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Black Friday: Social Shopping 1.0

  |  November 23, 2011   |  Comments

Retailers must evolve online and cultivate a culture of social shopping that goes beyond in-store deals.

I love Black Friday.

There, I said it. And I know I'm not alone. By nature, as an anti-social individual who will spear you with a cart while listening to "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer" on my iPod as I shop, I am clearly in the minority. In fact, short of bridal parties in Vegas, there is likely no bigger celebration of sisterhood than Black Friday. Every year the teams of women wearing matching Black Friday t-shirts and saving spots in line for each other while doing their deal hunting grows; missioning the likes of which tribes have taught their young for centuries.

Black Friday Is the Original Social Shopping Experience

Retailers keep store hours based on consumer demand. Black Friday shoppers use basic survival instincts of herd mentality to secure the best deals, while fostering a sense of togetherness and community for the last decade plus. And now, Cyber Monday and mobile technologies further change the patterns of these shoppers.

This year, Black Friday comes early. Many more retailers including Macy's and Old Navy have moved their store openings to midnight. Walmart will join the group of retailers that can't wait and will open on Thursday. The shift to turn Thanksgiving into a commercial holiday (a redundant statement if ever one could be made in this country) has been met with ample backlash. Nearly 200,000 individuals have signed an online protest to pressure retailers into keeping the gluttony at the dinner table and not the checkout lane. And while it is certainly the right of the public to protest, and even boycott, it is probably done without an awareness of what Black Friday is for most people.

This move to more hours is reactive to consumer demand, yet is also preemptive to the challenges of control lost by in-store retail. Retailers are fighting a sluggish economy, new forms of distribution via the Internet, which makes it easier to get products from previously unknown sources, and the realities that in-store retail is growing annually at less than half the rate of online.

Unfortunately, for most retailers, the shift in store hours is not enough. Today's digital-savvy shopper is aware that discounts can be had online, and rarely is the in-store deal alone enough. As a single shopper, I expect better mobile and social experiences. I see Black Friday as the single biggest day in the history of Foursquare. The viability and value to the masses will be set this Friday. For retailers, the ability to connect with individuals in the store with fresh, relevant deals is a differentiator worth watching.

Retailers must also cultivate a culture of social shopping that goes beyond a group with circulars in hand. Group-buying signals, such as in-store community trending of "What's Hot" and flash discounts available via mobile devices will further transform and condition the buyers.

It's unlikely that any petition of boycott will have enough impact to stem the tide of Black Friday's move to Thursday. What may ultimately return Black Friday to Friday is the way retailers evolve online and bring social shopping 2.0 to bear. If retailers continue to rely on print circulars and downloadable store maps, they fail to recognize the ongoing evolution of the customer. Annually, groups of women in matching hot pink "I survived Black Friday" t-shirts go out to celebrate and shop. Retailers need to cater to this group and use the tools of today to move this old-school social shopping experience forward to social shopping 2.0.



Chris Copeland

Chris Copeland is chief executive officer of GroupM Next.

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