day of shopping.

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