Monday, November 28th, 2016 | 9 min read
While many believe that the term “Black Friday” comes from the phrase “in the black” – when companies start turning a profit after operating “in the red” all year – there’s a more compelling story behind the name.
In the 1950s, the Philadelphia police department dubbed the Friday following thanksgiving “Black Friday.” It was a chaotic day as tourists flooded into town a day before the annual Army-Navy football game to shop the in-store deals that retailers offered. The cops would have to work overtime to handle the influx of people, deal with shoplifters, and manage traffic. The department dubbed the day “Black Friday” in an effort to make people less interested in taking part.
By the 1960s, retailers in Philadelphia picked up the phrase, and by the mid 1980s it was used across the country for the reason that many people believe – that businesses finally turn a profit on this day of shopping.
Since then, the day has become a national phenomenon that has crept into Thanksgiving day itself.
Given the historical importance of Black Friday, one might expect the chatter on social around this eventful day to be largely product-related, but this year we’re noticing a different trend.
Criticism of Black Friday emerged in the early ‘90’s in response to consumerism encroaching on Thanksgiving. Whether people were overwhelmed by the growing intensity of our shopping culture, or just wanted to support an alternative set of values, a strong anti-consumerism undercurrent now affects the day after Thanksgiving.
While social conversation around alternatives to Black Friday doesn’t beat out chatter about the day itself, it’s clear that many consumers have embraced the an anti-consumerist stance. Discussion of Black Friday alternatives increased over threefold on November 25th and stayed constant through Small Business Saturday.
Last year, REI created the #OptOutside campaign to encourage people to go outside rather than shop on Black Friday. The company closed its doors on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, foregoing revenue and allowing employees and customers to enjoy nature and quality time with their families.
The initial campaign gained a lot of traction and was in full swing again this year.
Outdoor Research pledged to join REI this year by closing stores and encouraging employees and customers to get outside. The company donated $10 per Instagram photo with the hashtags #OptOutside and #OutdoorResearch to the adaptive sports non-profit, Paradox Sports.
Subaru got in the mix and encouraged customers to #OptOutside with their dogs, promoting the hashtag #MakeADogsDay. The company donated up to $50,000 to the ASPCA for Instagram posts including the hashtags.
— REI (@REI) November 16, 2016
— Subaru (@subaru_usa) November 25, 2016
Not only are consumers using the #OptOutside hashtag, they’re also talking about alternatives to Black Friday shopping – supporting local stores, handmade products, and Giving Tuesday. Of the most popular hashtags for Black Friday, #shopsmall and #OptOutside are among the top three most used. This reflects the strong support behind these movements on social, and the desire of brands and customers to slow Black Friday’s creep into Thanksgiving.
There are also many retailers that didn’t want to miss out on Black Friday revenue, but still made a point to close for Thanksgiving day – thus giving their employees a chance to spend the entire holiday with their families.
Patagonia, while open, donated 100% of its sales from Black Friday (both in-store and online) to “grassroots organizations working to create positive change for the planet.”
While there has been plenty of chatter around alternatives to Black Friday, people are still taking to social to discuss the products they’re seeking out. Cell phones were talked about the most in general – as well as in relation to purchase intent – and electronic products earned the most specific product mentions.
Among product-specific social chatter, cell phones dominated the conversation, with fashion, games, and furniture following behind.
When we factor buyer intent into the most discussed products, cell phones are still at the top of the list (above). The runners up are furniture, fashion, and electronics.
While technology didn’t dominate the conversation in general, it drove by far the most specific product mentions. The most talked about products specifically are Xbox One, iPhone, Android, iPad, and PlayStation4.
Since there are fewer types of popular cell phones and gaming systems than say, winter coats, and these are big ticket items, customers are more likely to discuss them with their social communities before making a decision.
Our analysis is based on 4.3 million mentions pulled from all social platforms, as well as news and review sites. We listened for Black Friday-related social chatter for 2.5 weeks leading up to November 25th. The final categories were: movies and music, cell phones, computers, musical instruments, electronics, photo and video, home appliances, fashion, games, travel, furniture and decoration (along will buy intention for all categories), as well as Black Friday hashtags, and hashtags representative of alternatives to Black Friday. All product mentions tracked also included mentions of Black Friday.