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A 2021 Prediction: Black Friday Sees Its Shadow

Ushering in six more weeks of shopping deals to be had.


By Gina Pomponi



Black Friday shopping has been in vogue since the 1970s. Who hasn’t woken up at an ungodly hour to get the best deals on Black Friday? The tradition has become a staple in American culture. Retailers advertise their best deals of the season and lure holiday shoppers with “door busters” like a $200 big-screen TV or the toy of the season at the lowest price. With Thanksgiving week comes an abundance of ads touting storewide savings and early bird specials to drive sales … but it’s not just retail foot traffic this year.


As with most things in 2020, Black Friday experienced a major paradigm shift on both the consumer and advertiser front. Due to COVID-19, consumers of all ages were forced to shop much differently, moving from brick-and-mortar to purchasing most of their goods online. This created a year-over-year increase in e-commerce sales of more than 30 percent, with 2020 online sales matching those not previously projected until at least 2022.


Last year’s consumer buying behavior shift seems as though it’s here to stay. This has forced many previously traditional brick-and-mortar retailers to rapidly step up their ability to meet these demands. In addition to ramping up direct sales capabilities, advertisers are learning to dip their toes in the direct-to-consumer marketing arena.


Perhaps one of the biggest changes in 2020 was the length of Black Friday sales events. Best Buy kicked off its holiday TV campaign in late October, touting that Black Friday deals were extended through all of November. Several retailers followed suit, with month-long sales events — many including different weekly sales through to the Christmas holiday. Another big change was big retailers, such as Walmart, Target, and Kohls, closing on Thanksgiving Day last year for the first time in many years.


Being in the advertising industry, I always spend some time over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend watching TV commercials (I’m probably the only person that does this!). Last year, there was a big change in commercials and messaging to support a very different “online” Black Friday.


As expected, TV retail advertising was in full force all weekend with all the usual suspects. However, the commercial messaging was much more tailored to accommodate and speak directly to the consumer. Even major brands shifted toward direct-to consumer advertising. For example, the M&M’s Santa Claus ad included a URL for consumers to shop direct. Retailers like Kohls, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and others offered both online shopping and curbside pickup as alternatives in their commercials. Kay’s Jewelers’ TV spot provided consumers with three shopping options: online, virtual consultant, and in store.


These companies are finally realizing that they need to engage directly with the consumer, which is what I have been doing for more than 30 years. I predict major retailers will continue to take a direct-to-consumer approach for Black Friday advertising in 2021 — and in years to come. Should we really continue to call it “Black Friday”? Perhaps “Black November” is a more accurate descriptor.


Everyone knows the official date of Black Friday as the day after Thanksgiving. Not unlike last year, big retailers started their sales as early as October. These sales will not be limited to in-store purchases only. Online sales will lead the charge for holiday retail revenue. Or maybe I should say Amazon will lead the charge — with everyone else trying to catch up.


All of this is going to make Black Friday's online deals even more important. This year, you'll have a better chance of finding Black Friday big-screen TV deals in the comfort of your own home rather than waiting in line outside of a physical store at 4 a.m. Happy shopping!