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The Future of Black Friday is a Hybrid; Call it “Black Weekend”

The future of Black Friday will be a hybrid, a Black Weekend full of online and in-store events, and in-store events with online technology. To stay ahead, companies need to offer deals that are great, not good. They must give consumers an incentive that goes beyond the new norm of daily deals.

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Black Friday got its name because it historically has been the day when many retailers’ accounting books have gone from “the red,” or losses, to “the black,” or profits. But we may as well start calling it Black Weekend these days as Black Friday increasingly merges with Cyber Monday.

Black Friday traditionally has been a day of mostly in-person shopping. In fact, Black Friday is the biggest in-person spending day of the year, and Cyber Monday is the biggest online spending day of the year. In-person spending clearly trumps online spending on Black Friday.

Last year consumers spent $50.9 billion in-store while a more subtle $1.5 billion online/mobile on Black Friday. Yet, Cyber Monday, the Monday after Black Friday, reached $2 billion in 2014, which was up 17 percent from the previous year.

Why do these numbers matter? Because the future of Black Friday, or rather Black Weekend, will be a hybrid. It will blend consumers’ online and offline shopping experiences.

Black Friday will remain a vibrant day in American shopping tradition, but it will be different and almost unrecognizable. It will become a hybrid in different ways: it will blend with Cyber Monday, and it will become Black Weekend due to the “holiday creep.”

In the future, consumer behavior will be blended between online/mobile environments and in-store environments. Retailers and storefronts will have more kiosks and tablet/mobile-based online shopping platforms to help the consumer. These technological advances will coincide along with the role of the retail salesperson. Smart stores will give the consumer an option of interacting with a salesperson, technology, or both.

“Holiday creep” refers to merchandise and advertising for a holiday starting a bit earlier each year. I documented this phenomenon in a five-year study of Valentine’s Day, which showed that consumers will resist an entire market when they feel that a holiday consumption tradition is forced and market-constructed to a point where commercialism outshines the purpose of a tradition.

Holiday creep does produce some consumer resistance, and shoppers could back off of spending as a result. If the holiday creep continues with Black Weekend, it may breed an environment that advertisers and retailers should note as ripe for ensuing market resistance, which is not beneficial for our economy in terms of sales and jobs.

There is also another dark side to Black Friday. Online, deals sell out and site traffic can cause a site to slow or crash. Online browsing and spending of consumers will also continue to creep in to the in-person store experience.

Even with $50.9 billion of in-store sales last year, there are issues with store crowding. An extreme, yet sensationalized storyline involves injuries suffered as mobs of consumers fight over products. Stores can be too packed, and the crowds are not worth fighting.

Some see Black Friday as the day when people need to rise early to get good deals, but the analytics show that most consumers actually spend the most in stores around 1:30 p.m. and online around 9 p.m. on Cyber Monday.

A threat to Black Weekend is the proliferation of other shopping promotions and daily deal websites. When there is an influx of promotions, the traditional big sales promotions days become diluted. This is called promotion creep.

Why wait for Black Weekend when marketers launch deals daily? Our consumer studies on daily deal websites show that consumers embrace daily deals year-round — just as consumers prefer small acts of love year-round rather than on one market-constructed day, Valentine’s Day.

But there is a bright side that I think is underappreciated. Events bring people together, and isn’t that togetherness and community the essence of holidays in America?

The future of Black Friday will be a hybrid, a Black Weekend full of online and in-store events, and in-store events with online technology. To stay ahead, companies need to offer deals that are great, not good. They must give consumers an incentive that goes beyond the new norm of daily deals.

Angeline Close Scheinbaum is an associate professor in the Stan Richards School of Advertising & Public Relations at The University of Texas at Austin with expertise in consumer psychology, social media and event marketing.

A version of this op-ed appeared in the Austin American Statesman.

To view more op-eds from Texas Perspectives, click here.

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