Black Friday - are shoppers 'over it'?

by Russell Donaldson Manager, PwC Research

Email +44 (0)7702 698869

Not long ago, Black Friday was almost universally viewed as the shopping event of the year, with clips of long queues and even stampedes in stores going viral as shoppers hunted for the best deals. But while holiday shopping shows little sign of slowing down, has Black Friday lost some of its appeal as the year’s ultimate shopping event?

PwC’s latest research on holiday shopping in the U.S. suggests that Black Friday’s popularity might have peaked, with the dispersion of the shopping period and the further growth of the online market diminishing the importance of the day itself.

Black Friday stats

PwC’s annual Holiday Outlook has been surveying consumers in the U.S. about their holiday shopping patterns for the last five years. In 2015, more than half (59%) were doing the bulk of their Thanksgiving-week shopping on Black Friday itself. This figure has fallen steadily in the intervening period but has levelled off at just over a third in recent years (36% in 2019). However, despite ever-present political and economic uncertainty in 2019, overall holiday spending is forecast to rise to an average of $1,284 per person (a modest 2.7% increase on 2018). The data shows at least some optimism on the part of consumers, with the vast majority (86%) saying they’ll spend the same or more than last year. With that in mind, what is reducing Black Friday’s position as a shopping bonanza?

The first is the notion that Black Friday deals are no longer confined to a particular day, with retailers increasingly extending the holiday shopping window throughout November and December, meaning many shoppers have already taken advantage of discounted prices by the time Black Friday itself arrives. This year’s survey echoes this, with two thirds of respondents (67%) saying they’ll start their holiday shopping in the period July-early November, and a similar number (64%) saying they’ll only complete their purchases in the period between Black Friday and New Year.

Thanksgiving Day itself historically wouldn’t have been seen as a major shopping occasion, but it also seems to be attracting U.S. bargain hunters who can’t wait for the main Black Friday event, with almost a third (32%) saying they’ll shop online on Thanksgiving Thursday. The growth of events like Cyber Monday and #GivingTuesday have perhaps also had the effect of diluting the Black Friday event itself to help create more of a ‘Black November’.

Holiday outlook front cover

The idea of ‘Black November’ is a phenomenon no doubt aided by changes in how people shop. This year’s Holiday Outlook shows further growth in online shopping, with consumers saying for the first time that more than half of holiday shopping (54%) will be done online.

The sheer volume of choice available 24/7 at just the click of a button has gone some way to reduce shoppers’ need to descend on physical stores to search for bargains. The role of one of the industry’s biggest players – Amazon – shouldn’t be ignored either. The success of July’s Prime Day is likely playing a role when it comes to big online discounts dispersing holiday buying patterns, with almost a fifth of shoppers saying they had already started their holiday shopping by mid-July.    

The findings of PwC’s Holiday Outlook this year would seem to reinforce the idea that Black Friday no longer holds the same sway over consumers that it did just a few years ago. The lengthening of the holiday shopping period to beyond that one day has given consumers a renewed opportunity to take advantage of heavily discounted prices well before Black Friday itself, no doubt aided by the as yet unstoppable growth of online shopping. All the same, Black Friday remains a highly symbolic day in the retail calendar, and with U.S. holiday spending continuing to rise, its importance as a retail holiday means it is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.


by Russell Donaldson Manager, PwC Research

Email +44 (0)7702 698869

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