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Unspoken Records of Cyber Monday Amid Black Friday buzz

November 28, 2023 | Letters
Author: Dr. Nicole Olynk Widmar, Interim Department Head and Professor, Purdue University Department of Agricultural Economics

Thanksgiving is a time for giving thanks, time with family, and, while unflattering, the day before the day on which U.S. shoppers storm retailers: Black Friday. Retailers use Black Friday for marketing, but few people likely recognize why it’s called that. The Wall Street Journal recently summarized this cultural phenomenon. Black Friday is when retailers enter “the black,” leaving “the red,” and start generating profits for the year. Other days with “black” in their name are generally bad, like Black Monday for stock market crashes. There were attempts to rebrand Black Friday over the years, but nothing stuck and Black Friday remains today. 

Investopedia reported that Black Friday online spending reached an all-time high this year ($9.8 billion), which is up 7.5% from last year. CNN reported that Americans were set to spend a record $12 billion in online shopping on Cyber Monday. That’s after Black Friday sales were already known to be very strong, especially Black Friday spending online. This is all happening amidst continued concerns around inflation and higher interest rates impacting households’ finances.  

We already know from multiple years of inquiry in the past that Friendsgiving has a higher associated sentiment than Thanksgiving. That finding was hard for many people to receive, but if you consider the definitions of these celebrations, you may be able to accept that for many people (even if not you; of course, we didn’t mean you), this higher sentiment is indeed present in how we speak about Friendsgiving.  

Thanksgiving Day, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a day appointed for giving thanks for divine goodness”. The legal holiday in the U.S. was formally appointed to the fourth Thursday of November in 1941, although the origins of the U.S. celebration and feast date back to 1621.

Versus

Friendsgiving appears as a “Word We’re Watching” in Merriam-Webster and is dubbed as a way to “escape your family and celebrate with friends”. Merriam-Webster claims the earliest print of the word is 2007, although admits it floated around in spoken English before then. Counter to what many people think, Friendsgiving did not originate on the TV show “Friends”. The term rose to prominence in 2011 when Bailey’s Irish Cream used the word in an ad campaign.

After years of wrestling with the data to settle the Thanksgiving versus Friendsgiving debate (and finding the same clear winner every time), I’ve decided to tackle a different argument … Black Friday versus Cyber Monday. We adapted our holiday celebrations during the pandemic, and while I don’t have the specific data to speak to it, I suspect that the adaptation of holiday shopping also took place. We know that the adoption of online shopping was well underway (and so was Cyber Monday!) before 2020. Yet, I presume the fear of being in crowded stores pushed us even further along this path towards seeking online deals, in addition to (or in place of?) brick-and-mortar store deals during the winter holiday shopping season in recent years. 

Using Quid, which we have relied on to gather data for analysis for a variety of topics of public interest, we delved into what was being said online in news and social media about shopping this past holiday weekend. As they say, time is money, and seasons change, and along with them, our preferences. 

I gathered online media mentioning of at least one of the terms of shop, shopping, Cyber Monday, Black Friday, CyberMonday, BlackFriday, #BlackFriday, #CyberMonday from November 1, 2023 to this morning. There were 7,043,573 posts total, of which the vast majority (76%, totaling over 5.3 million) came from X, the site formerly (let’s be honest, STILL) known as Twitter. The overall net sentiment was 64% on the scale of possible net sentiment, which ranges from -100% to +100%. 

16.6% of results were comprised of news media posts, including a variety of sources, generally focused on business and economic performance amidst holiday spending projections. There were also reviews – especially product reviews on various sites, blogs, and other media. The vast majority of the posts and mentions happened after November 19, as shown in the image created within the Quid platform. The blue lines represent the volume of posts and mentions, whereas the shaded red area represents volumes of negative sentiment results from the search, and green represents positive.

chart showing sentiment on Fall Back

You can tell from visual inspection that the net sentiment is positive. Recall: net sentiment on the search overall was 64%. 

If we look only at the three terms which directly reference Black Friday, then the net sentiment rises to 69% amidst the 2,715,047 mentions of those terms specifically. 

chart showing sentiment on Spring Forward

There were far fewer direct mentions of the three Cyber Monday terms. In total, there were 482,281 mentions since November 1, but with a higher net sentiment of 84%. The volume of mentions about Cyber Monday peaked later than Black Friday, largely amassing over the weekend following Thanksgiving, rather than in anticipation of it.  

chart showing sentiment on Spring Forward

Many of the top terms overlapped when people were talking about these two shopping events – best, amazing, and sale, for example. But if you wanted to get really specific, the top five terms in the search results, in order, for Cyber Monday were: deals, sale, out, save, Cyber Monday Deal. The top five for Black Friday were deals, sale, Black Friday deals, Black Friday Sales, and #blackfriday.  

On the whole, Cyber Monday was far lower in total volume of posts and mentions, but with a higher net sentiment associated. Given Black Friday shoppers often have to wait in lines in the cold, sometimes are faced with altercations of over-eager fellow shoppers, and are engaged in a physical hunt for a product (which might sell out before they get to it), it’s not hard to imagine the negatives associated. Cyber Monday, in contrast, can be undertaken in one’s pajamas from the comfort of their smartphone. Thus, the higher net sentiment is believable and reasonable. As for the lesser volume, I should mention that it’s possible that there will be more posts and mentions about Cyber Monday this week. It’s not entirely ‘fair’ to look at the data about something four days ago versus just yesterday. Perhaps we’ll keep talking about Cyber Monday this week? Or perhaps, there just isn’t as much to say … we scrolled, we hit buy, and it was over. We didn’t wrestle a stranger in a parking lot nor engage in camping on a sidewalk in suburbia, thus we don’t have same types of stories to tell. Time will tell.

ConsumerCorner.2023.Letter.29