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Black Friday, Other Retail Industry Holiday Shopping Trends Are Shifting

We know that the vast majority of Insider readers are connected to the retail industry. As such, most of you are probably bracing yourselves this week for the granddaddy of all shopping days – Black Friday. But is it still the granddaddy like it used to be? This year, experts predict that Friday, December 23 will outpace Black Friday in terms of sales and number of customers.

The rise in e-commerce and Cyber Monday are certainly factors in shifting retail industry trends. Nowadays, you might as well call it “Black November” as many major retailers began shouting Black Friday deals as early as Halloween. Last year Black Friday sales fell 12 percent compared to 2014. This year many believe that December 17, or “Super Saturday” will take the number-two spot, pushing Black Friday to the number-three position.

Where Did This All Start?

Original references to Black Friday as a retail industry phenomenon didn’t even mention the crazy day after Thanksgiving shopping hysteria. In earlier times, the term “Black Friday” was reportedly used to indicate the day that retailers would turn the profit corner for the year, turning the books from “red to black ink.” But even this popular belief is said to be historically inaccurate. Historians say the true origin of the term didn’t even directly relate to the retail industry. In the 1950s, the Philadelphia police coined the term Black Friday to describe the chaos that ensued on the day after Thanksgiving, when hordes of suburban tourists flooded into the city in advance of the Army-Navy football game on Saturday. It was noted, however, that shoplifters also took advantage of the chaos on that Friday. By 1961, Black Friday was such a big deal in Philadelphia that merchants tried unsuccessfully to change the name to “Big Friday.”

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The term did spread to some of the country, but, as of the mid-1980s, was not in common use in the retail industry. In the late 1980s, retailers wanted to reinvent Black Friday into something positive. The result was the “red to black ink” concept mentioned earlier. This time, the Black Friday story stuck, and its darker days from Philadelphia were forgotten.

Since then, the retail industry has seen Black Friday go from one huge shopping day on the Friday after Thanksgiving to a four-day weekend event–and maybe even a month-long event. It has even spawned other “retail holidays,” such as Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. Originally most stores opened a bit early on Black Friday. Today, many major stores are opening on Thanksgiving evening. And while the importance of the single Black Friday day is waning, the National Retail Federation still predicts that 135.8 million Americans plan to shop this weekend. That represents 58 percent of all surveyed. But even more (183.8 million, or 79.6 percent of those surveyed) thought they would be taking advantage of the online deals offered on Cyber Monday.

Data scientists at Foursquare conducted a series of analysis looking at consumer activity leading up to Black Friday in 2015. They noted a decrease in foot traffic compared to 2014 and predict another fall in traffic this year, although not as great – only 3.5 percent. They note, however, that certain categories such as big-box and discount stores may have greater foot traffic this year. They also predict that department stores may see more foot traffic as well. It is thought that increased foot traffic may be the result of the increasing retail trend of “reserve in or drop-ship to store,” and then go pick up.

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So, yes, statistics indicate that the significance of Black Friday in the retail industry is starting to wane. And it is not only e-commerce that has caused the change. The consumer now has many more options to grab that great deal. But all is not lost, as seen in the recent foot traffic predictions. And there is one other interesting observation by retail industry experts: it seems that the Millennials are the one group that continues to thrive on the idea of hitting crowded stores and jumping online as soon as the turkey is finished. Go Millennials! As for me, I will be taking a nap!

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