Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the future of consumerism

The holiday season retailers are counting on shoppers to take department stores by storm on Black Friday and scour the internet for deals on Cyber Monday.

Shoppers in the United States spent a record $5 billion in 24 hours during Black Friday last year, according to Adobe Digital Insights, a firm that tracks 80 percent of transactions from 100 major retailers.

The same year, Cyber Monday became the largest online shopping day in U.S. history, with $6.59 billion in digital transactions.

“Together, these two marketing ploys have transformed holiday shopping, making it more of a frantic and—at times—even dangerous event,” said Brandon Reich, Portland State assistant professor in marketing, whose work on social psychology and the effects on the marketplace of prosocial consumer movements has appeared in the Journal of Consumer Research.

“The process has become so easy and so fast that if you have Amazon Prime you can pick something—you can swipe with your finger on your phone in one motion, and it’s already on the way, and it will get there in maybe two days or less,” Reich said.

Since its origins, Black Friday has become an essential shopping day for many Americans. After counting their intangible blessings on turkey day, shoppers go wild. Instead of stuffing their faces, they flock to Walmart to stuff their shopping carts.

According to, the term “Black Friday” originated in Philadelphia in the 1960s when accounting was done by hand and losses were inked in red, while profits were noted in black.

The first ever Cyber Monday following Black Friday was marked in 2005, urging shoppers to wait for online sales instead of braving swarms of actual shoppers a few days before.

Philip Nguyen, a senior in PSU’s School of Business, said online shopping has become increasingly easier. “Waiting for Black Friday deals in-store was the norm. Now, Black Friday shopping doesn’t even always land on Friday, when you get good deals online throughout the season,“ he said.

Cassidy Johnston, a 2016 PSU grad with a degree in advertising who is now a brand manager for Portland ad agency R/West, echoed Nguyen’s take on the ease of online shopping. “People shop online, and early,” Johnston said. “Black Friday doesn’t exist any longer.”

Johnston went on to describe how the brands she works with create campaigns a week before Black Friday, extending through the end of the month or longer.

“Brands want your dollars now, and they’re not going to wait until a specific date to get them,” Johnston explained. “Consumers are ready for this. No one wants to wait outside in the cold to get into a Best Buy—they are going to hop online on Nov. 1 and purchase everything they need from their favorite online retailer throughout the month.”

Holiday spending through November and December 2017 increased 5.5 percent over the previous year to $691.9 billion, according to the National Retail Foundation. Deloittes’ annual forecast expects that number to grow another 5 percent or so this year, with e-commerce estimated to see a 22 percent bump.

Reich said Black Friday has, over time, shifted more toward materialism. “Initially it was a little bit more innocent, as just ‘here’s an opportunity to save some money,’ and it sort of grew to the point of being dangerous, where people would get trampled.”

Following these less benign manifestations of materialism, Reich said a shift in cultural values began to take place along with a growing rejection of things like Black Friday among individual consumers and organizations like Adbusters. Buy Nothing Day, promoted by the organization, reimagines Black Friday as an international day of protest against consumerism.

Reich also cited REI’s #OptOutside campaign as an example of pushback against materialism.

“Historically they’ve been open to capitalize on all the deals, but they’re instead turning to this growing rejection of materialism and instead selling it as an idea,” Reich said. Instead of taking the money, the company was choosing to take the moral high ground by discouraging overconsumption in favor of healthy physical activity.

Johnston’s perspective on REI’s approach is that it’s just a different type of marketing ploy. “Thinking of the #OptOutside movement from REI: You may not shop there on Black Friday, but instead REI will most likely get your dollars throughout the year because they knew that campaign was going to leave a lasting impression,” Johnston said.

When asked if he had a message for PSU students in the days leading up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday madness, Reich said consumer savvy is key.

“Just from the perspective of being a wise consumer, if you feel like you want something, spend a minute thinking about why you want it,” Reich continued. “Just reflect. Where does that come from? Does it come from cultural values? Does it come from a message that was brought to you by a company? Whatever the answer is, it’s okay if you still want to buy whatever you want to buy, but you’ll probably end up with more well-reasoned choices.”

Johnston predicts the future of holiday retail will keep evolving with the values favored by the next generation.

“There’s a generation coming up that most likely won’t participate in days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday; this generation cares about brands doing the right things, supporting their local artists and giving a gift that means something. Everyone can shop on Amazon; not everyone can get a gift from a shop like Presents of Mind on Hawthorne,” Johnston said. “All around, I believe Gen Z will change the way we shop for the holidays.”