Is Black Friday Still Relevant? Depends on Who You Ask

Conflicting signals for the season's traditional shopping start

Author: Andria Cheng

November 3, 2017

Is Black Friday, once the starting gate for the mad holiday shopping dash, becoming irrelevant?

It turns out the answer is less than black and white.

While several recent studies have suggested that increased online promotions and retailers’ ever-earlier or extended Black Friday-type doorbuster deals are killing consumers’ appetite to shop the day after Thanksgiving, other polls point to the contrary. Similar debates have also been made about the relevancy of Cyber Monday and Thanksgiving day itself.

An October survey by Nielsen of nearly 1,200 US consumers found that 61% of consumers planned to shop on Black Friday, up from 54% last year. And 49% of the consumers in the survey, which was released on Thursday, say they plan to start their holiday shopping on Thanksgiving evening.

“Black Friday is alive and well,” shopping app Flipp declared in the headline of a study also released Thursday. In its September survey of 1,000 consumers, conducted by Ipsos, half of US consumers said “they will probably or definitely shop on Black Friday or Cyber Monday” to not miss out on holiday deals. One reason: nearly a third of consumers in the survey see Black Friday as “an opportunity to find promotions that aren’t available at any other time of the year.”

Those findings stand in contrast to other studies that point to a declining interest in Black Friday. A recent Accenture survey of 1,500 consumers found that some 52% of consumers are less inclined to shop in-store and online on Black Friday this year compared to a few years ago. Its study also had similarly discouraging signs for Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday shopping.

In that study, more than two-fifths of consumers said they are less motivated to shop on Black Friday because they can get as good a deal on other days.

A Market Track survey of 1,000 US shoppers in September, meanwhile, found only about 40% said they plan to shop in-store on Black Friday.

“Consumers no longer have to wait until November to kick off holiday shopping,” PwC said recently in its 2017 holiday outlook report. “More holidays year-round, including some that are retailer generated, mean more opportunities for discounts and promotions…. The decline of Black Friday is hardly news at all, especially from its glory days heralding the start of the in-store holiday shopping season.”

PwC’s study found that the percentage of consumers who plan to shop on Black Friday has dropped to 35% this year from 59% in 2015.

While the relevancy of Black Friday is still subject to debate, ever-earlier promotions appear to be reducing the number of shoppers who start late in the season.

According to the National Retail Federation’s survey of 7,350 consumers conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, the  percentage of consumers who plan to begin their holiday shopping in November rose to a record 42.2% this year from 41.4% last year and 38.3% in 2007, while those who plan to start shopping the last two weeks of December has declined to a record low of 2.4% this year from a peak of 5.6% in 2004.

“The last-minute shoppers have moved their timing up,” said NPD Group’s chief industry analyst, Marshal Cohen, in a release this week.