How Online Conversations Shape Holiday Shopping

Now that the holidays have come and gone, we thought we’d take a look back at how online conversations impacted the year’s busiest shopping season. Black Friday isn’t a new concept, but how consumers view it is evolving. By examining the online conversations of Black Friday shoppers (and those who avoid it), many companies have successfully tapped into the changing needs and expectations of their consumers.

What Are Consumers Saying About Black Friday?

According to data collected in 2017, the hashtag #BlackFriday was much more likely to be used positively than negatively. Many people still love the experience and take to social media to share their day. Not surprisingly, Black Friday shopper behaviors have evolved. What started as an isolated mass-shopping day has morphed into a season-long marathon. The deals themselves (which aren’t that great anyway) are becoming less and less important. Consumers want an experience that aligns with their lifestyle and beliefs.

Black Friday Alternatives

There are those who live for Black Friday and those who avoid it like the plague. One such demographic that wants to do away with the shopping day is, surprise surprise, Millennials. A study by Tylt found that online reactions to Black Friday were mostly negative within the age bracket. They compared two hashtags: #BanBlackFriday and #HolidayShoppingFTW. The former was preferred about 68% of the time.

In fact, the number of conversations about Black Friday in general has remained pretty stagnant over the past four years, good or bad. Over Thanksgiving week alone, there were 8.5 million mentions online—about equal to previous years. This may be a result of negative-leaning Millennials taking up more of the conversation, or because of the day’s waning monopoly on the post-Thanksgiving shopping experience. Other topics and hashtags in online conversations are stepping it up and forcing Black Friday to share the cyberspace.

Black Friday isn’t just a single-day event any more. It’s a 6-8 week season that has taken over all of post-Thanksgiving November and pre-Christmas December. Companies and brands have coined new hashtags to build upon the responses to #BlackFriday. Hashtags such as American Express’s #SmallBusinessSaturday and Shop.org’s #CyberMonday are used more and more every year and point to newer threads of conversation. Even nonprofits entered the arena with the rise of #GivingTuesday.

While we can add Christmas shopping to the list of what Millennials are killing, some retailers are leveraging this phenomena and changing holiday shopping strategies. For example, #OptOutside has become a popular hashtag in recent years. It encourages anti-shoppers to spend the day in nature. Sporting equipment retailer REI has even kept their doors closed for the past four Black Fridays.

In reality, REI did much more than promote the hashtag—they coined it. First used in 2014, many marketers and investors balked at REI’s willingness to leave so much money on the table. However, REI listened to its core consumers (and employees) were saying online. They joined the conversation and encouraged customers to skip shopping altogether.

As many brick-and-mortars extended their hours into Thanksgiving Day, others listened to what many were saying online and took a stand against it. Stores like IKEA, Barnes & Noble, Guitar Center, even the Mall of America all (quite publically) decreed their stores would remain closed throughout the holiday.

Keep Listening, Keep Selling

In 2018, America spent $6.8 billion—a new record for the day. While there is a shift to online shopping and alternative views and approaches, the spending is still profound. Online conversations tell us how and when consumers want to shop. Even using #OptOutside provides valuable insights. If companies want to keep capitalizing on the day, they only need to listen to the conversations happening online.

The rise of Black Friday alternatives and the online conversations happening around them demonstrates a need for more shopping options. If you’re willing take the time to dive deeper into online conversations and truly understand the wants and needs of the consumer, you can deliver those products, services, even the shopping events people actually want.

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