According to a Gallup poll, 9 out of 10 Americans will spend this Thursday celebrating Thanksgiving with family. And when the night is over and the dishes dried, the majority of their nights will transition into a shopping spree for the upcoming holiday season. In fact, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF), roughly 136 million Americans did just that last year.

This deal-centric tradition known as Black Friday, where retailers drop prices significantly lower than average, has formally existed since 1929. Many theories have circulated claiming to explain exactly why Black Friday exists. The most widely accepted explanation flourished in the the early 1980s and states that retailers traditionally operated at a financial loss for most of the year and made their profit during the holiday season, beginning the day after Thanksgiving

Though usually associated with the Thanksgiving holiday, the concept of Black Friday has expanded to other nations that don't celebrate Thanksgiving— now an international commerce sensation for both consumers and companies. The NRF has consistently researched the volume of Black Friday shoppers and revealed that, this year, we should expect an all time high of over 137 million potential shoppers.

Buyer's Behavior Has Shifted

Black Friday is no longer a one day event, now beginning on Thanksgiving Thursday and extending until what is now referred to as Cyber Monday. Recently predicted to be the largest shopping day in history this year, according to Adobe Digital Insights, Cyber Monday is a term coined by the National Retail Foundation in 2005 referring to a time where the shopping is concentrated on online retailers and shoppers.

The numbers show that the advent of digital introduced an entirely new channel for these holiday sales, and in recent years has in fact shifted focus away from the traditional in-store shopping. Since it's introduction, Cyber Monday has pulled in billions more in retail sales compared to physical in-store Black Friday purchases— and this is only increasing.

Brands Adopt to Buyer Trends

This year, sales are expected to peak at close to $92 billion in total sales, or at an 11% YOY growth rate. We've already seen the influence holidays and special occasions can have in the digital era with Alibaba's recently reported $17.8 billion in gross merchandise volume this Singles' Day.

Which is why, similar to year-round strategies, stores like Walmart are shifting focus to online deals and introducing savings both before and after the traditional sales time frame. Beginning in mid-November and steadily sustained until after Cyber Monday, a variety of Walmart deals are slotted to expire after a set time range, from 24–72 hours. Interestingly, many of these pre-Black Friday offers are available exclusively on the Walmart App.

Which brings us to an important question...

How Does Mobile Fit in?

Often branched under one umbrella term ( i.e. "digital"), mobile and desktop couldn't be more different. Over the past few years, mobile has consistently accounted for a higher percentage of overall web traffic, as compared to desktop. Despite this high volume, it had a significantly lower share of sales making mobile a missed opportunity for commerce companies.

For a holiday that is being referred to as a mobile-first Black Friday this year, in a year where mobile commerce is expected to account for almost one third of total US retail ecommerce sales, it is critical that brands have an effective strategy in place. While Forbes recommends marrying social content with commerce to garner people's attention this season, we also see brands executing on tactics framed around exclusivity, which we explore next.

Brands Making Mobile Matter

Walmart used exclusivity in their Black Friday strategy as a means to earn app downloads. Through app-only Black Friday deal promotions in online banner placements, print ads, press, and more, all of the messaging honed in on the convenience and exclusivity factor— being able to access select deals on-the-go.

Walmart also connected offline and mobile shopping by adding a live store map to their app, which includes geo-targeted local Black Friday offerings. Their exclusive offerings of app-only savings and a live store map are not only effective Black Friday strategies, but a long-term play to increase long-term value app users.

And they're not alone in thinking about Black Friday as a means to earn app downloads. Sephora, for example, exclusively announced some of their Black Friday deals on their app.

So now, when a high-intent Sephora shopper wishes to learn about Black Friday, their flow might look something like this:

Since the Sephora app is the only way to see Black Friday deals, users are more inclined to download the app. And once you have users in your app, the possibilities for engagement and conversions are significantly higher.

Sephora and Walmart realize 66% of consumers are shopping online this holiday season for lower prices, and capitalize on that through their strategies. We can also look at how cash-back companies like Ibotta are providing incentives for buying holiday deals on mobile.

Ibotta's marketing strategy includes partnering with well-known brands, a tactic that proves to be beneficial for both Ibotta and their commerce partners. By focusing on the deals partners are already giving users, and then providing an extra incentive by increasing the standard cash-back reward just for Black Friday, Ibotta is able to capture the attention of users we already know are seeking to save money this shopping season.

The holidays create unique opportunities for brands to reach consumers annually, and an even better way to learn and reflect on the ever-evolving customer behavior, both digitally and in-store.

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