Chaotic images of people clamouring to be the first through the doors to get their hands on hot deals have become synonymous with Black Friday in recent years.
However, the one-day shopping frenzy at malls and stores following American Thanksgiving may be on the decline as some consumers and retailers start to shun the tradition by either opting out entirely or turning to internet shopping instead.
“In the ’70s and ’80s if you wanted to distinguish yourself as a company you would participate in this event,” said Markus Giesler of York University’s Schulich School of Business in Toronto.
“Today it’s the exact other way around.”
Online fashion retailer ModCloth, for example, announced this year that its website would shut down on Black Friday and the company would donate US$5 million worth of merchandise to a non-profit organization.
“It’s been fun, Black Friday. You had the deals and the steals, but this year we’re looking for the feels,” the company wrote in a blog post.
Outdoor retailer REI, on the other hand, has closed its stores on Black Friday for the past two years, given their employees a paid day off, and encouraged people to partake in a new tradition and head outside instead.
These brands are mimicking a consumer shift away from mass consumption, said Giesler.
Once fringe activist movements like Buy Nothing Day — an anti-consumerism protest held on the same day as Black Friday — have seeped into the mainstream as more people embrace minimalism and choose conscious consumption.
“My neighbours left and right would unsurprisingly now say, ‘You know, we no longer do the mall thing. We no longer do the Black Friday thing,’” said Giesler.
Last year, Thanksgiving weekend sales in stores in the U.S. were down 4.2 per cent, while foot traffic fell 4.4 per cent, according to data from RetailNext, a retail analytics firm.
Two factors seemed to have altered how people view Black Friday, said JoAndrea Hoegg, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business.
Sales now last about a week, rather than being a single-day event, she said, and the internet has given consumers the ability to find great deals year round.
“(There) seems to be less of an urgency about the purchases,” she said. “It’s sort of less of a hype that this is the one day of the year — this and Boxing Day — that you can really, you know, get that fantastic deal.”
Still, she believes the shopping spree remains popular, especially online.
American consumers spent US$30.39 billion online between Nov. 1 and 22, according to Adobe Analytics data, which covers 80 per cent of transactions made with the country’s 100 largest e-retailers. That’s up nearly 18 per cent from the same timeframe last year.
As of 5 p.m. ET on Thanksgiving day, the company said Americans already spent nearly 17 per cent more than they did last year, shelling out $1.52 billion online.
For shoppers not interested in the social aspect of Black Friday shopping, online purchases make much more sense, Hoegg said.
“You don’t have to deal with the crowds and the deals are, by and large, just as good.”
Certain industries in particular are experiencing a Black Friday renaissance online, said Giesler, highlighting that technology firms are known to offer “legendary” sales.
Shoppers looking to buy an Amazon Alexa, a Phillips Hue system, a Nest thermostat or other trendy technology, he said, scour the internet for Black Friday deals.
“I may not go for the big-box television flat screen at Best Buy,” Giesler said. “But I may go to Amazon, I may go to Nest or to Ecobee to buy myself a little bit of technology.”
Aleksandra Sagan, The Canadian Press