Black Friday, Cyber Monday, And Giving Tuesday: How Generational Characteristics Drive Retail Sales

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Ann FishmanBy Ann Fishman, President, Author, Marketing to the Millennial Woman

Retailers aiming to maximize holiday sales need to know the latest trends and buying habits of today’s customers. That requires understanding the generational characteristics of all generations.

Baby Boomers (born from 1943 to 1960) popularized Black Friday. Generation X (born 1961 to 1981) popularized Cyber Monday. Millennials (born 1982 to 2000) are the driving force behind Giving Tuesday.

BLACK FRIDAY, the day after Thanksgiving, became popular in the early 1960s as the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season. Customers stand in line for hours and fight for great bargains from apparel to stuffed zebras. Consumers check out sales promotions online, receive hundreds of catalogs via snail mail, and plan their purchases ahead of time.

Black Friday’s success was driven by the characteristics of boomers. They are the 70+ million children born after the soldiers returned from World War II. The boomer explosion offered new sales opportunities at every stage of their lives. New elementary schools were built for them as well as college dorms, houses, and, today, retirement villages.

Boomers have been called “The ‘ME’ Generation” and for good reason. Most had stay-at-home mothers who took an active interest in their children’s upbringing. In addition, boomers had to concentrate on their own needs to compete with so many other boomers. Their ‘ME’ focus made them feel entitled to everything, all the time. For them, the American Dream doesn’t have to be earned, it’s their birthright. That makes them a retailers’ delight. They are a generation with a compulsion to have it all. They started the credit card craze and spend like no generation before them.

Boomers also have their bucket lists of things they wish for and feel entitled to, and continue adding to their lists whenever the moment strikes.

Black Friday enables them to accumulate more and more possessions, which, in itself, has created a need for businesses to help organize and store their purchases, à la The Container Store.

CYBER MONDAY, the marketing term for the Monday after Thanksgiving, is a Generation X phenomenon. The phrase Cyber Monday was first coined by Ellen Davis on November 28, 2008, in a Shop.org press release. Cyber Monday represented a new way of shopping – ONLINE! And, it introduced retailers to the influence of a new generation of shoppers. Early on, Xers were influenced by the Internet and saw its endless possibilities. They expected retailers to do the same, to keep up with them. Merchants can thank Gen X for the success of Cyber Monday—and the need to create great websites. This generation expects websites to be easy to navigate with lots of white space, little copy, great visuals, and logical links. Too much business is lost by dated or cluttered websites. Retailers have about 10 seconds to capture an Xer’s attention.

This is a cynical generation and with good reason. Many grew up in a one-parent household, or with both parents working. The term “latchkey children” was invented for them. They were exposed to violence on TV, in the streets, in their schools, and know sky-high taxes are in their future. This cynicism extends to retailers who will need to keep all of their marketing promises. Disappoint Xers once, lose them forever. If their personal information is exposed by hacking, a company should prepare for their wrath—and the loss of their business. Gen X is not as sought after as boomers or millennials, but retailers need to get to know them since Xers influence many of the purchases made by other generations, particularly the older ones.

GIVING TUESDAY is a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, December 1, 2015, charities, families, businesses, and students around the world will come together for a common cause—giving to others. Giving Tuesday reflects the values of the millennial generation since two of their strongest characteristics are helping others and thinking globally.

During their formative years, older millennials were affected by the deaths of Mother Teresa and Princess Diana, two women who are remembered for their dedication to helping others in need. Younger and older millennials were influenced by Live 8, a series of global benefit concerts that took place in July 2005. There have been other benefit concerts, but Live 8 went global on live TV and on the Internet—all inspired by millennials. Companies seeking millennials’ business are companies that promote millennial social values and concerns.

What will be the next generationally driven marketing event? It will be the one that reflects the values, attitudes, and lifestyle of America’s youngest generation, Generation 9/11 (born from 2001 to an unknown date in the future). The 9/11s are an overprotected generation: at home, due to kidnappings and Amber Alerts; at school, due to Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Virginia Tech and other copycat incidents around the country; and, in society, due to the threat of terrorism. When children are overprotected to this extent, especially during their formative years, they tend to avoid risks. They will become a generation of conformists, a sort of modern-day version of the 1950s.

Can you be ahead of the curve in reaching out to them? The secret is matching the strength of your products and services to the characteristics of this youngest generation. Marketers need to know them well, as buying decisions often involve their protective parents and grandparents. That means a young shopper from this generation can bring in two other generations of potential customers.

Today, all generations participate in Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday. Retailers who understand each generation’s place in history will profit. You can take that to the bank.

 About the Author: Ann A. Fishman was awarded four U.S. Senate Research Fellowships to study generational trends and taught generational marketing at New York University. She is president of Generational Targeted Marketing, LLC, and an expert in providing insights into the preferences, trends, and buying habits of each of America’s six generations. Her recently published book, “Marketing to the Millennial Woman,” is available on Amazon.com. The target audience for this book includes the business community, nonprofits, and government agencies. 

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