The Evolution of Black Friday: From In-Store to Online

Black Friday falls on November 29th this year. With the renowned shopping holiday just four days away, we’re looking back on Black Fridays past — drawing predictions and analyzing the bigger story behind this annual gold mine for retailers.

Black Friday in Review

The term “Black Friday” first appeared in 1869, the day of an epic stock market crash in the US. Clearly, the term has done a 180, now signifying the opposite of economic collapse as consumers gear up for some of their biggest purchases of the year.

The day following Thanksgiving has been associated with shopping since the 1930s, when advertisements in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade enticed growing crowds of onlookers on the streets of New York City. Fast forward to today, and Black Friday is now an internationally observed day of spending.

Black Friday 2018: From In-Store to Online

Black Friday has gotten a makeover in the information age as retailers notice shifting consumer trends and try to keep up. Unsurprisingly, the most notable of these trends is the popularity of online shopping and how fast it’s growing.

Research shows that in-store Black Friday traffic has been declining since 2016. But thanks to ecommerce, that doesn’t mean dwindling profits for retailers.

Black Friday 2018 raked in 6.2 billion in online sales, a growth of 23.6 percent year over year.” And the kicker: Cyber Monday yielded $7 billion worth of merchandise soldmaking it the largest online shopping day of all time in the U.S.”

One source showed that smartphone sales reached an all-time high of $2 billion, and more shoppers chose to buy online and pick up in-store than in previous years. source

Of course, many shoppers want to avoid the chaos, crowds, and long lines to shop deals from the comfort of their home – but how exactly are they shopping online?

On Cyber Monday 2018, direct website traffic ranked highest for driving revenue at 25.3 percent share of sales, followed by paid search at 25.1 percent, natural search at 18.8 percent, and email at 24.2 percent. Similar to past years, social media continued to have minimal impact on online sales at a 1.1 percent share.

Large retailers, on average, had more success with smartphone sales, while small retailers offering more specific items did better with desktop sales.

All of this data brings us to the fundamental question: Is Cyber Monday slowly phasing out Black Friday? Aside from Cyber Monday, we’re seeing other trends that draw focus away from shopping on Black Friday itself.

Black Friday 2019: What’s in Store

In the past, not waking up early to brave the crowds meant missing out on deals. But ecommerce has changed the game, providing easier ways to buy.

Some suspect that 2019 may be the first year Cyber Monday deals overshadow Black Friday deals.

The likelihood of trend continuing is high, considering how web shoppers aren’t really missing out on anything. Historically, it’s been shown that most supposed in-store only deals are actually online too. source

Along with Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday has also gained significant traction in recent years to encourage consumers to not forget about small businesses. In addition, big brands like Best Buy and Walmart have already started announcing deals the week before Black Friday. The Kohl's online Black Friday sale is already underway as of today (November 25th).

With all of this hype leading up to Black Friday and after it, the holiday is quickly extending into a full week.

“As stores moved their Black Friday Sales on Thanksgiving Day, they faced a backlash. To avoid the backlash, more and more stores are moving their sale online on Thanksgiving Day by still keeping their physical stores closed. As a result, Thanksgiving Day is emerging as one of the main days for online shopping. The Wednesday or more specifically Thanksgiving Eve has also emerged as another time when several stores start their Black Friday Sale.” source

This brings us to another fundamental question: will Black Friday eventually expand into a month-long series of deals and discounts?

Both consumers and businesses are reverberating this pattern as more shoppers report starting their holiday shopping in October. It’s also not uncommon for retailers to start advertising their Black Friday week deals in October.

Data Drives Retail Decisions

Data allows businesses of any size to take maximum advantage and forecast the best Black Friday results. There are several ways retailers are already doing this.

For big brands, using the prior year’s Black Friday data to prepare and make predictions for this year is standard practice. With more in-depth analysis, businesses can also identify the most in-demand products so they know what deals to offer. Tracking revenue also helps businesses aim higher each year and know what decisions helped them achieve that lift.

Machine learning helps brands predict how much a customer will spend using deep neural networks. These networks take unstructured data sets and comb through layers of information. Just as Netflix offers recommendations based on a customer’s unique views, businesses can offer specific products to customers who are most likely to want them. By experimenting with different models, data scientists can extract precise information that gives brands the best chance of success – and on a holiday like Black Friday, that can have a major impact on revenue.

Black Friday Prep for Small Businesses

If you’re offering Black Friday deals, there’s lots to do in preparation for the big day. Checking inventory, making sure your site can handle the extra traffic, selecting items to discount, beginning email marketing campaigns, optimizing for mobile buyers, and, of course, tracking your performance.

Studies show that retargeted ads are hugely impactful for Black Friday sales. “Apps running retargeting enjoy a significant revenue uplift on Black Friday compared to those that don’t. The gap was most pronounced in the US, with a staggering 14 times difference.” source

Whether you’re a Black Friday fan or not, it’s useful to observe the digital trends that have transformed the holiday over the years. It’s these same trends that are influencing small business sales both on and offline.

Marketing Automation Trends to Watch For in 2019

Automation has always had a big role in marketing. From the very beginning, automated technologies and the artificial intelligence (AI) that power them have been used by companies like yours to provide a better customer experience.

In 2018, the key developments in the consolidation of technologies, with many companies acquiring the programs and systems they need rather than develop them internally. Some of that will continue. Marketing automation is technology-heavy and in many cases, it is cheaper to buy new tech than create it - but that is only scratching the surface of what is happening in marketing automation for 2019.

More Personalization

One of the biggest buzzwords out of the marketing world in 2019 is "personalization." Until recently, this term was used to mean the way a company can deliver a more personalized experience to its customers, such as automatically sending out emails that correspond with each buyer's shopping tendencies, highlighting specific products when a customer visits your website, and so on. According to MailChimp, this type of customer segmentation has open rates that are more than 14% higher and click-through rates that are almost 101% higher than marketing efforts that are not so differentiated.

In 2019, personalization is expanding to inbound content.

Inbound content has historically been one of the best ways for a company to attract website visitors. A closing on each article with a call-to-action was the gold standard for compelling people to stick around, contact the business, or buy a product. Content is still big, but now it is getting a makeover thanks to personalization. New systems allow specific content to be tailored to buyer demographics as well as shopping behavior. For example, a work from home mom who clicks on a link for "spring styles" is going to see the type of outfits she tends to wear, say maybe jeans and leggings, while a professional woman is going to see more business casual clothing and suits.

Predictive Lead Scoring

Predictive lead scoring is also gaining traction. Companies are using data analytics and AI to take traditional lead scoring models to the next level. In earlier evolutions of lead quality evaluation, the most relevant factors were selected by people and thus, subject to human error. Big data is making it possible for organizations to look at sales and evaluate all the factors that correlate with sales conversion, from basic demographic information to minutia that a human evaluator would likely miss.

Powerful and effective, new scoring models not just identifying more casual relationships, but they are helping companies uncover customer bases that had previously been overlooked and identify new opportunities.

Fewer Forms

Customers like a personalized experience, so you can expect automation to infiltrate other areas that are normally more standardized, like filling out forms.

"Forms are used to collect data about prospective customers. But, forms are passive, and people avoid filling them, especially since they're mostly using their cell phones to surf the net," explains Contentworks. "Forms can be replaced with chatbots, which use artificial intelligence to have a conversation with website visitors." Newer systems could allow this to happen over text or through speech. Either way, your company can use that chatbot conversation to collect information about your customers while highlighting key aspects of your brand, such as your company culture or products.

In addition, chatbots will change how customers interact with your brand when they have a question or concern. Traditionally, a shopper would need to go to your website, click on a "contact us" button, and route their own query by saying what their issue concerns. This is another type of "form" and it is rapidly becoming passé. In 2019, chatbots are collecting all that information, then routing the issue to the appropriate person or solving it without human assistance. It's a game-changer and one of the key ways that early adopters can differentiate themselves from other companies.

Illustration showing key elements of GDPR (effective 25 May 2018) - DPOs, Compliance, Data Breaches and Personal Data (

Data Security

Last year was also the year of GDPR - shorthand for the EU's General Data Protectionism Regulation. This data security standard covers the methods companies must take to safeguard data and the steps they must take after a data breach. While the GDPR went into effect in May 2018, companies should be aware that any market automation efforts will have to remain in compaliance with the EU regulation.

Technology and Integrations

According to Forbes, around 87% of retailers believe that having an omnichannel strategy in place is important to their success, yet only 8% of respondents offer their customers an omnichannel experience. Expect that to change in 2019.

Historically, technology has been the biggest hurdle to making omnichannel a reality. Only the biggest companies with the most resources were able to sync the information they learn from customer buying behaviors with the emails they click on, their browsing histories, and their mobile shopping tendencies. Omnichannel marketing was expensive to set up and manage, but that was then.

More and more marketing tools are becoming capable of consolidating information, delivering a cohesive marketing message across channels, and analyzing the success of those efforts. For example, Adobe uses Marketo technology (a recent acquisition) to integrate email marketing with social media efforts and generate personalized content that gets clicks, then they generate analytics to continuously hone their approach.

Key Trends

Personalization: Connecting Content & Data—Ethically (CMO.COM)

  • Companies in 2019 will work on building agile marketing execution models in which cross-functional teams can experiment, leveraging the data and technology stack to capture value.
  • New laws such as GDPR—plus California’s privacy law, which comes into effect in January 2020—means marketers must be focused on ensuring ethical data collection practices and earning consumers.
  • American companies will begin preparing for the CCPA during 2019.

Account-Based Marketing In B2B To Hit New Highs (CMO.COM)

  • Sales and marketing executives need to align teams, technology, and governance models around a strategic set of target accounts.
  • Sales cycle length, customer retention of exposed accounts, and strategic accounts engaged are just some of the measures of success for ABM in 2019.

Video Ads Will Continue To Grow (

  • As consumers spend more time on their smartphones watching videos, advertisers are expected to spend $20 billion on mobile video in 2019 (up from $2 billion in 2015), and video is expected to account for 85 percent of total Internet traffic by 2019 (both live video and video ads).

During 2018, 65 percent of ad impressions on Instagram were the result of video content, and this is expected to grow even further. 

Messenger Ads and In-App Ads are on the Rise (

  • The top APAC chat apps are already ahead of western developers in using messenger ads to reach audiences. In South Korea, a country of 50 million, KakaoTalk counts 32 million local users who spend an average of 850 minutes on KakaoTalk per month.
  • 55 billion messages are sent via WhatsApp every day.
  • In 2019 the number of apps using in-app advertising will grow by 60 percent as advertisers increase conversion rates with these captive users.

Macro Trends: APAC App Ecosystem Expands into Europe and U.S. (

  • In the global mobile ecosystem, Chinese and other APAC-based apps from chat to mCommerce began to soar through the ranks of the U.S. and EU app stores in 2018. Discounts, seamless payments and customer service were driving factors in APAC apps gaining traction in global markets.
  • Traction will continue to grow, and with it, new concepts being introduced by APAC to western markets like social commerce are expected to rise with social media and campaigns in 2019.

OTT and connected TV seek starring roles in ad budgets (

  • While over-the-top streaming and connected TVs have forever changed how consumers watch movies and linear programming, advertisers are still trying to determine the best ways to reach viewers and wondering if the scale of broadcast TV can ever be replicated. Answering these questions will be top of mind in 2019 as cord-cutting continues.

People are putting more trust in others they know and reputable content, not ads. (

  • 30 percent of all internet users are expected to be using ad blockers by the end of this year, meaning traditional ads now won’t even reach 30 percent of possible target audience members.

Understanding how the customers communicate will be vital. (

  • Close to 50 percent of all searches will be made through voice search by 2020.
  • As adoption becomes more mainstream, brands will move from gimmicks to finding ways to add real value to consumers lives. By 2020 it’s predicted that every major brand will have a voice strategy baked into its marketing plans, so time for us all to get thinking.  
  • A report by Slyce revealed that 74 percent of shoppers found text-only searches to be insufficient when searching for products

The rise of UX Writing (

  • UX writing can be distinguished from copywriting by its lack of focus on selling; instead, the UX writer seeks to guide a user through a website, app or product in a clear and delightful way.
  • In 2019, expect to craft messages that do more than sell; write to guide, write to motivate, write to delight.

Mobile will become supercharged (

  • Won’t kick in until the end of 2019 when the first networks will start to roll out their fifth generation mobile technology; 5G is going to be the rocket fuel we’ve all been waiting for from a mobile data point of view.
  • Brands will be more ambitious and creative with their plans, confidently bringing mobile content to the fore.

Love thy neighbour (

  • Unlike any other time in recent history, the threat of global conflict looms heavy; from the Middle East, Russia, Korea and China. The arguments, the uncertainty and the political jockeying are not going to abate anytime soon, which provides an interesting opportunity for brands. Read: Not necessarily political stance but an emotional one.
  • 88% of people felt the need for unity and 60% thought brands could help achieve this.


Marketing automation is changing in 2019. Personalization and chatbots are becoming necessities while influencer marketing is getting a makeover and omnichannel efforts are becoming more attainable and more unified than ever before. Companies looking to use marketing automation should take note and look into ways to apply new technologies to their businesses - before one of their competitors does.

Why Marketers Need to Pay Attention to Real-Time Analytics

You know that old cliche about opportunity knocking only once? It's true. That's probably why it's such a cliche. In marketing, staying plugged into real-time trending topics presents opportunities that can be capitalized on and turned into awareness, engagement, or even selling opportunities.


Oreo is a perfect example of how having a creative team that's ready to act on a whim can be turned into marketing gold:



For context, a power outage interrupted the 2013 Super Bowl that led to a 34-minute delay while electricians tried to get everything working again. Oreo managed to whip this together during that time, garnering over 15,000 retweets, 6,000 likes, and lifelong notoriety as an example of how beneficial real-time marketing can be.


Four years later, more people likely remember this ad than who won that year's Super Bowl (It was the Baltimore Ravens narrowly staving off a frantic San Francisco 49ers comeback).


Or how about this one from Arby's which generated a staggering 80,000+ retweets.



One question made at the right time generated worldwide awareness. Would Arby's ever had generated 80,000 retweets from a conventional tweet that was implemented during their strategy meeting weeks prior? Most likely not. They were able to drum up that much attention and engagement because it was topical and hundreds of thousands of people at the time were tuned into the Grammys and social media.


What's most impressive about these two in particular is they were completely spontaneous and unpredictable. Nobody could have imagined the Super Bowl lights would have went out, nor would anyone have thought Pharrell would wear a hat that looks like the Arby's logo (Barring a secret endorsement deal between the two).


Some brands can write up a tweet in advance just in case of an occurrence, as NASA did here, but it's going to impress upon people even more if you write up an ad that nobody would have seen coming. Then they'll say, "Wow! How did they get that out so fast??" and that's when the awareness and engagement really rolls in.


This is where social media really benefits the marketer. It allows their advertising to be as topical as it can possibly be, reacting in real-time to events the rest of the world is watching and joining the conversation.


Being able to seize opportunities during events is key because most people watching that event are also likely to follow the discussion around it on social media. Twitter, specifically, is the top platform for this since it's where real-time conversations are occurring most.


People have opinions, they want to spout them off, and there's nowhere better for that than Twitter. Thus why Oreo and Arby's immediately turned to Twitter to send their messages heard 'round the world. Nowhere else can people engage on a single conversation with others better than the social media platform that best corrals conversations on specific, trending topics.


Paying attention to real-time updates goes beyond trending topics, however. It also includes website optimizations and data that can also be immediately seized upon., for example, practices utilizing real-time updates in plain sight without you even really noticing:


“Amazon has at least five sections of recommended items based on your browsing history: New for Your, More Items to Consider, Related to Items You’ve Viewed, inspired by Your Browsing History, Additional Items to Explore. How do they do this? Targeted marketing. Real-time recommendations create a personal shopping experience for each and every customer….

Amazon is able to effectively upsell and cross-sell products at every interaction point.”


Everything you search for, add to your cart, or buy on Amazon is immediately sent to a database used by the company in real-time to find items you would most likely want to purchase. This is how they turn single sales into sales that double, triple, or quadruple amounts spent by buyers, because you just can't have that one frying pan you really wanted without a full knife and dinette set.


You can also even split-test with real-time data, again another tactic used by Amazon to determine the most effective optimization. However, it's a tactic that can be employed by anyone as it simply involves moving things around on a website, determining where people are more likely to search and click, as well as what CTAs they're more likely to click on:


“Let’s say you wanted to test a couple different versions of a new “Purchase” button to see which one received more in-app purchases. A developer can setup a quick split test, let it run a few minutes, and stop it. Within a few minutes, the data they would have would be significant enough to make a decision."


This is a quick and easy way of determining what works and where. Of course it would be better to run it over the course of a week, thus allowing for more volume, but you can still gain some takeaways and insights from a few days worth of metrics.


Real-time analytics allow you to make real-time optimizations, rather than sitting on your hands waiting for a campaign to end. It adds some spontaneity to the rigidity that serves as both a gift and curse to marketing agencies. Having a set, organized campaign is always helpful, but, as we've seen throughout this blog, you raise your chances of going viral by capitalizing via real-time decision-making.


Creativity never takes a day off. Even when the Super Bowl is on and you already made up your ad for TV or social media, real-time occurrences that will make the internet explode need your attention. These are the opportunities that only come around during significant events.


Some of our top campaigns have been a result of noticing these trends. When a coup was being staged in Turkey, we saw this as a perfect opportunity for introducing our real estate client to a new market.


Sure enough, Turkey to this day remains one of our most interested regions, simply because we made ourselves noticeable in a time where people were at their most likely to move.


We could have ignored it. The coup began at 6PM where we were and that was closing time. But rather than let an opportunity go to waste, we wrote up some ads, identified some regions, and sent them for the people to see. We now have an entirely new region to market to.


Just like with everything else in market, going the extra mile can change the course your agency takes. You can be the agency that stays rigid and does everything within a 9-6 block, or you can be the one that makes great marketing campaigns AND pays attention to trends that happen off the clock.