Black Friday Keeps Its Glitter

Stephen DeAngelis

November 23, 2018

For several years, some analysts have downplayed the importance of Black Friday; but, consumers apparently still look forward to the unofficial beginning of the holiday shopping season. Daphne Howland (@daphnehowland) reports two surveys conclude this year’s Black Friday sales may edge out Cyber Monday sales.[1] A survey of more than 1,500 U.S. shoppers conducted by found, “Holiday shoppers will spend an average of $57 more on Black Friday than on Cyber Monday this year, but a great majority (68%) of Black Friday shoppers will be doing most of their shopping online.” A survey conducted by concluded, “55.9% prefer online holiday shopping (up from 51.4% last year), while 44.1% prefer stores (48.7% last year) and most are planning a mix.” Howland continues, “Nearly a third of holiday shoppers (31%) say they’ll do most of their shopping on Black Friday, while 22% say the same of Cyber Monday. Those heading to stores aren’t likely to rush, with the biggest crowds likely in the middle of the day: 17% are going later in the day compared to 15% in the morning, according to BlackFriday’s report.”


Ad spending burnishes Black Friday’s shine


Black Friday’s main attraction for holiday shoppers are good deals. Retailers are planning to spend a lot of money to ensure consumers learn about those deals. Erica Sweeney reports, “Total U.S. digital ad spend by retailers is expected to exceed $23 billion in 2018 during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, with retailers planning to devote nearly $6 billion to media during the four-day shopping period, according to a survey by performance advertising software Nanigans. Most retailers, or 51%, plan to keep their 2018 holiday season ad budgets about the same as last year, while 48% plan to increase their spend.”[3] One might be tempted to think holiday shoppers will cringe at the thought of being bombarded with holiday ads. Google analysts conclude, however, that shoppers are looking for all the help they can get this holiday season. They explain, “With so much choice at their fingertips, folks are finding holiday shopping overwhelming. To cut through the clutter and feel confident in their choices, these shoppers are begging for help.”[4]


Emily Eberhard explains, “Today, 76% of U.S. holiday shoppers over 18 use three or more channels. That’s a huge number of people searching on their smartphone, visiting a retailer site, or going into a store to uncover new brands and products or rediscover old favorites.” Advertising plays a critical role in helping consumers find holiday treasures during their path to purchase. Eberhard reports research confirms the importance of getting the right message to the right consumer. She writes:

“Research shows that 61% of shoppers are open to buying from new retailers during the holiday season, and in the 2017 holiday season, almost half of them did. This year, we’re seeing that people are more open to discovering and trying new brands than ever before. As proof, mobile searches for ‘brands like’ and ‘stores like’ have grown over 60% in the past two years (e.g., ‘stores like Urban Outfitters,’ ‘stores like Victoria’s Secret but cheaper,’ ‘brands like Patagonia’). Assisting them when they need you can be a great opportunity to convert new customers. But it’s also a timely reminder that you must nurture existing customers’ needs too.”

Some shoppers always feel a bit overwhelmed during the holiday shopping season and fear they won’t be able to find exactly the right gifts for friends and family. Their go-to solution is giving a gift card. Erin Del Conte (@CStoreD_Erin) reports, “Gift cards and in-store shopping are important and meaningful parts of the holiday experience.”[5] She cites a survey by InComm that concluded, “Pairing a gift card with another item for the recipient is an increasing trend among holiday shoppers that is leading to incremental sales for retailers. … Many consumers plan to purchase gift cards for everyone on their shopping lists, including an average of seven gift cards this holiday season for their immediate family members. Respondents also plan to purchase an average of two gift cards for friends and neighbors, two for teachers and coaches, and one gift card for a co-worker.”


Omnichannel strategies are critical for holiday sales success


In a separate article, Howland notes, “More than three-quarters (77%) of holiday shoppers plan to complete at least some of their list online, but the real story is cross-channel purchasing, according to a study from The NPD Group. … Six out of ten shoppers plan to go both online and to brick-and-mortar stores this season, an increase of three percentage points since last year, according to the report.”[2] The clear winners, according the NPD Group survey, are online merchants. “More than two-thirds (70%) plan to shop at online-only retailers over the holidays, followed by 42% who plan to head to mass-merchants and discount stores, 24% to national chain stores and 23% to department stores, NPD found.” Eberhard reiterates the importance of having a mobile strategy this holiday season. She writes, “Continuing to provide assistance via mobile is critical. Shoppers are turning to their smartphones for shopping help with even greater frequency. In fact, in the past two years, searches for ‘shopping app’ have jumped 90%, while searches for ‘online shopping’ has grown 180% in that same period.”


Howland notes both traditional and online merchants are adopting omnichannel strategies. She writes, “As they’ve boosted their own e-commerce operations, brick-and-mortar retailers are getting a bigger piece of the holiday pie, both online and off. And e-commerce pure-plays are responding by offering more merchandise in physical stores.” Marshal Cohen, NPD Group’s chief industry advisor, stated, “The traditional division between online and in-store retailing continues to shift and blur. Traditional store retailers are upping their online games these days, while they are also finding ways to drive traffic to stores with improved efficiency, more entertaining shopping experiences and better value. Online retailers are also finding ways to blur the retail divide in their own ways, offering lower prices and shipping options that get products to consumers faster than ever.”


Concluding thoughts


Sweeney concludes, “Black Friday is still seen as valuable for driving online and in-store sales. Sixty-three percent [of retailers] are planning to prioritize ad budgets on Black Friday, with 20% planning to spend more on digital ads on Cyber Monday.” In addition to providing consumers great products at great prices, they should remember many shoppers aren’t confident gift givers. Gift cards may appeal to such shoppers. Retailers need to convince gift card givers they have the selection of products from which their friends and family will love choosing. Del Conte explains, “When consumers were asked why they prefer to give gift cards during the holiday season, there was a strong correlation between how close a gift recipient is to the consumer and that consumer’s ability to confidently find a gift card brand the recipient will enjoy.” By making the right pitch to the right consumer, retailers will find Black Friday still has its glitter.


[1] Daphne Howland, “Black Friday poised to edge out Cyber Monday this year,” Retail Dive, 16 October 2018.
[2] Erica Sweeney, “Retailers’ ad spend will exceed $23B over Black Friday, Cyber Monday, survey says,” Marketing Dive, 17 October 2018.
[3] Emily Eberhard, “Holiday shoppers are begging brands for help. Are you listening?Think with Google, September 2018.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Erin Del Conte, “Gift Givers To Depend on Gift Cards This Holiday Season,” Convenience Store Decisions, 17 October 2018.
[6] Daphne Howland, “More holiday consumers plan to shop both online and in stores,” Retail Dive, 18 October 2018.