To Open, or Not To Open: Black Friday 2016

| By: Sasha Butkovich

Traditionally, Black Friday has been a huge sales day for retailers of all kinds. In recent years, this shopping holiday has continued to trend up, to the point that many retailers began opening on Thanksgiving night to get a leg up on the Black Friday revenue stream.

Last year, REI flipped the script with their #OptOutside campaign, closing stores and encouraging people not to shop during the holiday. As REI continues their campaign for a second year, other retailers are responding, and the trend is taking hold. It seems the tide is starting to turn away from the Thanksgiving and Black Friday madness.

The big question this holiday season is whether to promote Thanksgiving and Black Friday shopping, or to push far away from it. What are some of the top retailers deciding to do? Let’s take a look:

Trend #1: Opt out of Thanksgiving and Black Friday shopping

This trend, championed by REI, might not be a revenue generator on a traditionally big shopping day, but it is a great marketing tactic. It allows retailers to still be a part of the Black Friday conversation, while also creating goodwill as a brand who cares about giving their employees the holiday off to spend time with family.

REI is taking this concept the furthest by not only closing stores, but essentially closing their ecommerce site as well, pledging not to process any online orders and paying all their employees to take these days off. It may seem extreme, but for REI, the #OptOutside campaign aligns with both their company values and their core customer base. People who like to camp, hike, ski, and do other outdoor activities respond positively to the concept, and the campaign generates great engagement. In fact, projections show the company is on track for a 6-7% increase in sales even without a Black Friday boost.

The list of other retailers who plan to follow REI’s lead and keep their brick-and-mortar stores closed on Thanksgiving is growing, and includes some big names like DSW, Lowe’s, Nordstrom, PetSmart and Pier 1 Imports. However, these merchants will be open for business in other ways, including via ecommerce. Many so-called doorbusters will simply take place online.

Trend #2: Black Friday? Try Black November

While some retailers choose to forego the Thanksgiving rush, others are taking the longview. Why focus on one day of shopping when you can create a whole month of promotions?

The best example of this strategy comes from Amazon, who began offering Black Friday deals on November 1st. Although these bargains may not be the big-ticket sales shoppers may be used to from Black Friday, these smaller deals carry on through the entire month of November and all the way up to December 22nd, giving shoppers reasons to return to the site every day. Amazon announced they’d be hiring 120,000 seasonal workers to handle the demand, up 20% from last year, so they expect this campaign to pay off in a big way.

JC Penney and Kohl’s are a couple of big name retailers taking a cue from Amazon, extending their holiday promotional calendars even earlier into November. Although both with be opening store locations on Thanksgiving, they will be previewing their Black Friday sales in advance and offering pre-Black Friday deals in the weeks leading up to the holiday. This strategy helps to take some of the pressure off of Thanksgiving and Black Friday, allowing retailers to drive big profits without shunning these shopping holidays all together.

Trend #3: Go all in on Thanksgiving

If some retailers want to hedge their bets and offer sales throughout November, there’s one that’s definitely not ready to let Thanksgiving and Black Friday go. Toys R Us has announced that not only will they open stores at 5pm on Thanksgiving, but they’ll be open for 30 hours straight. Hey, if you’re going to go for it, you may as well go all in! Toys R Us says their customers have “voted at the doors year after year,” so the merchant plans to be prepared when people are ready to shop.

As Toys R Us customers vote at the doors, we will see where consumers vote with their dollars this year. Whatever trend takes hold with shoppers will determine the shape of Thanksgiving and Black Friday promotions for 2017, so take a cue from the outcome in order to plan your strategy for next year.

For more holiday information and advice, visit our Holiday Resource Center or Contact Us today!

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Sasha Butkovich is Communications Marketing Manager at Corraa New York, Los Angeles and London based digital commerce agency creating unified commerce experiences for fashion, lifestyle and beauty. Corra’s ecommerce strategy, design and technology professionals are trusted by retailers of all sizes to implement and support the Magento Enterprise and hybris platforms.