What retailers need to know about Black Friday 2021

For one, consumers are shopping early due to shipping delays and supply issues.
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Francis Scialabba

4 min read

Why is this year’s Black Friday different from all other Black Fridays? The 2020 holiday season was, to use a buzzword, “unprecedented”: Big-box retailers opted for curbside pickup and e-comm pushes to slow the spread of Covid. Now, it’s 2021. Things have somewhat returned to normal (sort of?), but Black Friday will never be the same.

  • Retail giants like Walmart, Target, and Best Buy are keeping their doors closed this Thanksgiving once again.

“Black Friday has traditionally been the single big splash event that defines the holiday season. And I think we’re moving to a world where Black Friday becomes less and less relevant...a world where there is no single big splash shopping event, but rather a rolling season of deals,” Mike Black, VP of marketing at e-comm insights firm Profitero, told Retail Brew.

Early-bird special: Black Friday is changing shape for a few reasons. For one, consumers are shopping earlier. Back-to-school buying started “at least a month earlier than ever before,” Black said. And last year, Profitero saw more sales happening on Amazon before the Cyber 5 period than after.

That’s “magnified this year,” due to shipping delays and supply issues, Black explained.

  • “Christmas decorations” is already the No. 7 top search term on Amazon in the UK.
  • 40% of consumers plan to do their holiday shopping earlier than last year, per Klarna’s survey on the season’s spending; 22% have already started.

Shoppers aren’t alone in tweaking their schedules, as retailers move the season earlier and earlier to capitalize on that $$$, Kearney’s Michael Brown told us.

  • This year, Target will start its “Deals Days” on October 10 (through October 12). Amazon, meanwhile, began rolling out “Black Friday–worthy” discounts on Monday to get a head start on the holidays.

“The impact of Black Friday has really been diminished over the last five years, as consumers are getting a lot of other big spending opportunities right around this timeframe,” Brown said.

Retailers, too, “don’t want to be as reliant on Black Friday,” Black noted.

Cyber Christmas: Black Friday kicks off a weekend of online-driven shopping, and we have Amazon to thank. Prices offered by the e-comm titan have historically averaged around 15% cheaper than other retailers in categories like toys and electronics, per Profitero data. So, deal-seeking shoppers are already trained to surf Amazon, and other sites, for discounts.

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“We’re seeing this democratization of Black Friday,” Black told us. While consumers in years past would have their go-to store for all their shopping, they’re starting to be “less loyal.”

“[Shoppers] going to be doing research across seven or eight retailers at a time just to find what’s available,” Black said, opening up opportunities for more brands. “Really any retailer with stock is going to be...the retailer that can win.”

Don’t sleep on the store: Still, as long as people are buying things, there will be those who want to shop in person. According to Sensormatic data, Black Friday will be the No.1 busiest holiday shopping day this year, accounting for approximately 40% of all holiday retail traffic. US holiday season foot traffic will be down between 10% and 15% from 2019, but in-store traffic has been slowly climbing since the beginning of August.

Black suggested exclusive in-store deals as a way for retailers to stand out, “giving that store shopper something special.” It’s important to carve out a specific category and create a “curated, less noisy experience for shoppers, versus Black Friday, where all the products are grouped together,” he added.

  • Online, retailers can replicate the ideal in-store experience by focusing on discovery tools, digital customer service, and making space for reviews, Black suggested.

Ever present: Retailers are doing whatever they can to stock up on all things holiday, whether that means leasing ships and shipping containers, or buying air-freight companies to combat the supply-chain crisis we’re reading about every day.

  • There aren’t enough trucks to transport goods to distribution centers, Kearney’s Brown explained, and not enough workers to ship them or fulfill online orders.

“The biggest things that retailers need to be preparing for right now is getting the goods into stores and getting people to work in the stores,” Brown said. “Supplies of resources on those two fronts—product and people—are probably the two wild cards in this holiday.”—JG

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.