Black Friday and the Evolving 4Fs of Retail

Make no mistake: Global retail is evolving at accelerated speeds. We can see these evolutions (revolutions?) most clearly by taking an event, like Black Friday, and comparing the event’s retail objectives across two dimensions. Today let’s look at time as our first dimension and retail channels as our second dimension.

Kicking thing off, let’s recap what Black Friday’s retail objectives are supposed to deliver. A brief reminder for the orthodox among you that the first objective is in the name. ‘Black’ has an etymology from an accounting background. The original meaning of ‘black’ was designed to signal to accountants and retail associates the day that their company went from making losses (red) to making profits (black). The notion was that for 11 months out of 12 retail is loss making. That implies about 8% EBITDA which might be on the optimistic side for many retailers these days.

It did not begin as a marketing slogan as popularly used in the current era. The fact that the marketing department has taken over the use of the name is undoubtedly a good thing for consumers and consumption.

So here is my list of Black Friday objectives, in order of importance.

Black Friday objectives

1.      Profit. A move from red to black. See above.

2.      Positioning. In America, the Thanksgiving holiday (Thursday), signaled the traditional end of Autumn retailing and the full (100%) start of Winter retailing, particularly in apparel, home decorations, outdoor decorations, and sporting goods.

3.      People. The promotional element of Black Friday has and will always be designed to attract new people to the retailer, to drive attract new traffic. “Loyalty” goes out the window at Black Friday, this is an open house opportunity for people to shop around and not feel guilty about looking but not buying.

4.      Purge. Often overlooked as an objective, retailers always need to work on a “one in, one out” basis. When retailers bring in the Winter merchandise they need to purge all other merchandise to make way for the new. The profitable sell out of slow moving inventory is an important objective of any big “total business” promotion, Black Friday included.

Now, taking these four objectives and applying them to four retail channels, we can see just how quickly retail is evolving with time. We can use 2015 as our five-year time comparison.

Our four retail channels are as follows: FashionFunFood, and Fast. The 4f’s of modern retail.

Let’s compare these channels from Black Friday 2015 to Black Friday 2020.


·        2015. Many fashion companies – clothing stores, accessories stores, department stores, jewelry stores – wanted to highlight their investments in wider online assortment in 2015 by using click & collect as a method to getting shoppers to come to stores and when instore upsell them to the new positioning. Therefore, objective one was people among the four objectives.

·        Today. Undoubtedly profit is the one and only topic on the lips of fashion executives given this year’s turmoil.


·        2015. Fun companies – cinemas, drinking establishments, betting shops, theme parks, beauty salons, spas and well-being retailers – were investing heavily in ‘experiential’ retail back in 2015. This was the idea that a combination of activities could create an individualized and unique bundle of highly memorable and unrepeatable memories. Black Friday of 2015 was all about individualizing the experience. We saw things like shopping malls introduce your ‘personal shopper’ or a ‘concierge for your perfect weekend’. 2015 was about profit – adding one extra to the equation by giving away a freebie to get consumers hooked on a premium product.

·        Today. The pandemic aside, consumers have tried to regain control of their entertainment experiences. The best fun retailers of 2020 have focused on ‘suggestions’ and ‘menus’ rather than pushing a particular agenda. Without a doubt, this Black Friday is cemented in people – attempting to link different personalities to a product or service menu that is the right fit.


·        2015. Food service companies were attempting to establish authenticity with the ingredients and process they used to develop their products. The focus was on the barista as an artist or the fruit vendor as an expert on the best tasting orchards. Positioning was king in food retailing.

·        Today. The pandemic accelerated the trend but the trend was always there, the focus is on multi-sourced experiences where you can get your coffee, your breakfast, and your healthy snack from three different retailers but get it done quickly in a low-stress way. Pre-lockdown this meant having retail high streets, shopping squares, shopping plazas, shopping malls that were perfectly aligned/easy to walk/easy to shop.   Post-lockdown it has meant the acceleration of the fourth F of retail – fast retail. The result is we are seeing a purge in food retailing. Food retailers are removing or demoting products/processes/services that will slow down shopping and focusing on things that help shoppers get what they need as quickly (and safely) as possible.


·        2015. Fast is about robotic warehouses, drive-throughs, collection lockers, courier services, the mail, drones, as well as driverless trucks and cars. In 2015, companies like Uber were launching UberEats. Amazon was launching Amazon Fresh and Prime Now. Back then the focus was clearly on people. Introduce the new service to new people in new cities and globalize quickly before a competitor gets there first.

·        2020. Global capacity has hit a brick wall in the ‘fast retail’ arena. Robot-led retail crashed due to the rapid and wild swings in human behavior and the unpredictable demand that resulted from wild ups and downs. Human-based ‘fast’ services have encountered road blocks. The result is that demand has outstripped supply. In the history of economic theory that can only mean one thing: Profiteering. Any company operating in the ‘fast’ retail channel is fully focused on purging unprofitable activities and focusing on highly profitable activities. It might take us a year to fully understand what this means. If you’re like me, I can’t wait to see what the winners in the fast retail landscape due with their newly found profits in 2021 and 2022. In the meantime, fast retailers have a major PR and customer service dilemma on their hands. How do they tell consumers that they care when they have to say, ‘sorry we’re late or sorry we’re out of stock or sorry all our drivers are busy’? To give just one example, the last official Twitter post from @AmazonPrimeNow was at Halloween. I’m not picking on Amazon – all fast retailers are experiencing the same dilemma.

In summary, Black Friday has now become a truly global phenomenon and today’s oversimplification of what’s happening will never apply to all retailers, in all cities. Therefore, I encourage you to use the “framework” of looking at the 4f’s and how they are changing with time, by looking at the major objectives retailers want to achieve in this period of time – Black Friday – that time where accountants change their approach to advising retailers on what to do and how to do it.

Good luck this week – please stay in touch.

Regards – Ray Gaul (@RayGaul on Twitter, linkedin/raygaul)

Taken from Linkedin

To learn more about Ray, go here