Should Your Brand Abandon Black Friday?

A few years ago on our podcast, we discussed the way Black Friday was quickly growing and expanding like an alien blob swallowing everything in its path. This was around the time more stores decided to open their doors on Thanksgiving, creating the new term “Gray Thursday”. This was 2012, the peak of Black Friday Madness, when shoppers spent $59.1 billion on Black Friday weekend.

Since that time Black Friday weekend numbers have dipped—first lightly in 2013 to $57.4 billion, and then more dramatically in 2014 to $50.9 billion. (Those numbers come from this article).

Black Friday Weekend Shopping Statistics

Black Friday Weekend Shopping Statistics from About.com

Our prediction in that podcast, which seems like it may be coming to fruition now, is that Black Friday would eventually peak and the inevitable decline would begin. Consumers would become oversaturated, the novelty would wear off, the Web would make online shopping easier, and retailers would begin spreading deals and creating their own special events throughout the holiday season.

All those things have begun to occur. That along with some notable changes in approach by brands and marketers, which we’ll discuss a little more below, have sparked the question…

Has Black Friday Lost Its Marketing Power?

Along with the sales numbers above, this year has seen some significant sign posts pointing to the slow demise of Black Friday. Most notably, some brands are actually using a push away from Gray Thursday and Black Friday as a marketing tool. Call it counterprogramming to appeal to the masses who have become fed-up with the onslaught of Black Friday consumerism.

REI Closes Stores, Tells People to Go Outside Instead on Black Friday

People on the email list of REI, a popular retailer of outdoor products, received this email in late October:

REI Black Friday Eamil

Email sent to customers by REI

REI chose to abandon the traditional Black Friday marketing and instead market against it. They haven’t just stated they are keeping their stores closed on Black Friday, they’ve created a whole marketing campaign around it—one that encourages people to head outdoors instead and even has its own hashtag for social sharing, #optoutside.

It’s a smart move by the retailer, one that has garnered a lot of free PR for the company with TV news reports and articles in publications like USA Today. It’s also gained the company a lot of goodwill with its core audience, and even inspired a California nonprofit to offer free admission to 49 state parks on Black Friday.

REI Website Screenshot

Here’s what visitors see when they visit the URL rei.com/black-friday

Marshalls Encourages Folks to Focus on Family on Gray Thursday

Another retailer using their marketing to touch on the growing backlash is Marshalls. While the company and its affiliate stores (T.J. Maxx and HomeGoods) will still be open on Black Friday, they are pushing back against the expansion of the sales event into Thanksgiving with their “bring back the holidays” advertising. They are among a group of retailers opposed to Gray Thursday.

This Marshalls’ commercial which has been making the TV rounds positions the brand as one focused on family that doesn’t want its customers sitting in parking lots instead of around the dinner table:



It’s another sly play that many people will no doubt respond to in a positive way.

Is Black Friday Knock, Knock, Knocking on Heaven’s Door?

Although the tides seem to be turning with headlines like this one, it’s doubtful Black Friday will go away anytime soon. It’s too ingrained, too profitable and it still has too many big fans. But while it won’t just disappear, we will probably see Black Friday shrink in scale in the coming years. We’ll also probably see more retailers (both brick-and-mortar and online) develop their own Black Friday-like holiday sales events.

Should your brand stick with Black Friday? Like anything else, it depends what you’re getting out of it versus what you’re putting in. When you start seeing diminishing returns that make you question your efforts, it’s probably time to try something else.

Maybe that something else isn’t so much abandoning Black Friday as it is shifting your marketing approach to focus less on deals! deals! deals! and more on something that will connect with people in another way—like giving out free Thanksgiving meals on “Orange Wednesday”, splitting the day’s profits with a popular nonprofit, or delivering merchandise directly to people’s homes for one day only.

You might be amazed at the difference doing something different will make for your business on Black Friday.