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Does Black Friday Even Matter Anymore?

By Rich Duprey – Nov 20, 2018 at 6:00AM

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As Christmas sales pop up in October, the future of the unofficial launch to the shopping season is questioned.

With holiday creep pushing the launch of the year-end shopping season back into October, some may question whether any value remains in deeming Black Friday as the unofficial official start to the season.

When a Microsoft Xbox One S and One X can be had online at GameStop on Oct. 24 for $100 under their regular sale price, and Walmart issues an "early access pass" for its Black Friday deals on Oct. 30, why should consumers even bother thinking about the Friday after Thanksgiving as an event?

Holiday shopping crowd at a mall.

Image source: Getty Images.

Buffeted by Turkey Day sales

There will always be the early birds, the consumers who want to complete their holiday shopping by Veterans Day. And retailers will want to pull forward as much revenue as possible as early as possible to ensure they make their quarterly numbers. Yet lots of people will only begin gearing up for the December holidays once they've finished their turkey dinner. They just don't want to think about it much before then. But when they're ready, they're ready.

That's why stores began opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day, giving folks the opportunity to get a jump on the ridiculous crowds that battled for the last Furby or Tickle Me Elmo doll. It really started in 2013 as a means of working around a calendar anomaly that had six fewer shopping days than usual between Black Friday and Christmas. Having recently survived the Great Recession, and fearful the country might go into a double-dip recession, retailers flung open their doors en masse on Thanksgiving Day to squeeze a few extra dollars out of the season.

It's continued each year since, but has never really caught on. And some, like specialty outdoor retailer REI, not only don't open on Thanksgiving, but also don't open on Black Friday, either, making a statement about where people's priorities should be.

Opening on Thanksgiving has generated some backlash from consumers who object to the encroachment of consumerism on a day meant for being with family -- as well as from employees who had to work the holiday, even if they were paid overtime.

But you'll still find big chains like Walmart, Target, and Best Buy opening their doors in late afternoon or early evening Thanksgiving Day, while troubled retailer J.C. Penney gets the party started at 2 p.m. Sears Holdings, which recently filed for bankruptcy protection, is waiting until 6 p.m.

Sales move online

Still, data from retail analyst ShopperTrak show the number of people going to the stores Thanksgiving Day is steadily decreasing since it peaked in 2014. A better option is the online channel, where Adobe estimated that Thanksgiving Day last year saw an 18.3% year-over-year increase in online sales, which clocked in at $2.87 billion.

But that all pales compared with online sales generated on Black Friday itself. Online shopping on Black Friday last year hit an estimated $5.03 billion, a 16.9% year-over-year increase. 

Some estimates say that online Black Friday sales will grow 15% this year to $5.8 billion, with the potential for the day's sales to cross $6 billion for the first time.

A person entering credit card information online

Image source: Getty Images.

However, it's becoming more common to look at the five-day period from Thanksgiving Day to Cyber Monday to get a sense of holiday spending, which is now being called "Thanksgiving Weekend." estimates $340.33 will be spent by the average shopper over the five-day holiday period, a 1.4% increase over the $335.47 spent per shopper in 2017. The National Retail Federation predicts 164 million consumers will shop Thanksgiving weekend, and while 21% will shop Thanksgiving Day, fully 71% will shop Black Friday itself.

This is why Black Friday still matters, even if it is slowly morphing into "Couch Friday" as more consumers make use of the ease and convenience of e-commerce to do their holiday shopping. Because the day has been ingrained in consumer consciousness as the biggest day for sales, and retailers are always looking for a hook to hang an event on, Black Friday will continue to be a day that matters to those looking to spend money and those looking to make money.

Teresa Kersten, an employee of LinkedIn, a Microsoft subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Rich Duprey has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Adobe Systems. The Motley Fool owns shares of GameStop and Microsoft and has the following options: short January 2019 $16 calls on GameStop. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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