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Messaging Matters: Courting Consumers on Black Friday

As the industry prepares for its notoriously fruitful Black Friday season, the challenge becomes attracting a consumer who has become discount-fatigued. With compelling promotions happening almost daily, how can retail’s biggest event stand out?

According to a new report from retail market intelligence platform Edited, it may have less to do with the amount of savings a retailer offers and more to do with its messaging.

In recent years, a number of brands have boycotted the retail holiday because of its promotion of overconsumption. As early as 2015, outdoor apparel brand REI refrained from participating in the event in order to champion more sustainable consumerism. Fast-forward through years of consumer-facing sustainability education and a global pandemic later, and the sentiments have intensified. Consumers are now more aware than ever of the negative environmental effects of overconsumption.

As a result, some companies are using the holiday to spread awareness in creative ways. Last year, women’s apparel brand Sézane promoted “Give-Back Friday,” in which it donated 10 percent of U.S. sales to nonprofit organization Pencils of Promise. “Green Friday” was also made popular by Roberto Cavalli, which collaborated with Treedom to plant a tree for every purchase from 1,000 customers.

This year, Walmart will close on Thanksgiving and encourage employees to spend time with loved ones while paying $428 million in special bonuses. Target and Kohl’s will also close for the day to prevent attracting crowds of shoppers during the pandemic.

Others are rebranding the retail holiday as a result of its potentially offensive origins. Edited reports that, though debunked, there have been rumors circulating social media that link Black Friday’s origins to slavery: It was alleged that southern plantation owners could purchase slaves at a discounted price after Thanksgiving in the 1800s.

In response, some retailers have changed what they call the holiday: Levi’s promotes Indigo Friday, Free People touts Feel-Good Friday, and others refer to their promotions as “cyber” and “super” sales.

For these reasons, language is important, but so is the actual price reduction.

Discounting was commonplace even before the Covid-19 pandemic. But once stores began closing as a result of lockdowns earlier this year, many retailers doubled down on their price reductions just to stay afloat.

According to Edited, discounting in the month of May 2020 reached Black Friday 2019 levels, with a weekly discount amount of 44 percent in the U.S., and 37 percent in the U.K. For context, average Black Friday discounts in 2019 amounted to 45 and 35 percent, respectively.

Edited recommended retailers develop “recession-proof” discounting strategies that steer clear of steep markdowns. The report concluded that aggressive discounts are no longer correlated to sell-outs: The bulk of Black Friday 2019 sell outs in the U.K were just discounted between 20-30 percent.

Still, the report notes that there are no signs indicating the majority of retailers and brands will ease up on Black Friday promotions this year, and denim retailers are part of the choir.

Mott & Bow has already announced its promotions, which include 15 to 25 percent off all orders on Black Friday and 20 percent off all orders on Cyber Monday. DL1961 and Madewell are both offering 30 percent off of everything on their website, while Gap and Old Navy are tempting consumers with 40 percent off everything online and even more for their credit card holders.