Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and…Black Thursday?

November 23rd, 2011 by Jamie Porter

After an exhausting day of travel, family and tryptophan overdose, the Black Friday tradition has a long track record of contributing to shopper sleep deprivation. But will this year’s collection of online deals and Thanksgiving Day sales be enough to deter bargain-hunters from a 4-a.m. wake-up this Friday?

It seems that the holiday season begins earlier and earlier each year. (When tinsel makes its annual debut in retail windows, it must be Halloween!) This means holiday deal season must come sooner, too. This year, with retail stores opening as early as 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving, perhaps shoppers will skip the post-turkey nap and shop through the night instead.

Retailers seem to be in a fierce race to capture sales first, maybe because of an expected increase in the number of economy-conscious deal-seekers. Whatever the reason behind the strategy, it is effectively spurring shoppers into action.

With Black Friday and Thursday sale details—leaked or intentionally released—posted online, bargain-hunters gained a useful planning tool this year. Dedicated shoppers can check their lists against promotions, compare prices, and map out their own retail route beforehand.

Downloadable coupons, mobile sites, apps, and social media make it even easier to save. An app, BFAds helps “plan your Black Friday shopping trip weeks in advance,” and @blackfriday Tweets a live stream of promotions from a shopping blog.

But with online purchase promotions advertised as well, will shoppers opt to follow a link to a 24/7 storefront instead? Amazon.com is tracking competitor deals and updating their own meet-or-beat pricing accordingly, proving shoppers may not have to brave the crowds and lines for the lowest price.

In the past, retailers have kept Black Friday deals a surprise, playing to customer curiosity while hiding promotions from competitors. But this new marketing strategy is resulting in more intense promotions, which may be irresistible to deal-driven consumers. As a Los Angeles Times article points out, retailers hope these aggressive marketing tactics don’t just crowd stores with “looky-loos with a tight grip on their wallets.”

Will earlier sales and customer adaptation ever send Black Friday into extinction? The Black Friday brand is a strong one, with plenty of brand equity, a distinct image, and loyal followers. Just as families have deep-rooted Thanksgiving traditions, they have those around Black Friday. Can retailers change those traditions?

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