Black Friday is a day that has permeated South African media through the pop culture avenues that feed us from across the Atlantic Ocean. While it has very little direct bearing on our own lives it still forms a significant part of our local news content. For the uninitiated, Black Friday was the day after Thanksgiving which is supposedly when the Christmas shopping season officially begins. Shops mark this auspicious occasion by offering massive discounts and extended shopping hours.
There is some debate as to how this celebration of consumerism got its name, the first of the two most common stories is that pedestrians took to the streets in such numbers and traffic was so bad that the roads were black with people, which is odd because the roads are black without people. The second and more likely explanation is that this point in the year is the first time that the major retailers start making a profit and are thus trading in the black.
The figures recorded on this day, in both cash registers and foot traffic are often used by economic analysts and social commentators to predict spending trends and gauge the economic climate. In this way it is very similar to the Boxing Day sales that occur in the UK and common wealth countries. The one branch of retail that watches these debaucherous celebrations of credit and consumerism with growing interest every year is the world of online shopping and internet marketing. One is forced to ask if events like these and others, including the worldwide January sales have been created to turn users back into shoppers.
Has foot traffic fallen due to online sales as much as some would have us believe?
People are quick to talk about the future, and the impact that the internet is having on the way we live our lives. Predictions abound about how one day there will be no need to leave the house, which would be a pleasant change from having to listen to some of the drivel that people predict for the future. If Black Friday shows us anything though it’s that herd mentality is hardwired into our brains and that as long as retailers exist they will find ways to make us visit their shops.
Cyber Monday was a term first coined in 2005 invented by shop.org to encourage consumers to shop online, if online shopping was such a threat to high street retailers then one would imagine that this would be an unnecessary step, it could point to the fact that shopping of all kinds was under threat and marketing techniques be them on or offline are becoming more cut throat. Consumers are more savvy and aware of marketing techniques.
The power of online marketing and the reach of online retail cannot be questioned at this point in its not so infant development; one can however question its predicted all-encompassing role in the world of sales. The dystopian future that was widely accepted to be just over the horizon, is, it would seem, either further away than many gamers would hope or perhaps non-existent. The masses love to shop, as is evident by the throngs of Americans that filled the streets; and retailers and online marketers need to understand that the shift online is not all pervasive. There is and always will be a place for offline shopping.
This does not mean that I believe that retail giants abandon their offline campaigns and stop selling products online, if anything the antics of Black Friday are reflection on consumers; bred for generations on tactile shopping than the efforts of the retailers. Consumers feel secure knowing that there is a person, not an e-mail address they can turn to if the product does not meet their expectations. Alongside this need for bricks and mortar shopping that consumers will always need there is a desperate need for online marketing to push these products to the front of the potential buyers mind. While online purchasing is convenient it holds about as much sentiment and excitement as receiving a gift voucher for Christmas.