More quality, less value: How the booming economy is changing Black Friday marketing

And some retailers are still closing their doors on the biggest shopping day of the year.

Toy City in Rockaway, N.J.
Toy City in Rockaway, N.J.

The competition for holiday shoppers is on. U.S. retailers are starting their marketing for Black Friday with extended store hours, more generous and speedier shipping policies, and opportunities for early buys.

This year’s messages will stress convenience, gift curation, and early access to deals online in the lead-up to Black Friday, the unofficial kickoff of the holiday shopping season. That’s not to say door crashers, early-bird incentives, and shoppers camped outside stores will go away, just that the shopping environment has changed.

"We’ll see brands shouting about their service, what they stand for, and quality of products as much as retailers focused on deep discounts," says Jenna Walsh, VP of brand communications at Cone. "A big part of the reason for that is we’re in a different place economically; people are not trying to stretch their holiday shopping budget as much."

Holiday sales predictions support that assertion. According to Deloitte’s annual holiday economic forecast, consumers feel bullish about the economy and their household finances. It predicts total retail sales will increase 5% to 5.6% versus 2017, with most of that growth coming online. Online sales are expected to jump to $134 billion, up 17% to 22% versus November 2017 to January 2018.  

Convenience: the big selling point
Target began offering free two-day shipping with no minimum purchase through December 22, a first for the brand, which is in the midst of a $7 billion overhaul. It will also introduce a mobile app for buying in-store without having to go through the checkout line.

Amazon opened a Black Fridays Deal Store on Thursday with get-them-now offers. It is also delivering Christmas trees for the first time. The e-commerce giant, which has more than 100 stores in partnership with Kohl’s across the U.S., has also opened a store in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood that features only four-star-rated products. Hunter Public Relations is providing Amazon with Black Friday comms support.

Party City is opening its stores for Black Friday through Cyber Monday, plus 55 locations of a new concept store the retailer is testing, called Toy City. Fifty-one stores have already opened  in combination with Halloween City, which is being scaled back, with four standalone Toy City locations to open soon.

"When Toys ‘R’ Us closed their doors, it created a new market opportunity, one where we could leverage our existing Halloween City pop-up store capabilities and expand our toy offerings in a very strategic way," says Ryan Vero, president of retail at Party City. "This year is considered to be an initial pilot test that we can learn from in terms of consumer demand, shopping patterns, store traffic, sales, and more."

In addition to awareness tactics like pop-up-opening events, direct mail, and geo-targeted digital tactics, Party City is working with ICR to raise awareness and understanding of the Toy City concept among national business reporters, says Vero.

REI again leading Black Friday opt-outs
Other retailers are no longer opening their doors on Thanksgiving, such as Nordstrom and Home Depot, and REI is one of the few to close on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

Four years after it first shut its doors and website, REI is continuing to build #OptOutside, which started as an attention-grabbing decision to give its employees time off. It has become a movement in strategic partnership with its PR AOR, Edelman, says Alex Thompson, REI’s VP of brand stewardship and impact.

"It is challenging as an organization to take a position like that and hit repeat year-after-year. Your concern is the novelty will wear off," he says. "But #OptOutside just took off at a shocking speed, and so, when something gains this degree of momentum, you have to ask yourself, ‘How can we use this platform for the long-term?"

To that end, the outdoor retail co-op has invested $1 million with the University of Washington for a new center of academic excellence and a new initiative, Health and Nature, to study the link between health and time spent outdoors.

REI has also created four 15-second embeddable videos for #OptOutside that compare a "day in" to a "day out."

"Our videos are designed to interrupt people’s experience in social media and get them to disconnect," says Thompson. "Our intensity around that communication is going to build towards Black Friday. We’re certainly not vilifying technology, but encouraging people to have some balance."

As for metrics, Thompson says REI started collecting them for #OptOutside three years ago.

"This might make the toes curl of some readers, but we put no business health metrics or media or social impressions in place that first year," says Thompson. "We essentially said any brand benefit of this will be a bonus if our employees realize what we stand for and care about."  

REI has counted 9.9 million posts on Instagram and 687,000 tweets with the hashtag #OptOutside. Roughly 700 organizations from Subaru to Google to Unilever have supported the movement.

While the company doesn’t track, or want to track, what sales impact the goodwill #OptOutside has had, the co-op has grown to 17 million members, a 31% increase from 2014. The company also topped $2.6 billion in revenue last year, up 18% versus 2014.

"What we can say is the co-op is healthier and we are financially stronger," says Thompson. "We attribute that principally to the fact we lead with our values."

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