Black Friday Is Facing Extinction

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Is Black Friday dying? More evidence is showing up indicating that the day after Thanksgiving is not the best day for finding deals. Some retail experts are even forecasting that Black Friday will disappear as an American consumer tradition.

“We are seeing the eventual extinction of Black Friday.” So says Bill Tancer, head of global research for Experian Marketing Services.

Such a comment may come as a surprise to the many shoppers who couldn’t escape the phrase “Black Friday” if they tried. “Black Friday” sales have been appearing long before, and long after, the actual Black Friday, which traditionally takes place the day after Thanksgiving. While it’s common for retailers to conduct “Only X Days Until …” countdowns to major holidays for gift-exchanging like Christmas, last year Staples offered a countdown to Black Friday, which is supposed to be a day for shopping in anticipation of another day.

Nonetheless, to some extent, Tancer is right about Black Friday. While the phrase “Black Friday” is more ubiquitous and overused than ever, the act of physically going shopping on the actual Black Friday is on the decline. Black Friday shopping won’t be extinct anytime soon, but it has undeniably been losing its importance in the marketplace.

(MORE: Season of Giving? Holiday Shopping Hits New Heights of Selfishness with ‘Self-Gifting’ Trend)

According to some surveys, the percentage of consumers who actually go out and hit the malls on the Friday after Thanksgiving has been decreasing for years. A study from Accenture estimated that 44% of consumers were likely to go shopping on Black Friday 2011, down from 52% in 2009. Those numbers are probably overstated compared to the percentage of folks who actually brave the crowds on Black Friday shopping outings. A Consumer Repots poll had it that less than one-quarter of consumers would bother to go shopping on Black Friday itself in 2010.

Even more importantly, those who do hit the stores are spending less. Last year, shoppers spent $11.2 billion in physical stores on Black Friday, a decline of 1.8% compared to Black Friday 2011, according to ShopperTrak.

Part of the reason for the decline in spending is that consumers are more aware that they’re not necessarily going to find the best prices on Black Friday. A much-cited Wall Street Journal article published a year ago indicated that shoppers can often snag better deals on days during the holiday period other than Black Friday. A new report from dealnews states that over the past two years shoppers have been most likely to locate the best deals not on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, but on Thanksgiving and the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend.

(MORE: 5 Ways Retailers Are Trying to Snag Holiday Shopping Dollars Extra Early This Year)

Another reason that actual Black Friday shopping is on the decline is because the concept of “Black Friday”—and indeed, the entire holiday shopping period—is expanding year after year. This year, holiday ads began airing in early September, and many retailers are already acting as if the holiday shopping season is fully underway, with Christmas displays, special layaway offers, “hot toy” promotions, and more. We’ll surely see more of the trend from last year, in which retailers began rolling out “Black Friday” deals days, if not weeks ahead of the actual Friday after Thanksgiving, with the big players opening their doors for Black Friday well before midnight on Thursday.

“What we see in our data is that retail is really changing,” Experian’s Tancer says. “The consumer is relentlessly searching for that deal.”

It’s understandable, then, that shoppers who are constantly on the hunt for bargains will come to view Black Friday as less special—as just another day to buy stuff when the price is right. Or not.

(MORE: This Is Your Brain on Black Friday Shopping)

It seems unimaginable, however, that people en masse will stop heading out to stores on the day after Thanksgiving. For many shoppers, Black Friday is much more than simply a day to snatch up the best prices. Part of the day’s appeal—for some—is that it’s become a cultural phenomenon. They love the crowds, loud music, garish displays, and competitive atmosphere. They consider shopping a sport, and Black Friday as their Super Bowl. The possibility that they could buy things they actually need at good prices is only part of the justification for waking up early and elbowing through the crowds on a day they might otherwise sleep in, or just spend relaxing with their families.

If anyone will keep Black Friday alive, it’s these folks.