In retail circles I suspect 2012 will be remembered as the year Black Friday jumped the shark. Black Friday competes with Super Saturday (the Saturday before Christmas) as the biggest shopping day of the year, and now Black Friday is no longer contained to Friday. Walmart, Target and many others opened their doors on Thanksgiving evening effectively making Black Friday nothing more than a branding position. But what ultimately ends Black Friday's relevance is the shopping ubiquity enabled by mobile commerce.
That same access will soon render Cyber Monday moot. Cyber Monday, with its rise owing to online access in the workplace, is as equally irrelevant due to household connectivity and alternate device options. Recognizing this, Amazon started its Cyber deals on Sunday while most retailers touted the ability to secure many of the same Black Friday deals online earlier on Thursday, allowing some consumers to give thanks for savings and being spared excess family time.
Last year in Digital Next I suggested that the challenge of major concern to Foursquare should be to expand its base beyond the coasts and a select few major metros. The reality is the problem was less about Foursquare and more about a shifting preference in purchase behavior. In-store Black Friday retail has become a social event for many. That will not end any time soon, but the pull of always on, always available is going to have massive implications for retailers.
Consider these two data points from Foursquare shared before the holiday weekend.
- More than half (52.9%) of shoppers who own smartphones plan to use their devices to research and make purchases this holiday season
- Roughly 4 in 10 (43%) will use a mobile device to redeem a voucher at in-store point of sale
Now look at how it played out this year. On Friday, IBM reports, mobile sales represented 16% of all revenue and 24% of all retail site visits. Those numbers are up from 9.8% and 16% respectively in 2011, signifying huge gains. The National Retail Federation (NRF) reported that more than 40% of all sales happened online – a cool $25 billion, which, using the IBM figures, translates to a projection of almost $10 billion in mobile sales over the three plus days.
For decades retailers have used Black Friday as a litmus test for the complete holiday season. It's an enabling moment that allows retailers to gauge the likelihood of profitability for the entire season and adjust accordingly based on the early numbers. Now, it seems that a robust Black Friday may, in fact, have little to do with a healthy holiday for retailers. Neil Irwin of the Washington Post laid claim to such with his post last week looking at the correlation, or lack thereof, between strong sales over the weekend and the entirety of the season for retailers.
There is little doubt that the retail world continues to evolve. Cyber Monday has been joined by online deals, mobile showrooming and direct mobile commerce as key inputs to a retailer's sales. As retailers look forward to technology's next act, I suspect they will see three major opportunities:
- Shopping gets more social. Shopping is an inherently social experience, as groups head out to stores together on Black Friday. But Facebook and Twitter are still playing a minor role, especially considering their influence throughout the rest of the year.
- Retailers use rewards. A key benefit of check-ins, bundles and rewards is they make comparison-shopping between stores more difficult. Retailers' ability to use digital offers to get people in-store and keep them buying is just gaining momentum.
- Consumers get more data. For several years travelers have been able to cross compare, not only among airlines but also against historical price points. The same feature set has not been available for retail. In the coming years as consumers can price compare items and also their historical deal patterns, we can expect a new wave of behavior.
These three shifts in technology will likely put an end to Black Friday as we have known it and lay the foundation for the next generation of retail commerce.