Black Friday 2020 Goes Online — Maybe It Should Stay That Way

Of all the shopping disruptions that we’re dealing with this year, Black Friday crowds are one experience we won’t remotely miss. Get it? Remote-ly? Ha ha….

…hghh. I know. We’re all tired of it.

Will anyone miss feeling like hardened play-dough being jammed through a sieve by a toddler whilst trying to get through a six-foot sliding door at the same time as two thousand other people to fistfight for deals that aren’t even real?

Not even a little bit. We’re happy to see that part of Black Friday go, we just hope it won’t be a temporary change.

The History, Pros, and Cons of Black Friday

Black Friday has a long history as the official start of the holiday shopping season. Retailers wanted to extend peak shopping season, but no one wanted to be ‘that guy’ who started advertising Christmas sales before Thanksgiving. So in 1939, FDR established Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday in the year to solidify that Friday as the start of the holiday season, thereby extending it on some years. It was probably a welcome stimulus on the heels of the Great Depression.

Fun Fact: Some called the new official date Franksgiving. Frankly, my dear…

Black Friday hasn’t always been such a negative thing; it’s had its benefits. But for years, the unofficial holiday has been building up an increasingly dubious reputation. Companies routinely offer ‘discounts’ that turn out to be sneakily-crafted markups, among other questionable pricing and positioning schemes that take advantage of consumers.

Here’s a look at some of the pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Price cuts are great for pinchy consumers who would otherwise avoid paying full price for big-ticket items.
  • Stores can clear excess inventory from their shelves at low prices.
  • Consumer spending en-masse can stimulate the wider economy.
  • Some say the adrenaline rush is thrilling. Some say the best part of the colonoscopy is the end. Everyone has their ‘thing’.

Cons:

  • Brands often increase the normal price of an item weeks before Black Friday to make discounts seem bigger.
  • Low-quality product that’s similar but inferior to standard product is often manufactured specifically for Black Friday.
  • Putting discounted items directly next to normal-priced items to give the illusion of discounts.
  • Violence, shoplifting, and customer/employee injuries are common, and several deaths have been caused by stampeding.
Less Fun Fact: This scene was less deadly than actual Black Friday shoppers.

Consider how an exclusively online Black Friday preserves most of the pros, while solving most of the cons. Between that, the winter wave of COVID, and the massively accelerated shift to remote work, there’s not much incentive left for companies to carry on the brick-and-mortar BF tradition.

Customers and Employees Share the Disdain

Brands are still hungry for the seasonal shopping surge, so they’re finding other ways to keep it alive, but with a few compromises. Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Best Buy, Target and others have pledged to remain closed on Thanksgiving Day. It’s a welcome reversal of a years-long trend of Black Friday consumerism creeping into Thanksgiving day, with stores dragging sale offers into the afternoon or evening.

To make up for the potential lost sales, these brands are launching their holiday offerings throughout weeks of deals, both online and with limited in-store operations.

While being open the day-of is fine for certain groups of customers (singles who forgot their personal serving of cranberry sauce, for instance), it can be a downer for people on the clock who’d rather be with family and friends. And no, the half-baked breakroom Turkey Day ‘feast’ is not a viable substitute. Sorry-not-sorry, middle managers everywhere.

Black Friday or Bust?

I’ll say it, a pandemic being the final straw for such a simple change comes as a disappointment. But now that retailers don’t have a better option, we can only hope it becomes part of the ‘new normal’. I’d say we should avoid Black Friday shopping like the plague, but given our response to an actual plague, that expression might have lost all meaning.

We’ll have to see how Black Friday 2020 plays out for brands’ bottom line profits. For the sake of both customer-centricity and employee experiences, we hope brands wake up on the lighter side of Black Friday this year, and with any luck, the next. Get a streak going.

Want to go a bit further on the subject? Check out the free eBook, Black Friday: Is It Worth It? below.

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I’m the editor and assistant producer of the Voices of CX Podcast, and a writer for the Voices of CX: Science Behind Decisions Blog.