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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Black Friday’s draw continues to wane, WSU survey finds

Nov. 16, 2018 Updated Tue., Nov. 20, 2018 at 11:03 a.m.

Shoppers check out  a Black Friday deal on socks at Fred Meyer in the East Central neighborhood on Friday, Nov. 25, 2016. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Shoppers check out a Black Friday deal on socks at Fred Meyer in the East Central neighborhood on Friday, Nov. 25, 2016. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

Black Friday’s draw as a retail experience continues to decline, with 84 percent of Pacific Northwest shoppers saying it “used to be an event.”

Washington State University’s Carson College of Business asked nearly 1,000 consumers about their plans for holiday shopping and gift-giving. The second annual survey targeted individuals age 15 and older in Washington, Idaho and Oregon.

Seventy-one percent of survey participants agreed with the statement “I would rather do something other than shop on Black Friday.” Respondents said the focus on post-Thanksgiving sales detracted from their enjoyment of the holiday geared toward counting one’s blessings. The growth of online shopping also appears to have cut into people’s willingness to stand in line for special, time-limited offers.

“Black Friday is no longer seen as a special day,” said Joan Giese, clinical associate professor in WSU’s Carson College of Business. “It used to be an event; now it’s become the entire week. … People want to spend time on Black Friday doing other things.”

Black Friday, as a retail term, dates to the 1950s in Philadelphia, when suburban shoppers and tourists came to the city in advance of the Army-Navy football game held the Saturday after Thanksgiving. By the late 1980s, Black Friday sales were common at malls and big-box retailers. The promotions were associated with deep discounts on popular items, some of which were stocked in limited quantities.

Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday now compete for shoppers’ attention, and some sales start well before Thanksgiving. That’s diluted Black Friday’s exclusivity as a day for deep discounts.

For many Pacific Northwest survey participants, the crowds associated with Black Friday deals were negatives. A majority agreed with the statement “I get anxious just thinking of all the crowds at stores and malls.”

“That’s not to be discounted,” Giese said. “They had some level of anxiety about Black Friday, most likely due to the lines or the parking.”

The survey also explored people’s attitudes toward shopping on Thanksgiving Day. Most viewed it negatively. “People wanted to refocus Thanksgiving on family,” Giese said

Cyber Monday, meanwhile, has edged out Black Friday as a retail ritual, Giese said. Sixty percent of people surveyed by WSU said they preferred Cyber Monday as a shopping day, and many of those purchases are expected to occur while people are at work.

WSU released survey results for a subset of Spokane and Eastern Washington shoppers. Among local consumers, 53 percent said they were likely to shop on Black Friday, although some of those sales would be online. Sixty-seven percent expected to shop on Cyber Monday.

Gen Z shoppers – defined as consumers ages 15 to 22 – were a notable exception to the trend of declining interest in Black Friday. Across the Pacific Northwest, 67 percent of Gen Zers planned to hit the stores on Black Friday, and a majority indicated that in-store shopping was fun for them.

“They’re such an important group to look at because they’re so native to technology and social media,” Giese said. “Gen Z likes to shop and they like to shop in stores. They like to try on items.”

As a group, Gen Z shoppers are very social, she said. If they are shopping on Black Friday, they’re likely to be with family and friends.

Pacific Northwest shoppers appeared split on the advantages of visiting a brick-and-mortar store versus online shopping.

They like the ability to see and feel items in person at physical retail outlets, make impulse purchases and take items home immediately. But online shopping is convenient, with no waiting in line and the ability to compare prices, they said.

A majority of shoppers surveyed said the best holiday gifts aren’t necessarily the most expensive ones. More than half indicated they would be giving gift cards this holiday and practical gifts the recipient could get a lot of use from.

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