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Gen Z: Black Friday is back, and so is Thanksgiving dinner

With each coming generation, media pundits like to obsess over all the industries, hobbies and passions that are bound to be “killed off”. Gen X was accused of killing the radio business, for example, and Millennials are still regularly accused of “destroying marriage”.

Now it’s Gen Z’s turn in the barrel. Over the last few years, Gen Zers have been charged with killing off everything from in-store shopping to television to football. And while it’s pretty clear how (and why) all these things can — and will! — survive Gen Z, the same can’t be said for everything.

Take Black Friday for instance. Is there a future for it under Gen Z’s watch, or will it go the way of the compact disc? 

We’re glad you asked. Here’s our answer.

Is Gen Z killing off Black Friday? Not quite. In fact, quite the opposite.

In an internet age where trends and traditions can rise and fall overnight, can a shopping “holiday” like Black Friday survive the challenge of Gen Z — or will it fall into obsolescence?

Retailers should rest easy. Black Friday is becoming more popular than ever with consumers, and Gen Z seems to be leading the 12:01 AM charge.

Last year saw record-breaking crowds surging out of the cold into various retail outlets. According to Reuters, stores saw a 17.9 percent year-over-year increase in foot traffic from 2016. Meanwhile, retailers netted $7.9 billion in overall profits.

Three behavioral trends appear to be working in Black Friday’s favor with regard to Gen Z.

  • Gen Z’s preference for in-store shopping over online shopping

    Multiple studies — including a retail trend report by UNiDAYS — contradict the tired, old notion that Zs only like to shop by tapping their thumbs on a mobile phone.

  • Gen Zers love retail experiences that are singular and unique

    “Singular and unique” are qualities that Black Friday has going in spades. Millions of shoppers tailgating in the freezing cold outside of malls in search of one-time offers on Roku boxes and JBL headphones? That’s Black Friday for you. The experiential appeal of Black Friday isn’t going to fade away soon.

  •  Gen Z likes purchases that offer greater value than what they pay for

    Here’s the main reason why Black Friday won’t fade away, not if Gen Z has anything to do with it: Gen Z likes value for their money. A recent study by the NRF found that 93 percent of Gen Z respondents enjoy shopping for premium products listed below their regular pricing, an even larger percentage than the massive number of American consumers (89 percent) who report shopping with a similar mindset.

If Gen Zers heart Black Friday, why don’t they want stores to open on Thanksgiving?

While it’s certainly true Gen Zers place a premium on “experiential shopping,” that’s obviously not all they’ve got going in their lives. If Gen Zers are breathing new life into Black Friday, how does this match up with their appreciation for the U.S. holiday that happens right before Black Friday namely Thanksgiving? It seems a little contradictory.

A recent study by IBM found that Gen Z values spending quality time with family and friends in real life, which pretty much sums up what Thanksgiving is about. After a semester at school, Gen Z college students overwhelmingly enjoy the time they get to spend with loved ones, as popular Gen Z Twitter hashtags like #backhomeballer can attest to. Gen Z student’s love for Thanksgiving family-and-friends time is coupled with their distaste for brands they perceive as not “standing for anything” besides bottom-line profits.

Stores that remain open on Thanksgiving are nice-to-have conveniences for Gen Zers, but don’t think for a second that corporate social responsibility doesn’t matter to this generation. If stores are insensitive to the needs of employees in the name of making fourth quarter numbers, it’s something Gen Zs will notice. In fact, the impact to a brand’s reputation may be felt long beyond Thanksgiving.

Brands especially popular with Gen Zers, such as REI, are already taking a stand on this topic. In recent days, the CEO of REI has delivered very candid thoughts on the message a store sends by keeping its doors open on Thanksgiving. Other major retailers around the nation are catching on with that message, too. For the 2018 season, companies like Nordstrom, Barnes & Noble, Crate and Barrel, H&M, Costco and others will wait until Black-Friday at midnight to open their doors to shoppers, rather than staying open on Thanksgiving.

Gen Z are super-shoppers and idealists and it’s not a contradiction.

Part of the mystique around Gen Z is that it’s teeming with apparent contradictions. Sure, Gen Zers want to save money when they shop, but they’re only willing to sacrifice time spent with friends and family up to a certain point. At the end of the day, family is more important than saving a buck.

John Wheeler
John Wheeler
Contributor, Gen Z Insights

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