Let’s just call it Consumption Month and be done with it

Last year at this time, as some marketing group was trying to push the concept of Mobile Tuesday into the ranks of titled shopping days occupied by Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I thought we were caught in an inexorable trend (see “Retailers announce plan to rename every day in December“). This year, however, I sense the beginning of a reversal, with the impact of Black Friday and Cyber Monday starting to be diluted in a move to a seamless, monthlong blur of bargain-driven buying.

Both days are artificial constructs. Before it started to be marked officially with doorbusters and dawn openings, Black Friday at least had some legitimacy as the traditional holiday shopping kickoff, but among the busiest shopping days of the year, it usually ranks between fifth and tenth. Cyber Monday was invented by Shop.org in 2005 on the basis of a spike in online shopping as people returned to work (and presumably a better Net connection) after the Thanksgiving weekend, but while it has gained some self-fulfilling notoriety, it is neither the earliest nor the busiest day in holiday e-tailing. Still, both days have achieved symbolic significance to economy watchers, and the escalating promotions do stir some shopping excitement.

This year, though, you can see the retailers have been thinking hard about how to spread that excitement over a longer stretch, and since doorbuster bargains seem to be the key, the big loss-leader deals started showing up in the malls and online even before Black Friday and they’ll continue to spill out over the next weeks. That trend would leave Black Friday and Cyber Monday without distinction to consumers and with less value as economic indicators in and of themselves. So instead of the plethora of artificially named shopping days I feared last year, perhaps even those we have will fade into one long undifferentiated month of Low-Margin Mania.

Also fading is the distinction drawn by Black Friday and Cyber Monday between an offline shopping day and an online shopping day — with home broadband penetration, most folks don’t need to wait for a workday to efficiently comb the Web anymore. In fact, preliminary figures for Black Friday this year show brick-and-mortar sales up a negligible 0.5 percent over last year, but comScore numbers show online shopping that day was up 11 percent from 2008, making it the second-heaviest e-tailing day so far this year. EBay’s PayPal online payment service reported it processed 20 percent more transactions this Black Friday than it did last year. And while Black Friday sales in Apple’s retail stores looked to be either “healthy” or “down slightly,” depending on which analyst you believe, sales that day in its online store were up 39 percent year-over-year.

So I’m wondering, between the evolution of shopping habits and the bargain bounty being spread across more days, how much of your holiday buying, if any, is keyed specifically to Black Friday and Cyber Monday and how much is online vs. offline?


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  • Pete

    Well, I was the only one in my family who ventured forth on Friday because Fry’s was offering a red hot special (-$.01 after rebates!) on some software I was planning to buy anyway.

    I wound up taking $250 in related hardware upgrades home with it. As a loss leader, it worked great.

  • Jason

    Did not venture out – just online
    I would be happy to do all shopping online.
    Stores would only be to physically see an item.

  • BGentry

    Virtually all my shopping is now done online, except food, alcohol, home improvement products, and shoes. However, since my family and I agreed two years ago to give up gifts in favor of nonprofit donations in each others’ honor, most objects are bought for myself and my home without regard to Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or whatever. And that probably won’t happen until about February.

  • Markus Unread

    I can take my laptop and sit out in the rain at 4AM, but I won’t be fully satisfied by online Black Friday shopping until I can make the other computers in my house stampede and crush me against a wall or door.

  • All on line, mostly well before BF and CM.

  • curmudgeon2000

    We’re still in the middle of the greatest economic downturn
    in seventy years, yet people haven’t learned their lessons.
    I don’t think we can continue much longer with an economy
    based on consumption, just as we can’t continue with an
    economy based on credit. Eventually a limit will be reached
    as resources are exhausted. Short of a drastic reduction in
    the number of humans on the planet, by means either planned
    or catastrophic, the only alternative I see is that the vast
    majority of people shift to providing services to each other.