Chaotic images of people clamouring to be first through the doors and get their hands on hot deals have become synonymous with Black Friday in recent years.
However, the one-day shopping frenzy at malls and stores following American Thanksgiving may be on the decline. Some consumers and retailers have started to shun the tradition by either opting out entirely or turning to internet shopping instead.
“In the ’70s and ’80s, if you wanted to distinguish yourself as a company, you would participate in this event,” said Markus Giesler of York University’s Schulich School of Business in Toronto. “Today it’s the exact other way around.”
Online fashion retailer ModCloth, for example, announced this year that its website would shut down on Black Friday and the company would donate US$5 million worth of merchandise to a non-profit organization.
“It’s been fun, Black Friday. You had the deals and the steals, but this year we’re looking for the feels,” the company wrote in a blog post.
Outdoor retailer REI, on the other hand, has closed its stores on Black Friday for the past two years, given their employees a paid day off, and encouraged people to partake in a new tradition and head outside instead.
These brands are mimicking a consumer shift away from mass consumption, said Giesler.
Once fringe activist movements like Buy Nothing Day—an anti-consumerism protest held on the same day as Black Friday—have seeped into the mainstream as more people embrace minimalism and choose conscious consumption.
“My neighbours left and right would unsurprisingly now say, ‘You know, we no longer do the mall thing. We no longer do the Black Friday thing,”’ said Giesler.
Last year, Thanksgiving weekend sales in stores in the U.S. were down 4.2%, while foot traffic fell 4.4%, according to data from RetailNext, a retail analytics firm.
Two factors seemed to have altered how people view Black Friday, said JoAndrea Hoegg, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business.
Sales now last about a week, rather than being a single-day event, she said, and the internet has given consumers the ability to find great deals year round.
“[There] seems to be less of an urgency about the purchases,” she said. “It’s sort of less of a hype that this is the one day of the year—this and Boxing Day—that you can really, you know, get that fantastic deal.”
Still, she believes the shopping spree remains popular, especially online.
American consumers spent US$30.39 billion online between Nov. 1 and 22, according to Adobe Analytics data, which covers 80% of transactions made with the country’s 100 largest e-retailers. That’s up nearly 18% from the same timeframe last year.
As of 5 p.m. ET on Thanksgiving day, the company said Americans already spent nearly 17% more than they did last year, shelling out $1.52 billion online.
For shoppers not interested in the social aspect of Black Friday shopping, online purchases make much more sense, Hoegg said.
“You don’t have to deal with the crowds and the deals are, by and large, just as good.”
Certain industries in particular are experiencing a Black Friday renaissance online, said Giesler, highlighting that technology firms are known to offer “legendary” sales.
Shoppers looking to buy an Amazon Alexa, a Phillips Hue system, a Nest thermostat or other trendy technology, he said, scour the internet for Black Friday deals.
“I may not go for the big-box television flat screen at Best Buy,” Giesler said. “But I may go to Amazon, I may go to Nest or to Ecobee to buy myself a little bit of technology.”
How to track Black Friday spending
A recent week ahead report from Scotiabank said Black Friday sales are tougher to track than they have been in the past. Why? Derek Holt, vice-president and head of Capital Markets Economics, says, “Sales used to be more concentrated on the two days, but retailers have for years introduced pre-Black Friday sales and opened on Thanksgiving such that the concentrated effect is less discernable.” As a result, it’s not as simple to use late-November sales to predict holiday trends.
If you want to try, Holt says the following sources are among those consulted to get sales numbers.
IBM Coremetrics: these are used to track web traffic and spending on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and are available after the Monday.
National Retailers Federation: it offers “a poll that offers dollar amounts spent and breakdowns by both ‘cyber spending’ and bricks and mortar shopping.” It’s also available after Monday.
International Council of Shopping Centers: check this group for “regular weekly data (seasonally adjusted) on shopping tendencies,” says Holt. The data is available on Wednesdays.
Amazon workers join the resistance
Workers at a half dozen Amazon distribution centres in Germany, and one in Italy, walked off the job Friday, in a protest timed to coincide with “Black Friday” to demand better wages from the American online giant.
In Germany, Ver.di union spokesman Thomas Voss said some 2,500 workers were on strike at Amazon facilities in Bad Hersfeld, Leipzig, Rheinberg, Werne, Graben and Koblenz. In a warehouse near Piacenza, in northern Italy, some workers walked off the job to demand “dignified salaries.”
The German union has been leading a push since 2013 for higher pay for some 12,000 workers in Germany, arguing Amazon employees receive lower wages than others in retail and mail-order jobs. Amazon says its distribution warehouses in Germany are logistics centres and employees earn relatively high wages for that industry.
The strikes in Germany are expected to end Saturday.
Amazon Germany defended its position, saying it was a “fair and responsible employer” that offers “attractive jobs.”
“The strikes will not affect us keeping our word to our customers, as the overwhelming majority of our workers are continuing their normal work,” the company told The Associated Press.
The Italian action, a one-day strike, was hailed by one of the nation’s umbrella union leaders, the UIL’s Carmelo Barbagallo, as having “enormous symbolic value because it’s clear that progress, innovation and modernity can’t come at the expense and the interests of workers.”
The chief of the CISL umbrella labour syndicate, Annamaria Furlan, called on Amazon to work with unions for “proper industrial relations, employment stability and dignified salaries.”
The Italian strike at the facility near Piacenza was called for permanent workers. The unions advised workers who are on short-term, work-on-demand contracts to stay on the job, so they wouldn’t risk losing future gigs.
Amazon says it has created 2,000 full-time jobs in Italy, where unemployment remains stubbornly high.
Amazon’s head of personnel at the Piacenza-area centre, Salvatore Iorio, told Italy’s Sky TG24 TV on Friday that despite the strike, the facility was keeping “our commitment to serve our clients.”
Asked about union complaints that workers there did repetitive physical tasks to the point of experiencing health problems, Iorio said the company “balances” positions at work areas to avoid any such problems.