The Rise of System 2 Black Friday

Black Friday and expendable income go hand in hand. So, during a period when no one seemed to have any, it’s no wonder that last year’s Black Friday predictions were rather bleak.  With the Consumer Confidence Index sitting at a dreary -44, and with bills and prices continuing to increase, the last thing on the average consumer’s mind should have been grabbing a deal on some non-essential luxuries. 

However, now the results are in, and we are able to build a proper picture of what went on last November.  The headline news?  It’s clear that we may have been being a bit too pessimistic, and that Black Friday is far more resilient a concept than we initially thought.

Let’s take a look at the numbers.  Overall, December 2022 saw a 5% decrease in retail spend compared to December 2021.  Not a great start. However, that decrease didn’t seem to be reflected in the Black Friday sales numbers. There was a recorded 20% rise in Black Friday purchasers compared to 2021, with this increase seeing a spread across most goods categories [See report].

It’s clear that people were still engaging with Black Friday in large numbers, and if we take a look at buyer intentions, we may be able to see why. Whilst many used Black Friday to buy items for themselves, a growing proportion used the period to buy Christmas presents for others. 57% of buyers bought gifts for their loved ones, and 58% of people were using Black Friday to shop specifically for Christmas gifts. Overall, 50% of the total amount spent on Christmas presents in 2022 was spent during the Black Friday period. 

So what does this tell us about how people see (and more importantly use) Black Friday? It comes down to how people think, and the behavioural processes behind consumer decisions.  When we used to think about Black Friday, we’d envision scenes of crazed American shoppers charging through the doors of Target and battling their way to rapidly diminishing stacks of reduced flat screen TVs. We imagine speed, impulse, and instinct – all terms that we would usually associate with the culture of Black Friday.  System 1 thinking is how we assume we hunt for deals and, whilst the levels of commitment across the pond are at the extreme end of the spectrum, logic, frugality and strategy are not usually at the forefront of our minds when monster discounts are dangled before us. 

But how do we explain a 5% drop in retail sales over December, with a simultaneous increase in claimed Black Friday spend year on year? Based on what we have found, our suggestion is that Black Friday shoppers have made a shift away from instinctive System 1 thinking, and towards strategic, logical System 2 thinking. 

In other words, this year, shoppers used Black Friday less for spontaneous, impulse bargain hunting and focused more on efforts to make genuine savings with calculated, planned spending – probably to counteract the effects of the cost of living crisis. Shoppers were far more intentional with their decisions, and went into the buying process earlier.  They were also more willing to switch retailers to avoid stock shortages, and were more aware of when a deal was genuinely going to save them money.

Overall, Black Friday is still going strong. The only way to ensure that you make the most of it is to understand how shopper behaviour is developing year on year, and adapt a strategy to remain a major player in 2023.  For more information on how to tailor your strategy, and to download our full report on our findings from 2022, click here.