Black Friday is almost upon us, and tech is set to be a hot item once again; however, it won’t just be the electronics in your shopping cart fueling the experience. This has been an unexpectedly difficult year for retailers and the weight of expectations for Black Friday is heavy. There will still be plenty of doorbusters that get consumers into stores, yet they will not be the focus this year. Retailers are looking to start Black Friday deals early and hoping to keep consumers on the hook long past Nov. 24th.

Just as we have seen since the pandemic, retailers have started putting out black Friday deals early as a litmus test to gauge consumer interest. An added wrinkle this year has been companies locking these deals behind yearly loyalty memberships like those at Amazon and Best Buy. Not only are stores looking to gauge how their sales will fare, they are also looking to lock in these consumers for the foreseeable future. Memberships and the exclusive deals that come with them have been a focal point for retailers and restaurants all year. Every month press releases detail new and revamped loyalty programs that offer exclusive deals in exchange for personal information. It makes sense that companies would want to focus on these programs for Black Friday promotions that could bring in a record number of consumers. Even if Black Friday is as successful as hoped, it will only help them salvage this year and could face similar issues in 2024. Customer retention is seen as a key factor in avoiding slow starts to the year and an overreliance on holiday shopping to redeem the year. Gating deals behind loyalty programs poses a risk that could turn consumers away, yet businesses are willing to roll the dice to create repeat customers.

Black Friday has changed significantly over the last several years. It has gone from consumers trying to race others after camping overnight in line to people casually scrolling for deals on their phones while they enjoy Thanksgiving leftovers. Cyber Monday was considered the tech version of Black Friday when it was conceived, yet now the two days are almost indistinguishable. Stores are still expected to get plenty of foot traffic and deals to be had for consumers who prefer traditional means. Otherwise, many discounts will be digitally focused with some being directly tied to a company’s respective shopping application. There will also be a heavy emphasis on curbside pick-up to avoid overburdening delivery infrastructure. Companies like Walmart and Target have spent the year overhauling pick-up systems and, in some cases, dedicating part of their store to fulfilling these orders. It is the evolution of a symbiotic relationship that has allowed consumers to shop at their convenience while easing the pressure on companies to staff their stores during the holiday. It has also reduced the amount of inventory on the floor during Black Friday which can reduce theft and clutter allowing the most highly valued items to be prioritized.

The reduction in overhead costs and potential of customer retention has made the digitization of Black Friday a popular trend for retailers. Consumers have benefitted from this change as well with more ways to get the low prices they want without disrupting their holiday. There is always the risk that an overreliance on company specific loyalty programs will turn customers away, yet the frequency with which companies are adopting these programs suggests that the rewards are valuable. Black Friday will continue to evolve as needed and we should expect to see more of these promos on our screens than in storefronts.