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Selling the Season: A Marketer’s Guide to Black Friday

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It is no secret that the weeks preceding Christmas are typically the peak selling season for retailers in the United States. As people purchase gifts, decorations, and food for celebrations, sales increase dramatically and retailers roll out discounts to draw in more buyers. In many cases, the Christmas shopping season can begin as early as October. Perhaps this is why some estimates suggest that a quarter of all personal shopping spending takes place during the holiday shopping season. The National Retail Federation reported that, “Holiday retail sales during 2018 grew a lower-than-expected 2.9 percent over the same period in 2017 to $707.5 billion.” While the government shutdown greatly impacted 2018 holiday sales, NRF still measured a 0.7 percent increase in the three-month holiday season. The federation also noted that holiday shopping moved up to October, with its retail sales up 5.7 percent. The last three months of the year are now the season of spending, and Black Friday has become a shopping tradition almost as popular as Thanksgiving itself.

During the season, retailers have added additional shopping holidays to the roster alongside Black Friday, both to increase sales and generate interest. However, in recent years many stores have pledged not to open on Thanksgiving Day, which would force workers to spend the holiday away from their families. A more recent holiday addition is Cyber Monday, the name of which was coined in 2005, “because people were making purchases from their computers at work, where the Internet connections were faster and their kids couldn’t get a sneak peek at their gifts,” according to Reader’s Digest. Cyber Monday falls on the Monday directly following Black Friday, and once the term was used, Cyber Monday sales skyrocketed. That Monday in 2005, online sales reached almost a half-billion dollars, a 26 percent increase from the previous year. 

These sales show no sign of slowing down. CNBC reported that in 2018, “Cyber Monday sales surged to new highs, with a record $7.9 billion spent online that day, an increase of 19.3 percent from a year ago.” Cyber Monday gives retailers the opportunity to market to consumers for a longer period of time, while benefiting from the shopping frenzy surrounding Black Friday weekend. More and more consumers are shopping online, choosing convenience over the crush of other shoppers. They can be sure the item they want is in stock and find one from another retailer if not.

Black Friday and Beyond: Strategies for Success

The post-Thanksgiving holiday shopping weekend is not as self-contained as it used to be. Increased sales happen before and after the day, so marketers are expanding their efforts to attract customers beyond those who shop on Friday. They no longer wait until the last minute to advertise or end discounts as soon as the stores close on Black Friday. The key is “offering Black Friday deals a week early, and extending Cyber Monday through the beginning of December,” according to Business News Daily. They extend business hours, opening as early as midnight and remaining open overnight through the next business day. Corporations such as BigCommerce even offer how-to guides to prepare for the onslaught of customers, including tips such as checking website speed, physical store setup, and brand promotion. How else do retailers draw in shoppers to boost their holiday sales?


Because consumers are accustomed to getting deep discounts on goods, marketers often heavily promote Black Friday deals early and often. They use all of the channels available to them so that buyers can plan their shopping trip with their stores in mind. This could be through emails, catalogs, online streaming services, commercials, and even in-store advertising before the holidays begin. Business News Daily suggests that retailers “encourage existing customers to make holiday purchases by engaging them with exclusive online offers, in-store events and personalized discounts and promotions.” Expectations are high for deals, and retailers must rise to the occasion if they want to see good sales numbers.

Digital and Social Selling

CNBC reported that, in 2018, “Online sales on Black Friday jumped 23.6 percent from a year ago.” As more and more people take their shopping out of stores and onto the Web, marketers increase digital spend to meet consumers where they are. This is only becoming more important as time goes on and more people choose to shop from home on Black Friday weekend. On social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, dedicated “buy” buttons allow users to shop directly from their timeline. Savvy marketers take advantage of this by posting about their products as often as possible. Social media is a vital part of both Black Friday and Cyber Monday strategy.

Leveraging Loyalty

It is common knowledge in sales that acquiring new customers requires more time and money than getting repeat revenue from loyal buyers. That is why marketers roll out personalized discounts and exclusive offers to existing customers to encourage holiday business. They also heavily promote existing loyalty programs to highlight their commitment to great customer service. A great way to establish loyalty is what BigCommerce calls personalization: “Sending tailored, personalized marketing messages to the right people at the right time will increase your odds of conversions and sales.” 

Mobile Optimization

“Transactions on mobile devices were up 55.6 percent Cyber Monday from last year to reach $2.2 billion in sales,” according to CNBC. With the rising popularity of mobile technology, customers are researching deals early and, in some cases, making purchases before the Thanksgiving holiday. They can buy from anywhere, so it is in retailers’ best interests to have a high-quality mobile presence. If companies have mobile apps, they make use of push notifications to alert customers to sales and special offers. CNBC says that “Walmart, as one example, has added store maps to its app ahead of the holidays, letting customers pinpoint exactly where an item is and plot out their trips before they arrive.” 

Pickup Options

It may seem old fashioned, but retailers offer in-store pickup for items ordered online. The logic behind this is simple: Foot traffic encourages sales. Once customers are in a retail space, they are more likely to make additional purchases in person. Shoppers get free shipping while retailers increase the likelihood of additional sales. Offering layaway months in advance can encourage more shopping before the holidays.

Added Value

Another way retailers draw business is by offering additional perks for shoppers who purchase their goods. Going beyond the product itself and thinking about the needs of the consumer are key. Good examples include free gift wrapping and extended warranties. This is especially useful for smaller businesses that cannot necessarily compete with large chains like Target and Walmart.

Learn to Think Like a Marketer at Concordia University, St. Paul

If you are interested in the marketing strategies behind Black Friday and other retail sales, Concordia University, St. Paul’s online marketing degree program may be right for you. The Bachelor of Science in Marketing provides comprehensive, relevant marketing education that can lead to successful careers in the business world.

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