Shoppers enter a Target store location on a Black Friday in the early 2010s

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Black Friday has come a long way from the eye-popping midnight lines for discounts at the beginning of this decade. Now more digitally focused than ever, this year’s unofficial shopping holiday is still expected to be a make-or-break moment for retailers.

According to the website BlackFriday, which aggregates ads and makes predictions in advance of the post-Thanksgiving shopping rush, Black Friday 2019 will be the biggest yet, with more than $12 billion in online shopping.

In today’s Google-based era, much of this prediction is based on Google search data, which shows that search volume for the term “Black Friday” keeps going up year after year.

Among traditional retail outlets (though much of their focus is online these days too), Walmart is likely to be at the fore of Black Friday hype, based on search interest. But Amazon will still be king, since it’s become the go-to shopping source for many people.

According to Hitwise data, more than half of online transactions in 2018 were through Amazon.

And if you’re a frequent Amazon shopper, you might have noticed a surprise in your snail mail recently – a print catalog highlighting the hottest toys of the season. It’s the mammoth online retailer’s attempt to combine a traditional advertising medium with today’s digital culture. There are no prices, just QR codes, and rumor has it that the catalog is being tailored to the shopping habits of the recipient (or will be individualized in the near future).

As technology becomes more common, prices are falling. So smart devices of all kinds are likely to be more accessible to the average consumer than in the past this Black Friday. As wireless ear buds fall in price and increase in fashion, they are likely to be big winners this year.

A Shorter Shopping Season Shakes Up Retail

Since Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday of each November (we can thank Great Depression-era President Franklin Roosevelt for that), the length of Christmas shopping seasons vary by as much as 25 to 31 days.

In 2019, we’ll be experiencing the shortest possible season – just 25 days! Last time that happened was 2013 and 2002.

Thankfully for retailers, shorter seasons don’t seem to translate to fewer sales, at least according to the National Retail Federation, which is expecting an overall holiday sales increase between 3.8% and 4.2% over 2018, to a total of as much as $730.7 billion.

Of that, online and other non-store sales would make up 11% to 14% of sales – a big chunk, but evidence that brick and mortar isn’t as dead as some of us might imagine.

The increase is expected despite ongoing trade tensions with China and the likelihood of a slowing economy.

And if you’re looking for a short-term job to get some work experience or make some extra cash this season, you might be in luck: Retailers are expected to hire between 530,000 and 590,000 temporary workers. But with the shorter season, the duration of employment might be shorter.

Black Friday Turns 50

So where did Black Friday come from anyway? It started in Philadelphia in the 1960s, when after-Thanksgiving sales created such traffic congestion that police called it “Black Friday” in desperation.

According to that view, Black Friday is getting close to – or has recently reached – its 50th birthday (and perhaps might be ready for a midlife crisis).

In later years, however, the term has come to mean stores moving from the “red” to the “black” in accounting records, since the increase in business is a welcome boon as the calendar year ends.

What Are Your Plans for Black Friday?

Are you going to spend part of your Thanksgiving at those stores that will open during the holiday afternoon or evening? Will you be headed to the stores in the wee hours of the morning on Black Friday? Or will you shop online to avoid standing in line.

Will you be a patron at one of Orange County’s thousands of small businesses – including many owned by Cal State Fullerton business alumni, for the newer shopping holiday, Small Business Saturday?