Drive by any shopping center early on the day after Thanksgiving, and you'll see crowds of eager shoppers ready to pounce on the hottest gifts. However, with online deals catching on like wildfire, are the days of waiting in the freezing cold and trampling fellow shoppers nearing an end?
As it's done with nearly everything else in society, the Internet has revolutionized the shopping experience. As such, online deals pose a growing threat to the traditional scramble of frenzied shoppers who'd sacrifice hours and days to get the latest gadgets at cheap prices.
Will online deals doom Black Friday? Let's look at four reasons this could be the case and one way Black Friday may never quite become a dinosaur.
Black Friday, by definition, lasts 24 hours. However, online sales on and around this holiday last much longer. Retailers increasingly offer online deals on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday. Many offer deals over the weekend as well.
According to comScore, Americans spent $4.3 billion online from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday in 2012, with double-digit increases on every day compared with 2011. On Black Friday itself, online sales rose 28% while in-store sales dropped 1.8%. Clearly, consumers increasingly favor online deals over those in stores, especially since they can find the former over a five-day period.
Simply put, it's a lot easier to find the best deals by browsing the Web than to sift through newspaper ads and drive from store to store. The explosion of mobile devices has made it even more convenient to shop online, as shoppers can order their gifts from just about anywhere. Many online retailers witnessed double-digit growth in mobile traffic, and one site, PriceGrabber, saw an increase of more than 3,200% in smartphone traffic in 2012.
Without fail, shoppers have been seriously injured or even killed in the Black Friday melee. A few samples from recent years:
- A Virginia Wal-Mart manager was hospitalized after being trampled.
- At least five people were hospitalized after being trampled in a Long Island Wal-Mart, including a worker who died, after thousands broke into the store.
- Two men shot each other to death in a California Toys "R" Us after the women with them got in a fight.
- An Ohio woman jumped onto a man's back to get "her" TV, assaulted him, and shouted taunts as police and security intervened.
Incidents like these occur every year, so much so that retailers have been reminded of crowd management safety facts, or even rules in certain regions. Meanwhile, the risk of being attacked or trampled by other shoppers drops to zero when shopping online.
Cyber Monday and other online deals are typically comparable to those found in stores on Black Friday. Thus, on the surface, the choice appears to be a wash.
However, online shopping has two distinct advantages in this realm. One is free shipping, as many online retailers offer this perk on Cyber Monday. Some even do so with no minimum purchase requirement. As such, there's often no reason to head out in the cold and wait in line.
Second, it's a lot easier to comparison-shop online than in stores. With sites such as Amazon.com and eBay, shoppers can instantly compare prices and other features and select the best value. Of course, they can also compare by simply pulling up a few sites and punching the same item in for the best price.
There is one caveat
Some shoppers see Black Friday as more than just a day to get steep discounts. They actually enjoy the mad rush.
A 2012 survey by Qualtrics found that half get "excited" by the Black Friday shopping experience. This could be because some enjoy competitive shopping. Others probably enjoy the loud jingles, gaudy decorations, and overall holiday atmosphere.
Online shopping may be eroding Black Friday's appeal, but the classic shopping holiday should survive for a while. Logically speaking, longer sales, convenience, safety, and better deals make online shopping a superior option. However, logic doesn't always apply during the holiday shopping frenzy, and there will always be those who endure the blistering cold and mad dash to the video game aisle in Target for the simple thrill of it.