Black Friday as we know it is dying. A more humane and interesting shopping experience is emerging instead. For years, Black Friday has brought out the worst in people. Shoppers have been herded like cattle in the dead of night for the sole purpose of buying discounted products such as TVs that retailers no longer want. Stores have whipped consumers into a buying frenzy with limited-quantity door buster sales offered during obscenely early hours. Until the pandemic hit, Black Friday madness had spread into Thanksgiving as retailers opened their doors for sales on a day when Americans traditionally gather as families and friends for a time of reflection. Well, when you dehumanize the shopping experience, people respond in kind. Over the years, who has not seen the news reports of people fighting each other in unacceptably crowded stores? (Search for “Black Friday fight” on YouTube if you need to be refreshed.)
But times are changing. Because of the pandemic, many retailers started closing their doors on Thanksgiving Day in 2020. They leaned on Cyber Monday more. They extended Black Friday deals online and offline throughout November to lessen the crowds on the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally when Black Friday is held. Recently, Target announced it would never open on Thanksgiving again. Many other bellwether stores such as Best Buy and Walmart were closed on Thanksgiving this year, too (although they had not announced whether they would do so permanently). The traditional in-store Black Friday experience is becoming less important, too. In 2020, Black Friday sales increased in 2020 — but U.S. store visits dropped by 52%, and Thanksgiving store traffic was down 95%, according to Sensormatic Solutions. What does 2021 hold? People will return to stores on Black Friday. But I believe Black Friday as a frenzied shopping experience is subsiding.
It makes good business sense to reinvent Black Friday. The pandemic continues to make crowded shopping conditions a threat to our safety. More consumers are doing holiday shopping online — in fact, they were doing so before the pandemic. And retailers are facing a labor shortage that has pressured them to increase wages, improve benefits, and make working conditions better.
Retailers are responding. The rise of digital is inspiring innovation. For instance, Walmart is introducing shoppable holiday livestreams and augmented reality shopping experiences, including Twitter’s first-ever livestream shopping event. And the reinvention of Black Friday may result in retailers being more responsive to the needs of store associates, too. Target CEO Brian Cornell said he decided to keep stores closed on Thanksgiving after employees told him they were grateful to stay home on the holiday. Target listened to its employees. I believe more will. As the labor shortage continues, they may have no choice.