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PACEspectives: The State of Black Friday

News Story

This month, our faculty experts break down the trends and cultural significance of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the holiday shopping craze.

‘Tis the season…for consumer spending! Every year, millions of Americans participate in the rituals known as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, hoping to score deals on the most sought-after holiday season items—from the Xbox to the iPhone and everything in between. The kickoff of retail’s prime season is often considered a big deal for economic forecasters, and its outcomes can often define and determine trends for many big box businesses.

For this month’s PACEspectives, we asked some of our faculty experts about the state of Black Friday and holiday shopping—to which they provided insight as to trends to expect, realities of shopping in 2017, and the impact of changing cultural norms.

James Lawler, DPS
Seidenberg School of CSIS
Professor, Information Technology

Cybershopping has improved noticeably for online shoppers, as retailers have increased investment in internal back-end processes and systems to manage peak period reliability for shopping.  Cybershopping has however not improved noticeably in increased investment in external front-end systems or internal back-end systems to manage the increased need for privacy and security of the shopping. Ironically, as more and more shoppers are on shopping sites to buy products and services, the perception if not the reality is that less and less security is behind the processing systems of the retailers, as observed in the greatly increasing intrusions by external nefarious parties into the systems.

Retailers may lose more and more shoppers on Cyber Monday if the security of the systems are in question.

Larry Chiagouris, PhD
Lubin School of Business
Professor, Marketing

Black Friday: Online Sales Will Dominate, But Not for All Products

A recent survey issued by the research company NPD found that consumers in the United States expect to do 40% of the 2017 holiday shopping online. Furthermore, consumers expect to spend, on average, more than $300 online compared to brick and mortar purchases.

Some experts think that this is a major shift toward online holiday purchases and they are probably correct. However, as with all major trends, there will likely be major exceptions we should expect.

First, there remain many consumers who might purchase online, but only after they have inspected and shopped in stores for the products that they purchased online. In addition, for some products, many consumers will not want to purchase online because they want to touch and sample the product in person, and by the time that they do it, there may not be enough time to order the products if they are to be bought too close to the holiday gift exchange moment. In other words, many last-minute shoppers will run out of time and purchase in-store.

Finally, brick and mortar stores will be fighting back. The managers of retail shops know that with the right holiday user in-store experience, shoppers will visit stores and open their wallets. We can expect that brick and mortar stores will pull out all the stops to make this year’s Black Friday as much of an in-store visit occasion as it will become a pick-and-click online moment.

Eddie Mantell, PhD
Lubin School of Business
Professor, Finance

Black Friday is the day following Thanksgiving Day in the United States, (the fourth Thursday of November). Since 1952, it has been regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season in the US, and most major retailers open very early (and more recently, during overnight hours) and offer promotional sales. It has routinely been the busiest shopping day of the year since 2005.

The table below displays some statistical data pertaining to Black Friday:

Year Date Shoppers (millions) Average spent Total spent
2014 November 28 233 $380.95 $50.9 billion
2013 November 29 249 $407.02 $57.4 billion
2012 November 23 247 $423.66 $59.1 billion
2011 November 25 226 $398.62 $52.5 billion
2010 November 26 212 $365.34 $45.0 billion

The news media usually gives heavy play to reports of Black Friday shopping and their implications for the commercial success of the Christmas shopping season, but the relationship between Black Friday sales and retail sales for the full holiday season is quite weak and may even be negative.

Black Friday is quickly losing its meaning on many fronts because many stores opened on Thanksgivingand a lot of sales started even earlier than that. Online shopping also made the day less important.

The term "Cyber Monday," a neologism invented in 2005, refers to the Monday immediately following Black Friday based on a trend that retailers began to recognize in 2003 and 2004. Retailers noticed that many consumers, who were too busy to shop over the Thanksgiving weekend or did not find what they were looking for, shopped for bargains online that Monday from home or work.

A significant impact of the sales on Black Friday is its influence on the behavior of stock markets. If sales revenues on Black Friday are weaker than expected, that fact is thought by some to be a leading indicator of the stock price movements in the future.

Judith Pajo, PhD
Dyson College of Arts and Sciences
Assistant Professor, Anthropology

Holiday Shopping: An Anthropological Perspective

Are we crazy? On Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and throughout the holiday season, we spend billions of dollars on gifts. (According to the National Retail Federation, holiday shoppers are expected to spend $682 billion in November and December this year.) We also spend countless hoursI wish we had a statistic for thatdriving, parking, searching in stores and online, comparing models, purchasing gifts, and returning some of them, for cash or for credit, perhaps in anticipation of another, better model that will be released soon.

We tend to care a lot about the “goods” (Amazon Echo, Apple iPhone, Microsoft Xbox, Samsung Galaxy) and the people we give them to (family, friends, co-workers, pets), and less about the “bads.” Or have you thought about how much energy will be required and waste will be generated to support our holiday traditions? Think about the gifts we wrap and unwrap, and all that wrapping paper (!!!), and their impact on the climate. It is unprecedented and needs to be put into perspective.

Anthropologists, having studied gift-giving in cultures quite different from our own, have found that gift-giving is universal; it is characteristic of human societies around the world. That said, everything about gifts is not universal: What is a good gift? How much do we give? To whom? When and how often? All these particulars depend on the cultures, the societies, and also the historical moment.

In archaic societies, gifts were exchanged before money was used, and Marcel Mauss, author of The Gift, now a classic, taught us to see through the material object to the spirit of the gift. He called it the “hau,” which, in Maori, is the word for “the spirit of the thing given.” The spirit travels with the gift, from person to person, and establishes important connections between individuals; it defines the economy and forms the basic structure of society.

In modern times, traditions of gift-giving studied by anthropologists include the Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea. There, local men embarked on canoes to gift items made of shell to other men on other islands in a craze known as the kula ritual. And local women gave yams, raw or cooked, and bundles of banana leaves, in elaborate rituals that marked birth, marriage, and death; such gifts were used to measure the strength of matrilineages. The Nuer, in South Sudan, were cattle-herders, and in their tradition cows provided milk, meat, and blood, but the Nuer also composed poems and sang songs about their cows, fought over cows, and exchanged cows as gifts; in the form of bridewealth and bloodwealth, cows were used to measure the strength of patrilineages. In later times, cows could be replaced by guns––how crazy is that––in such ritual exchanges, because, the Nuer must have understood, it was the spirit of the gift that mattered more than the object itself.

Which brings us to the present. How do we compare? Our culture of gift-giving has certainly exploded in terms of the material wealth, energy, and natural resources required to produce and consume all those commodities. But what about the spirit of the gifts we give? When we convert cash into “gifts for her,” “gifts for him,” or “gifts under $25” (does that qualify for free shipping?), what happens to the spirit of the gift? What happens to the spirits of the gifts we return, ritually, to stores? How rich (or poor) are the social relations (with humans and with brands) that we establish through such cultural practices? And what are the effects on the environment?

Perhaps we are not crazy. We need to give gifts. But, say, we spend less time this holiday season being possessed by material objects, and invest more time in developing thoughtful alternatives. It might also help the planet if we dematerialized our holiday traditions, and focused more on the “hau” in the relationships that are important to us. Would it be terrible if we reduced gifts to holiday cards? What about gift cards? Or plain cash? It sounds crazy, but how about we measure the strength of our social ties in cash––the one thing WE ALL CARE ABOUT in our culture––without taking a detour through tons of unnecessary objects that threaten our climate?