Is Black Friday ever going to be the same?
My first Black Friday experience was more than a decade ago during my sophomore year in a small town in the Midwest. Most of our American classmates spent their Thanksgiving with family while the international students found a way to celebrate the holiday on our own.
The day after Thanksgiving, we would carpool to the nearest mall, wait in line outside the shops and eat pizza and drink hot chocolate. I can’t remember what I bought all those years ago, but Black Friday still brings back fond memories even as I write this newsletter today. And who can forget those network news videos of consumers climbing over each other to buy discounted electronics?
This year though, Black Friday is looking more somber because of the pandemic. Public health officials have urged Americans to stay at home for the holiday and avoid large gatherings. Many malls are restricting footfall and implementing safety checks.
Retailers started preview promotions as early as mid-October after Amazon Prime Day and are prioritizing online sales given the unpredictability of in-store sales. More than 70% of consumers are planning to shop online this year, according to a survey by Shipkick.
Industry observers generally agree that the pandemic probably brought forward the digitization of retail by three to five years.
Will Covid kill the shopping mall? Would shopping move entirely online?
If I had to bet, I’d say not. Because when I look at China, the largest e-commerce market in the world, physical retail is far from dead. But the mall in its present format would probably change.
With the option to buy everything we need online, there needs to be an added reason to go to the mall, according to retail consultant Ian Scott. That’ll likely mean a bigger chunk of retail real estate taken up by leisure activities in the post-pandemic shopping mall.
Think spaces for community classes, pop-ups with up-and-coming chefs and even theme parks, he said.
If China was any guide, the distinction between online and offline will increasingly become less relevant, and consumers can flit between whichever medium – virtual or physical – that suits them.
Case in point. The Singles’ Day shopping festival in China (many times bigger than Black Friday and Cyber Monday) started out as an online event but has since morphed into an omni-channel extravaganza.
The major e-commerce platforms sponsor entertainment galas on cable TV channels on the eve of the festival. The same shows are streamed through their mobile apps and consumers are grabbing deals throughout the show.
Onstage, the performers are belting out the latest hits and showing their dance moves. A short distance away, livestreaming hosts sit row by row talking to their online audiences.
If you think about it, it makes total sense. Generation Alpha, the demographic cohort born in the early 2010s, will grow up with no pre-conceived distinction between online and offline. To them, being online is as natural and normal to them as their physical surroundings. Retail will have to adjust too to fit the new expectations.
As for what will lure me to the mall when I can get everything online, I must confess eating pizza and drinking hot chocolate with college friends still sound pretty tempting.
Happy Thanksgiving! Stay safe.