For anyone who used the internet even briefly at some point in or around March 2011, the juxtaposition of the words “Friday” and “Black” probably conjures up some sort of horrifying, “Apocalypse Now” style flash back to this. Thankfully though, for the sake of your sanity and mine, this article isn’t about struggling to establish what days immediately precede and follow Friday or the age-old dilemma of which seat to sit in when getting into a car.

“Black Friday” describes the Friday immediately following Thanksgiving, which is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in the USA (apparently this article is somewhat about the sequence of days in a week, sorry about that) and has routinely been the busiest shopping day of the year since 2005. It’s a day marked by outrageously discounted items, offensively crowded shops, staggering amounts of money raked in by opportunistic retailers and the questionable morality of foregoing traditional family celebrations on Thanksgiving in favour of camping in a tent on a pavement outside a shop for 2 days to ensure you’re first in line to get a giant television for 20% off. Typically in the past this phenomenon has been confined to the USA, however as the internet continues to further obscure the divisions between our countries and allows cultural customs to penetrate societies they perhaps otherwise wouldn’t reach (especially when they’re worth massive amounts of money) we’ve seen the influence of Black Friday spread worldwide.

Black Friday Search Volume Graph Google Trends

How big is Black Friday? This graph shows the volume of searches over the course of 2011 for the term “Black Friday” vs. the searches for internet superstars and regular residents of annual “Most Googled People” lists Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga.

Table Showing Cyber Monday Spending Growth By Year

Table showing the growth of spending on Cyber Monday by year.

Each year everything about Black Friday seems to grow exponentially. The spend by consumers, the ferocity with which big brands pursue their customers with advertisements and deals, even the actual time frame of the event which has now morphed into a giant spending extravaganza beginning on Thanksgiving itself and stretching to “Cyber Monday” 4 days later. Cyber Monday was born in 2005 after retailers noticed an emerging demographic of people who,

too busy over the Thanksgiving weekend itself, would take to the internet from home or work on the Monday after, attempting to cash in on some last minute left over deals. Since its official advent, spending during Cyber Monday has increased substantially every year (with the expected exception of 2009 during the darkest days of the recession when it still managed 5% positive growth) topping the billion dollar mark in 2010.So who owns this new globalised form of internet powered shopping madness? The list of most visited retail websites over the Thanksgiving period is dominated, as you would expect, by big name US brands like Walmart, Best Buy and Target. However snatching the top spot, and by a significant margin, is Amazon. A brief look at the search engine results page for a search query of “Black Friday” will go some way to explaining their dominance.

Google Search Engine Results for "Black Friday"

Not only is Amazon the highest retail brand in the search results for “Black Friday” at rank number 2, but they also appear at number 6 giving them two of the precious 10 first page results. The only other competitor to even crack the first page is Walmart, scraping in at number 10. Notice that these are the top two most visited websites during what is statistically the busiest period of online shopping all year? Ah the power of SEO.

Amazon are taking the advertising battle to social media as well, repeatedly plugging “Black Friday Deals Week” through Twitter (and gaining 384,146 followers in the process*, which will also allow them to consolidate their supremacy when this period rolls around again next year) and also running a “Black Friday Sweepstake” competition through Facebook, asking users to “Like” their page in order to enter (the rather generous prize includes a 40 inch Samsung TV, Xbox 360 and a £500 Amazon voucher and might be worth entering if you’re reading this before the end of Black Friday 2012).

When one company is willing to acknowledge the importance of digital marketing and pursue the option on all fronts it’s little wonder that their success dwarves that of the competition. And to them goes the biggest slice of the – presumably Thanksgiving themed pumpkin – pie. A pie worth over 1 and a quarter billion dollars. Which is nice.

*Figure compares the followers of @Amazon from September 1st 2012 to November 22nd 2012 and was correct at time of writing.

Update 28/11/2012

According to data from comScore released today it seems that, following the trend set by previous years, the online spend on “Cyber Monday” for 2012 shattered the record set last year clocking in at an astronomical $1.465 billion, a jump of 17% from the 2011 figure. Some experts had surmised that the widespread approach by traditional “brick and mortar” retail outlets to start the Thanksgiving shopping period even earlier this year by taking the unprecedented step of opening on the evening of Thanksgiving itself rather than waiting for Black Friday at all, would damage figures towards the end of the period on Cyber Monday. Evidently this reality did not transpire as online sales figures were up across the board for the period.

In an interesting twist, a widely circulated report from IBM suggested that the much lauded influence of social media on shoppers over the Thanksgiving weekend was essentially non-existent. The report makes a specific example of Twitter, claiming that the social media giant referred 0% of Black Friday traffic. 0% as in absolutely none.

Whilst initially this may seem like a real blow for social media marketing, some people are prepared to argue that this statistic is wildly misleading. Miranda Miller at Search Engine Watch wrote a superb article outlining the true value of social media marketing in this situation which is definitely worth a read in order to gauge both sides of the story. In the article Miranda draws a really compelling parallel between direct online referrals and physical signage outside retail shops noting that this is not the only factor that compels a customer to make a purchase and that the influence of social media is far more wide reaching.