Who Won Black Friday 2018? Trees, TVs and Library Freebies.

Whether you’re the gleeful subject of every targeted sale ad or a staunch believer in minimalism, the Thanksgiving holiday and subsequent shopping days provide a chance to vote with our dollars. If you have a firm opinion on the issue, now’s the time to speak up—after all, the best brands are listening for (and anxiously analyzing) your reaction.

If you’re a brand, it’s time to make sure your company’s experience is aligned with the value of the people you target. What types of customers do you need to reach to be successful and sustainable in the long term? For some, that’s getting into the good graces of consumers looking for a deal they’re thrilled to find. Other buyers may require a different gesture—proving that your store’s bottom line doesn’t trump their need for quality family and relaxation.

According to a MarketLive study, 65 percent of Americans hate or dislike the trend of retailers opening on Thanksgiving.Click To Tweet

The results are in, what happened?

Overwhelmingly online sales won the day. The extinction of some big-box giants paved the way for small wins by their competitors. In-store, electronics like televisions at deep discounts performed well, which is typical for Black Friday sales.

Meanwhile, store closings and openings affected shopper’s opinions on the holiday. Some chose to stay in, others chose out to go out and many felt underwhelmed by the day’s offers. Customer Growth Partners pointed to the general feeling that the “once-a-year-sale” is now almost a month-long, which affected sales accordingly.

“Retailers enjoyed a solid but not spectacular Black Friday shopping weekend, as online and in-store promotions proliferated earlier in the week and on Thanksgiving, cannibalizing sales that once occurred on Saturday and Sunday,” stated Customer Growth Partners.

What happened to giving thanks?

Sales might provide a short-term win on Thanksgiving Day, but consumers continue to question the motives behind the decision. According to a MarketLive study, 65 percent of Americans hate or dislike the trend of retailers opening on Thanksgiving. It’s an important reminder to brands that our holidays are your holidays. And by the way, those employees you want in the store Thanksgiving Day are our friends, family and neighbors.

Taking a stance against holiday-fueled consumerism doesn’t mean you don’t have to miss out on publicity. Most people are familiar with REI’s position on closing both stores and online orders for the day, but this year other brands joined the conversation.

Menswear company Noah took a dramatic anti-Black Friday stance, replacing its homepage an all-caps message that read, “While we’re not trying to say people shouldn’t consume anything, we are saying the current cycle of endless consumption isn’t healthy. We may all be acting like there’s nothing wrong with it, but the fact is plain: we are drowning in stuff.”

Who opted in to #OptOutside?

REI continued its promise to encourage customers and employees to get outside on Friday. REI CEO Jerry Strizke summarized his view on Thanksgiving Day openings by saying “Winning customers based solely on lower prices or opening earlier, he says, builds a transactional relationship that can easily be undercut and leave retailers scrambling or bankrupt.”

Big box stores like Target and Kohls may not have heard him, but other organizations certainly did. This year brought state parks into the mix as multiple state parks offered free admission on Friday. Personally, it feels pretty patriotic to give thanks surrounded by the natural wonders of our country (or state).

But by far, my favorite brand move during Black Friday came from the New York Public Library. They reminded customers of their permanent discount– 100% off of all books every day. The campaign appeared online as an advertisement in The New York Times and mimicked retail marketing language by announcing “the deal of the season” for an “unlimited time only” and free returns.

As a brand strategist, watching the dynamic this holiday season between brands that thrive on experience (book rentals and nature) vs. products (electronics, clothes, etc.) was interesting indeed. Here’s a takeaway brands and consumers alike can get behind:  we’re all just trying to get through this time of year—and find ways celebrate along the way.

Brands need to think long and hard about the customers they want to attract—and then join them on their holiday journey. As a company, it’s your job to know your customers, know their behaviors and understand their unmet needs.

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