Brands strategize as Black Friday moves online


by Mike O’Brien

By denouncing the practice of opening on Thanksgiving, retailers are getting in the public’s good graces and boosting their e-commerce efforts as holiday shopping becomes more digital.

Last month, REI announced that it would be closed on Black Friday, giving all 12,000 employees a paid day off. The outdoor brand’s move made national headlines because it was unprecedented. How could a retailer close on Black Friday, one of the most lucrative shopping days out of the whole year?

When you log onto REI’s website, the first thing you see is a counter denoting how many consumers have pledged to join the brand and #OptOutside on Black Friday. Brian Hoyt, vice president of communications at RetailMeNot, believes this decision was partially fueled by the brand’s desire to boost its e-commerce profile this holiday season.

“I think they certainly got a huge brand pop out of it and I think there’s a tug of war in what is the value of staying open on Thanksgiving,” says Hoyt. “Clearly consumers are shopping on Thanksgiving but it hasn’t crossed the chasm of every retailer thinking it’s a slam dunk decision to be open. [Closing] helps differentiate brands in some way and they’re certainly not closing their online channels.”


In recent years, retailers have increasingly opted to open on Thanksgiving Day. Next Thursday, Old Navy’s doorbusters begin at 4 p.m., with stores like Walmart, Target and Macy’s not far behind. But while some deal-hungry consumers will undoubtedly take advantage of these offers, many others are offended by them.

A campaign entitled, “Save Thanksgiving: Consumers and workers ask stores to stay closed on Thanksgiving” has amassed nearly 400,000 signatures. Retailers that won’t be open include H&M, The Home Depot, Nordstrom and Costco.

The move is a multi-layer agenda. By publicly denouncing being open on Thanksgiving Day, these brands are separating themselves from the corporate greed associated with the Walmarts and Targets of the world accused of prioritizing revenue over a family holiday.

As Starbucks demonstrated last week, aligning your brand with consumers’ values is a great way to engender their loyalty.


Brands are working to establish themselves as solid e-commerce destinations as each year, people do less of their holiday shopping in physical stores.

Countless studies have shown that consumers liked customization. Terri Mock, chief revenue officer at Ve Interactive, attributes some of online shopping’s explosive growth to the fact that retailers can provide these experiences much better online than in-store.

“At a brick and mortar store, you can’t personalize a campaign to a customer. Online, you can identify the right kind of timing; if someone comes to your site and gets distracted, you can time an email to come back to them in half an hour, the next day, two days later,” says Mock. “Retailers have complete control, in terms of having the ability to provide the right content for each customer that comes to their sites.”

In addition, the proliferation of mobile devices has made online shopping so easy that there’s no longer the same “need” to go to Best Buy at daybreak and throw down over the last plasma TV. Analyzing 63.7 million transactions from 200 top retailers last year, performance marketing company Criteo found that Black Friday and Cyber Monday were nearly equal last year.

According to Adobe’s annual predictions, online holiday shopping will increase 11 percent over last year. Cyber Monday is also projected to surpass Black Friday, with $3 billion in sales, versus $2.7 billion. The software giant has also declared Thanksgiving once again the fastest-growing shopping day (and the day with the best prices) with 51 percent of that traffic being driven by mobile.

Rob Deichert, Criteo’s managing director of North American operations, is unsurprised by those figures, in which he thinks responsive design is a huge factor.

“Consumers are more comfortable, the screens are bigger, and brands are making the websites better and easier to check out,” says Deichert. “If you take the friction out of transactions, you make it very easy for people to purchase.”

While mobile has made things easier for consumers, the same could be said about retailers. The omnipresence of mobile devices have certainly been a factor in the increased sophistication of e-commerce. As a result, retailers can afford to take Thanksgiving Day off.

Everyone from Fortune to The Huffington Post has covered H&M’s closure because of the novelty. The Swedish retailer has traditionally been open on Thanksgiving, but now that online shopping is so commonplace, does it even need to be?