Black Friday (a term born in the 1960s when Philadelphia cops complained about holiday shopping traffic) is a crucial event for the bottom lines of big box stores like Target, Walmart or Best Buy. In 2018, Black Friday sales (both online and in store) was nearly $23 billion. For small businesses, however, Black Friday doesn’t hold nearly as much sway as Small Business Saturday. Here’s why you aren’t alone if your business isn’t dependent on the Black Friday craze.
1. It’s difficult for small businesses to compete with the advertising machines of nationwide chains
Earl Apfelbaum, a Philadelphia stamp dealer, was the first merchant to advertise Black Friday. As the day became more integrated into our collective consciousness (in large part thanks to advertising’s “coming of age”), big box stores began dominating the day. Eventually, the big chains claimed this retail “holiday” as their own, putting massive resources into marketing and advertising special deals and offers. Last year, major retailers spent just over a quarter of a billion dollars on Black Friday ads alone. By contrast, the average small business spends a mere $400 per month on marketing, according to a Chamber of Commerce survey. Even if your monthly marketing budget is higher than this, it can be a Herculean battle to compete with the big box giants.
2. Small businesses often can’t price-slash like big box retailers
It’s a fact we’re all aware of: because big box stores buy in huge volume, they can afford to offer deep discounts. Local small businesses simply can’t match those prices while still remaining profitable, so they have no choice but to sell at a higher price. And while a loyal customer base may keep our small businesses afloat, it’s difficult for SMBs to compete in a competitive event like Black Friday, which is entirely based on price slashing.
3. Small business owners are joining the “Black Friday is ruining Thanksgiving” movement
Over the years, Black Friday has morphed into what is now being called “Gray Thursday” — meaning that stores now start their sales on Thursday night. Many view these early sales as enticing consumers (and forcing employees) to swap family togetherness for consumerism, and groups across the country are voicing their protest. More small businesses are keeping their doors closed on both Thursday and Friday, including Free Radicals, a clothing store in Albuquerque that’s viewing the days as their “own quiet version of protest of incredible commercial excess in the season.” Von Maur, an Iowa-based department store, is also staying closed in a stand for family values: “We’ve never been tempted that you would sacrifice the importance of family and holiday tradition and try to convince yourself that it will be more profitable,” said COO Melody Wright in an interview with Today Money.
As a small business owner, it makes sense to play a game you can win — in other words, focus on Small Business Saturday rather than Black Friday to jump start your holiday sales.