Call it the Amazon effect. Retail giants this year have decided to start the shopping frenzy earlier than ever. What used to be a quick sprint to the biggest spending day of the year is now a holiday marathon. Amazon leads the way this year with deals all November long, and special lightning deals for Prime Members on Black Friday. Best Buy, which has been making big moves to keep up with Amazon, will have a special day of deals on November 7. Being the first big box retailer to offer Black Friday-like prices so early in the season could make them the winner this holiday, and if it works, we might see more retailers follow suit next year. Other retailers are focusing on ease of purchasing with in-store pickup, curbside pickup, and easy returns. Target brings to the competition free shipping and returns until the end of the year, after last year’s similar promotion proved to be incredibly successful.
Despite some big names ramping up holiday promotions right after Halloween, other retailers are skipping Black Friday altogether. REI made headlines after announcing that stores would not be open at all on Thanksgiving or Black Friday. Instead, employees are getting paid time off and encouraged to explore the outdoors with friends and family. REI even started a major marketing campaign called #OptOutside that is thrilling employees and customers alike. This is the first year that REI is opting out of Black Friday, and probably not the last. If this campaign generates enough goodwill to keep customers coming back all year, customers may start to see other retailers follow suit. This year may mark the death of Black Friday as we know it.
REI is encouraging customers to skip Black Friday
The backlash against Black Friday might be a sign of the growing divergence between specialty and bargain retailers. It’s one thing to be competitive and another to follow a trend that has shown increasingly less ROI. Last year, spending over Black Friday weekend actually dropped by 11%. While holiday sales this year are projected to grow overall, the bulk of that growth may not come from Black Friday sales. Specialty retailers like REI may be realizing that they can’t compete with eCommerce and retail giants on holiday promotions alone. And given last year’s drop in sales, it might not even be profitable to keep stores open on Thanksgiving or Black Friday at all.
There seems to be two choices for retailers: start major promotions right after Halloween, or forgo Thanksgiving weekend altogether. Retailers that are finding it harder to keep up with giants like Amazon might have to stick with the latter.