Five Worst Black Friday Sales Results: Death of the Black Friday Brand

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Diluted Black Friday Brand Value Threatens Christmas Shopping Concept

Thanksgiving Day Pre-Black Friday 2015: Stores Open Early, Close Late
Getty Images

The reaction on Wall Street the Monday after Black Friday reflected the overall theme of the 2015 Black Friday shopping event itself, which was "decline." In many different ways that Black Friday success is measured, the 2015 Black Friday results were diminished and disappointing.  But the worst results of the 2015 Black Friday shopping event were the clear indicators that the death of the Black Friday brand is imminent. 

Beyond the annual retail sales revenue results, much of the value of Black Friday to the U.S. retail industry lies in the value of the Black Friday brand.  Black Friday isn't just a day, it's an iconic consumer tradition, a collective consumer experience, a magical holiday portal, and the most popular competitive sporting event in America all rolled into one. 

At least that's what Black Friday used to be.

In 2015 it was clear that "Black Friday" was little more than an historical concept stuck in the memory banks of the average American consumer. The lack of respect for all collectively respected Black Friday retailing boundaries made whatever happened on the day after Thanksgiving practically irrelevant in 2015.

This not only had a negative effect on retail foot traffic and overall sales, it had an immeasurably negative effect on the value of the Black Friday brand.  What U.S. retailers refuse to admit and retail experts neglect to report is that a diluted Black Friday brand threatens the future ongoing success of the American Christmas holiday shopping season as a whole. To understand why, click through the gallery for the Five Worst Black Friday 2015  Results That Mark the Death of the Black Friday Brand >>

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Lower Black Friday Prices and Sales, Less Black Friday Engagement

December 26th Extended Store Opening, Closing Times 2012 Comparison
Getty Images

The downward trend of Black Friday weekend spending and consumer participation since 2012 signals the loss of the massive magnetic power that Black Friday has had to ignite the highest levels of customer engagement, and suck consumers into the Christmas holiday shopping season frenzy.  

  • Two-day Thanksgiving and Black Friday in-store sales were down by $1.5 billion, according to ShopperTrak estimates. 
  • According to RetailNext, overall two-day spending on November 26th and 27th fell 1.5%, in-store foot traffic was flat, and the average amount spent per shopper decreased by 1.4%.  
  • Almost 43% of shoppers think that discounts will be better than Black Friday in the shopping days closer to Christmas, according to an NRF poll.
  • Overall, retail prices were 2.9% lower during Black Friday weekend 2015, compared with a year earlier.

Yes, Internet and mobile shopping numbers increased.  But the lack of motivation to get into the car and drive to a physical retail store on THE one shopping day when that's supposed to be worth the effort is one of the worst indicators for the diminished power of the Black Friday brand.  Even prices that were Y-O-Y lower didn't result in increased Black Friday weekend sales or foot traffic.  

NEXT:  Indiscriminate Black Friday Labeling, Black Friday Brand Loses Meaning >>

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Indiscriminate Black Friday Labeling, Black Friday Brand Loses Meaning

bebe friday before black friday pre-black friday sale
© Barbara Farfan for About.com

A brand loses its meaning if it has no discernibly unique characteristics.  Indiscriminately attaching the "Black Friday" label to any retail promotion that marketers want to characterize as  "extreme discounting" causes the Black Friday brand to lose its meaning.

It's like labeling every sparkling wine from France as "champagne" and every sweet onion grown in the South as a "Vidalia,."  In fact, grapes grown in the Champagne region of France ARE unique and the onions grown in the soil of Vidalia, Georga DO have a distinct flavor. That's why "champagne" and "Vidalia onions" were brand labels worth fighting for.  

Unfortunately, though, no single retailer nor the U.S. industry as a whole is going to fight to keep the Black Friday label attached exclusively to marketing activities that take place within the calendric boundaries of the day after Thanksgiving.

The good news for retailers that show no respect for the use of the Black Friday brand label is that consumers don't seem to care.  The bad news for retailers that do respect the sanctity of the Black Friday brand label is that consumers no longer seem to care.

The second worst result of Black Friday 2015 was the evidence that the Black Friday label is losing its meaning to American consumers.

Retail sales promotions were held in more than 93,000 retail stores that were open on Thanksgiving Day 2015, which by all rights should have been accurately labeled as "Thanksgiving Day Sales," but were labeled "Black Friday" or "Pre-Black Friday" sales instead.   Thirty-four million consumers proved they didn't care how the sales were labeled when they showed up to shop them. That's 34 million clear indicators that the Black Friday label has lots its brand significance.

NEXT:  Ignoring Calendric Boundaries Diminishes Black Friday Specialness >>

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Ignoring Calendric Boundaries Diminishes Black Friday Specialness

aldo friday before black friday pre-black friday sale
© Barbara Farfan for About.com

Every non-day-after-Thanksgiving sale dubbed as a "Black Friday," sale, diminishes the special once-a-year value of the actual Black Friday event.  If "Black Friday" events are staged well in advance of the actual Black Friday calendar day, by the time the "real" Black Friday sales events roll around on the day after Thanksgiving, consumers already have deep discount fatigue and Black Friday burnout.

When consumers cease to believe that Black Friday is a once-a-year, one-day-only special retail event, they are sent on a trajectory that leads to a conclusion that the whole Christmas shopping gift-giving spendfest might not be such a big, important deal any more either. 

When that Christmas-shopping-is-so-yesterday consumer tipping point occurs, the leaders of the largest U.S. retail chains will have to ban together in order to create a different industry-wide fabricated retail shopping event to take its place.  And we all know how likely it is that retail industry CEOs would ever be willing to forego individual sales-driven personal bonus schemes in order to cooperatively create something that is good for the U.S. retail industry as a whole. 

NEXT:  Black Friday Brand Wars: What Happens When Competition Trumps Collaboration & Cooperation >>

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Black Friday Brand Wars: Competition Trumps Collaboration,Cooperation

gap friday before black friday pre-black friday sale
© Barbara Farfan for About.com

Once upon a time in 1975 there lived an annual retail industry-wide collaborative Black Friday mega sales event which required shared agreements and complete cooperation throughout the U.S. retail industry to make it real for consumers.  

Fast forward 40 years later to Black Friday 2015 to see evidence that the Black Friday cooperative event has morphed into Black Friday Wars, with individual retailers appropriating the Black Friday brand as a pre-emptive weapon in the battle for the first and biggest Christmas shopping share of wallet.  

This short-sighted every-retailer-for-itself stance will prove to be immeasurably damaging to the retail industry as a whole.  In the age of the empowered consumer, Black Friday was the last illusion that the American retailing had in its bag of tricks that still had the power to direct and control consumer attention and behaviors.  As long as retailers were collectively agreeing to play by the fabricated Black Friday rules, consumers played by them too.  

Now, the illusion has been destroyed.  Retailers have allowed consumers to see that the magical powers of the Black Friday phenomenon were nothing more than a series of levers being pulled in the right direction.  But now the retail industry will never again be able to get consumers to "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."

And the morale of the story in the final chapters of Black Friday history is a well known one... An industry divided against itself cannot stand.

NEXT:  When the Black Friday Brand Value Dies, the Black Friday Event Is Retail History >>

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If Black Friday Brand Value Dies, Black Friday Event Is Retail History

Christmas Eve Store Hours - Target, Walmart, Macy's, Best Buy, Sears
Getty Images

The meaning, boundaries, power, and value of the Black Friday brand as American consumers have known it for 40 years is on its way to being nothing more than nostalgic retail history. And if/when that happens, the U.S. retail industry will have nothing to blame for the ensuing downslide of the entire Christmas holiday shopping season except its own short-sighted dismantling of a one-day Black Friday shopping phenomenon that once was the envy of retailers around the world.

Merry Christmas to all.  And to all a good night.

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