Carolyn Atherholt has been waking at the crack of dawn for years. It’s an occupational hazard for a baker. But Black Friday is the one day it just doesn’t seem worth it.
“I’m used to getting up early, but I don’t want to get up early to go shopping,” says Atherholt.
Many consumers are thinking like Atherholt these days, leading the traditional concept of Black Friday — long considered the day to hit the stores for the best deals — on a slow march toward obsolescence.
Atherholt once made those groggy 6 a.m. store runs with the deal-crazed masses in search of everything from electronics at fire-sale prices to bargain basement cashmere. Not anymore.
“If you look around, you can find things [on sale]. You don’t have to wait until Black Friday,” says the 49 year-old co-owner of Carolyn’s Cupcakes and Taqueria el Vecino in Decatur, Ga.
This year, Black Friday could make a bit of a comeback as the economy slowly strenthens, with 55 percent of shoppers surveyed by Accenture saying they would shop the day after Thanksgiving. That’s up from a low of 44 percent in 2011.
But the number of people physically going to a store to shop for deals on Black Friday is on the decline.
The continued growth of online shopping, a compressed shopping season and the holiday creep that has resulted in most major stores opening on Thanksgiving Day have all helped decrease the overall importance of Black Friday.
“Back in the day, Black Friday was Black Friday and stuff happened on that day. Now Black Friday is a season,” says Mark LoCastro, spokesman for consumer website DealNews.com. “Some people think the whole concept of Black Friday is dead because it is just another shopping day. Some people think Black Friday will never die.”
Both groups are probably right.
Consumers have a lot of options for holiday shopping, and which one they choose is largely a matter of preference.
The number of people shopping on Black Friday may on the rebound, but almost half of those consumers are now shopping online.
In 2012, 47.5 percent of shoppers during Black Friday Weekend shopped online, according to data from the National Retail Federation (NRF). Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday shoppers split almost equally between online and in-store. Online shopping is expected to increase this year.
“The majority of people will be shopping online,” says LoCastro. And they are not necessarily losing out on big deals.
Dealnews data from previous years has shown that up to 70 percent of in-store Black Friday deals are available online for the same price. And recent data reveals that some of the best deals are offered on Thursday and Sunday. “[Black Friday] has nothing to do with the deals at all. It is a cultural phenomenon,” LoCastro said.
That cult-like following may be key to keeping the Black Friday fires burning.
Sharron Lennon, professor of apparel merchandising at Indiana University, has studied Black Friday shoppers since 2006. She’s found that people who go to stores on Black Friday fall into one of two groups: those who do it for the experience and those who plan to score big bargains.
“There are families, generations of women, who go out every Black Friday,” Lennon says. “They want to get bargains, but they also look at it as a bonding experience.”
These hold-outs and some new entrants, primarily millennials — the largest demographic group shopping in-store on Black Friday last year (72 percent according to NRF data) — may preserve the tradition of Black Friday for now. But with 36 percent of millennials shopping on Thanksgiving Day last year, they are also aiding its decline.
Black Friday is still considered the kick-off to holiday shopping season, and it remains one of the biggest shopping events of the year. The name derives from the belief that many stores make a big chunk of their holiday profits on that day.
But now stores put up holiday decorations right after Halloween and start promoting holiday toys and gift items long before late November.
This year, the holiday creep reached fever pitch thanks to fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Retailers’ holiday themed television ads aired as early as September with announcements of price matching, layaway and other holiday shopping incentives following soon after.
Two years ago, there were few stores open on Thanksgiving Day. This year, most major retailers and some malls will open by 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Consumers and workers may have lobbied to keep Thanksgiving Day sacred, but NRF data shows, 28 percent of people who shopped during the holiday weekend in 2012 did it on Thanksgiving Day.
“Black Friday is still a very important day for consumers and a day to look for great deals, but with holiday shopping so spread out, how will that impact it?” says Trae Bodge, senior editor for RetailMeNot. “Black Friday will become less important as a shopping day and more of a long [shopping] weekend.”