A Look at the Inbox: When Did Black Friday Really Start?


Jim Davidson

Marketers seems to begin their holiday promotions earlier and earlier each year. Here’s a look at what brands are doing to prepare for Black Friday, and how early they are starting their promotions.

The trumpets blared. The bells rang. The proclamation that Black Friday had started resounded throughout the land as soon as the kids were done trick-or-treating. For better or worse, this “early start” to Black Friday and the holiday shopping season really fired up the annual debate over whether the holidays start too early.

With Thanksgiving Day falling later in the month, many marketers are struggling to maximize sales during another shortened holiday season, similar to last year. While a good number of retailers will have clever ways to stretch the mega-shopping events beyond their original 24-hour concept, it’s much easier to start promoting these themes earlier.


The boost in these early October, Black Friday-themed messages, has dipped in the past two years compared to 2011 and 2012. While these early promotions have not spiked quite as high in recent years, there were two Black Friday bumps in early October, where previous years only saw one. The bulk of these messages were featured “sneak peeks” for Black Friday specials. Compared to previous years, I have seen more retailers trying to build more pre-sale steam by teasing what’s to come. If you want to see a fun and festive example, check out how Lowe’s is revealing its upcoming Black Friday sales.


A mid- to late-October bump in Black Friday messages has been consistent over the past four years. Although, in the shortened seasons of 2013 and 2014, we have seen this promotional theme increase. Even with sales projected to improve this year, it will be interesting to see whether this more consistent early-season promotion of Black Friday will dilute the actual shopping day or just give it more momentum. Many retailers went beyond the tease promo and actually launched Black Friday sales during this mid-month push. For example, Zales announced “Early Black Friday Starts NOW!” and Overstock acknowledged this early start with its “Black Friday Starts Now… What, What?” email.


The 2014 spike in Black Friday promotions the day after Halloween is the highest I’ve seen since 2011. There is a bit of a hangover effect this year, where volume dips for the rest of that first week compared to previous years. After last year, more retailers may be cautious about saturating the theme too early in the month. To combat this potential fatigue, many retailers chose to promote limited-time Black Friday sales like Newegg’s email with this subject line: “Black November 48Hr Kickoff – The Start to a Month of Black Friday Deals.”


The rest of the month is a bit of a knotted mess. Retailers are evoking a leaked-sale tone, like Target’s email “Psst! It’s the Black Friday leak. Tell no one.” Others are taking a phased approach with early Black Friday sales already ending, like Omaha Steak’s email “Early Black Friday Savings ends today!”

As we continue the march toward the busiest shopping days of the year, the biggest takeaway is that the season has not only started but has been going for several weeks. Pacing promotions and monitoring signs of shopper fatigue will be important, as the warm-and-fuzzy sales may reach an early saturation point. Black Friday messages are hitting the inbox more this week than the previous three years and we are likely to see many twists and turns as retailers focus on the early start to this shortened season. We will have a few more days between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2015, but considering the boom of sales and the amplification of marketing messages during shorter seasons, consumers will likely expect retailers to start big and start early.