It’s as American as apple pie, football, and watching football while eating a slice of apple pie. The day after Thanksgiving a.k.a. Black Friday is the unofficial holiday for consumers wanting to score the best deals. In the 2000s, we saw the rise of online shopping and the birth of Cyber Monday, but this decade three important (and very different) trends emerged: Gray Thursday, Anti-Black Friday marketing, and Small Business Saturday.
WHEN GRAY BECAME THE NEW BLACK
As the economy recovered from the Great Recession at the start of the decade, big-box stores began their so-called Black Friday deals earlier and earlier. The first store whose doors opened on Thursday evening was the now-defunct, Toys “R” Us in 2010 which pushed the clock to 10 p.m. on the eve of Black Friday. This spearheaded a multitude of big-box stores to compete with each other in the following years with some stores like JC Penny opening at 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving or others, like Bass Pro Shops, opening at 8 a.m. on Thursday, and staying open through the remainder of the holiday weekend.
In 2013 during the height of the Gray Thursday trend, Rick McAllister, the former president of the Florida Retail Federation told the International Business Times, “Despite some claims last year that retailers would ruin the holiday by choosing to be open for business, consumers showed that given the opportunity, they are more than happy to make shopping a part of their Thanksgiving Day activities. It is a decision ultimately driven by customer demand, and it looks like Turkey Day shopping is here to stay.”
McAllister was proven to be right, and Gray Thursday continues to be a tactic that brick and mortar stores use to increase profits and to get consumers in the door during an era where online shopping remains king. However, with the rise of Gray Thursday, some businesses began to rebel.
BLACK FRIDAY? WE’RE NOT GOING TO DO THAT
Not doing a Black Friday deal on the biggest shopping weekend of the year used to be blasphemous but as Gray Thursday slowly entered the picture some companies (both large and small) began to publicly rebel. The pioneers of this Anti-Black Friday marketing #OptOutside is REI. Since 2015, the brand has given all of its employees, including hourly workers , Black Friday off and encouraged them to be active outside. Their online store is still available to shop on, however without sales or deep discounts.
Other companies have vocally expressed their opinions on opening on Thanksgiving including the brands under the TJX umbrella (Marshall’s, T.J. Maxx, HomeGoods), IKEA, Nordstrom, and others. These companies not only refrain from the Gray Thursday trend, but they boast about spending time with family instead. However, like a lot of marketing that revolves around social issues, it can come off as elitist or out of touch to a portion of consumers. Kenneth Rogers, the associate dean of research in York University’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance, and Design told Vox in 2018, “Black Friday shopping isn’t always based in naked, shameless excesses of consumerism … in very financially troubled times, Black Friday might be people’s only chance to have access to certain things, to buy what they need.”
SATURDAYS ARE ALRIGHT FOR SHOPPING SMALL
Did a large credit card company start promoting to shop at small businesses? You bet. It might not be widely known now, but American Express began the Small Business Saturday movement. In 2010, during the height of the recession, AMEX started a campaign that asked consumers to spend their money at local businesses the day after they shop at big box stores. Almost a decade later, Small Business Saturday has become a part of the fabric of the busiest shopping weekend of the year. According to AMEX, Small Business Saturday spending has now reached an estimate of $103 billion since 2010. That’s $103 billion in only 9 days.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a Black Friday brick and mortar bargain hunter, or more of an “add to cart” cyber shopper, no matter what trends emerge in the upcoming decade, one thing is certain: Black Friday is here to stay.