Black Friday: When and How To Reach Your Customers

Posted on August 16th, 2019 by True Media


Black Friday — a name given to the one day of the year where retailers go from ‘in the red’ to ‘in the black’ (at least that’s the spin society has put on it). A day most associated with camping out in long lines in the cold, stacks of flyers and fights over toasters (it’s 50% off, though!), Black Friday has grown to much more than a midnight shopping spree. Many “Black Friday” sales begin well ahead of Friday,  often even before people sit down for their Thanksgiving dinner to become less of a one-day sale and more of an ‘opening day’ for the holiday shopping season. It kicks off a slew of sales, events, and promotions including Cyber Monday (a day within the aptly named ‘Cyber Week’), Green Monday (an eBay-sanctioned name for the second Monday of December), after-holiday sales, end-of-year closeouts, and every sale and promotion in between. 


While extensive Black Friday research and planning is often done by consumers, it is a requirement for retailers and their agencies. Not only is it important for retailers to reach their audience at the beginning of the consumer journey when Black Friday research has just begun; in order to be fully effective, retailers must also know what device is being used by the consumer to conduct the research.  Knowing just one isn’t enough.


The When: Reaching Customers When They First Begin Researching Black Friday 


Google search queries of Black Friday remain flat through September and early October and first begin to see some lift around mid-October. The second surge of searches occurs around Halloween and increases steadily until spiking drastically by the second or third week of November (more on this later), peaking around Black Friday and then immediately dropping off right after.

This search trend is uniform across all devices, beginning, peaking, and ending around the same time. These search queries can also help identify when consumers start making Black Friday plans. Combining these search queries with sales data, we can begin to see the bigger picture. From 2017 to 2018:  


“While US online sales increased just 13.3% in the first nine days of November, online sales jumped 25.7% year over year between November 10 and 12, according to Adobe.”  – eMarketer


While search queries began in late October, sales saw the first big jump YOY that second week of November, matching the spike in ‘Black Friday’ searches previously mentioned. We can then assume the research phase began before this jump in sales, around late October/early November. According to Newsweek, Black Friday flyers had already started being released by the first week of November 2018. This allowed consumers to begin making their Black Friday plans, decide where to go and justify missing seconds at Thanksgiving dinner (maybe that $10 toaster is reason enough to skip out on your uncle’s political rant). 


Given this data, we can begin to see the general Black Friday consumer journey timeline:

  • Late October – Early November: research phase begins
  • Early November: Sales flyers are released and planning phase begins
  • Mid-November (Thanksgiving & Black Friday): Shopping phase begins


The How: Reaching Customers On The Devices They’re Using To Research Black Friday


Now that we have the when, we still need to know the how. Mobile searches outnumber both desktop and tablet searches combined, many times over. According to this data, having Black Friday messaging on mobile devices in early November would reach the majority of consumers as they begin researching Black Friday on the device they are searching with.  


The data above concludes the majority of customers conduct their Black Friday research on their mobile devices, but how does this translate to actual purchases? The answer depends on the demographic conducting the searches. The average internet user in 2018 planned to primarily shop Black Friday deals on their desktop devices and in-store, followed by mobile. While mobile trailed, it’s important to note mobile browser and mobile apps are broken out separately. 


As shown below, the planned avenue to conduct purchases varies, depending on the target demographic. While those ages 60-69 may be less likely than younger generations to purchase from a mobile device, they may be more likely to make purchases from a desktop or laptop. 



When we look at 2018 e-commerce sales, the devices consumers had planned on using to shop for Black Friday align closely with the devices they actually used to shop during the full 2018 holiday season. While 60% of revenue did come from desktop devices, the majority of site visits were on mobile devices. Tablet devices made up a smaller percentage of each but were still part of the device mix the consumers used. Consumers spend time on multiple devices across multiple screens. A media plan that only covers one fails to encapsulate the full consumer purchasing experience.




Black Friday has grown into a full holiday season and consumers have taken note. Research is done well ahead of that fourth Friday in November and consumer holiday shopping habits continue to change. It was just a few short years ago that one of the most advanced mobile phone features was the ability to share ringtones and today, mobile has evolved to become a seriously significant part of the consumer journey. Will Black Friday continue to creep into Thanksgiving dinner? Possibly. Will smart assistants like Google Home and Alexa be the next holiday shopping disruptor? Maybe. We do know one thing is certain — a media plan backed by extensive research will ensure retailers continue to reach consumers as their shopping habits change and the media landscape evolves.

Perhaps Thanksgiving dinner should evolve as well…Thanksgiving lunch anyone? At least that would leave time for seconds.