With online spending set to surpass in-store sales this Black Friday, it’s no surprise that interest in the retail holiday has globalized. However, as stores push their deals earlier and earlier, the bargains arms race only further emphasizes the increasing stranglehold that online retailers such as Amazon and Alibaba have on the retail market.
Alibaba’s Singles’ Day shopping extravaganza, a holiday invented by college bachelors in 1993 and co-opted by the e-retailer giant in 2009, culminated Nov. 11, and consumers from 225 countries and regions completed over $25.3 billion in transactions in 24 hours, a 42 percent increase from last year’s figure of 17.8 billion.
“It represents the aspiration for quality consumption of the Chinese consumer, and it reflects how merchants and consumers alike have now fully embraced the integration of online and offline retail,” said Daniel Zhang, CEO of Alibaba Group.
Black Friday Around The Globe
The ideas behind Black Friday are by no means unique to America. Boxing Day, a public holiday in the British Commonwealth, almost exactly has mirrored American Black Friday trends. Retailers have pushed discounts earlier to public pushback over mistreatment of retail workers. Similarly, Mexico has run El Buen Fin (The Good Weekend) since 2011 for the purpose of emulating the American holiday.
In recent years, however, international interest in Black Friday has grown exponentially. In 2008, overseas search queries about the retail holiday were almost nonexistent, but by 2014 the United Kingdom, Brazil and even Romania were searching for the holiday as much as Americans were. Global tech company Pitney Bowes attributes this growth to cross-border orders from overseas, registering massive growth in online orders from India, Kuwait and Japan.
International audiences weren’t the only ones to take to online shopping, either. More Americans have shopped online than in person during the post-Thanksgiving weekend since 2015, for the same reasons that e-commerce continues to outstrip physical retail in 2017.
Despite the globalization of the holiday, American participation has waned. According to the National Retail Federation, just 154 million Americans shopped on Black Friday weekend in 2016, down from the 226 million in 2011. Indeed, the NRF has not reported sales figures for the Black Friday weekend since 2011, and this year neglected to release any projections for Black Friday at all, instead expanding the reporting period to include the entire holiday season.
Digital Retail Vs. Black Friday
Plenty of online ink has been spilled over Amazon killing Black Friday, and as the holiday itself approaches, Amazon’s tactics so far haven’t proven it wrong. The company started rolling out its holiday deals on Nov. 1, causing a slew of ad “leaks” from conventional retailers in the following days. Amazon hasn’t just been cutting prices on its own stock, but forcibly subsidizing similar discounts by its third-party sellers as well. And, with its recent acquisition of Whole Foods, Amazon now has a physical location for its Black Friday deals, further undercutting brick-and-mortar retailers.
Due to a recent ad run by Amazon in the UK, some parents are even accusing Amazon of “killing Christmas.” But Jeff Bezos and company aren’t the only ones acting as the retail Grinch this year. eBay announced it will ship for free and match any conventional retailer’s Black Friday prices until Nov. 17.
Online retailers are only contributing to the progressing obsolescence of Thanksgiving weekend as a retail holiday. Amazon invented a holiday in the summer of 2015, declaring “Step Aside, Black Friday” in the very press release announcing it.
Internationally, Google created the Great Online Shopping Festival for the Indian market in 2012. Though the holiday was canceled in 2015, it was only because competitors in India had begun to launch their own shopping holidays at around the same time. Amazon and Bangalore-based competitor Flipkart invented holidays of their own to tie in with Diwali, called the Great Indian Festival Sale and Big Billion Days sale, respectively. Amazon’s effort was so successful that they rehashed the same holiday just a week and a half later.
E-commerce giants like Amazon wield an exceptional amount of power, even making American cities pitch themselves in manners reminiscent of college application essays to host the company’s second headquarters.
So far, these titans of globalized online industry have been using this power to push back against Black Friday, creating proprietary holidays to the tune of billions.
Before long, physical retailers might very well need Alibaba or Amazon’s permission to participate in retail holidays at all.