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We are officially in the holiday season of the longest year ever recorded.
Okay, so that is a bit hyperbolic, given that it has taken the same eleven-month process to get to this November as all other Novembers, but doesn’t it just feel like we doubled up to 22 months to arrive at this point?
There’s no need to consistently restate the obvious. We know that the pandemic has made 2020 a year like none of us have witnessed in our lifetimes unless you are one of the rare living citizens from the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. If you are, bless your heart and thanks for bothering to even read this far.I’m just going to take the liberty of assuming that 99.999 percent of anyone out there reading this was not around for the other catastrophic pandemic and that you, like me, are living this unprecedented history for the first time.
2020 has been a year of trying to retain some semblance of normalcy in extremely odd times. Before this year, when was the last time any of us went every day just seeing people’s eyes because the bottom half of their face was covered? Barring Halloween, we weren’t just accustomed to seeing folks out and about with face masks, and even for Halloween, people weren’t out rockin’ face masks while doing practical shit like going to the post office.
We are in a history where being socially distant is the safest way to mitigate a public health crisis and family gatherings are (supposed to be) limited to just the people in your household. Of course, we know the rules of social distancing have been casually abided by because we are nine months into the throes of COVID-19 and cases are still surging.
Americans gon’ American.
Along with the time-honored tradition of gluttonous food, drink consumption and football watching that is the fourth Thursday of November every year, there is also the tradition of retail mania better known as Black Friday.
After the first quarter of the year that saw strict lockdowns, a second quarter of the year that saw intense social unrest, and a third quarter of the year that was bombarded with political campaigning, we are now at a point of pandemic fatigue where sensible folks are willing to risk it all to restore a sense of balance. This is where the lure of discounted shopping is heightened for many people.
But what does Black Friday look like for Black America in 2020, given the tumultuous climate of injustice brought on by hyper-visible occurrences of state-sanctioned violence, not to mention the financial strain created amid a COVID-19 economy? Should Black America be looking to wield our enormous purchasing power in a moment of such explicit social discord and economic depression?
Origins of Black Friday and data around the Black Dollar
“Black Friday” was originally a phrase applied to a financial crisis: specifically, the crash of the U.S. gold market on September 24, 1869. The financial maneuvering of the day was in response to a pair of nefarious white dudes looking to make a come-up after the gold market crashed.
“Two notoriously ruthless Wall Street financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk worked together to buy up as much as they could of the nation’s gold, hoping to drive the price sky-high and sell it for astonishing profits. On that Friday in September, the conspiracy finally unraveled, sending the stock market into free-fall and bankrupting everyone from Wall Street barons to farmers,” according to History.com.
Later on, Black Friday would be recognized as a day that retailers would turn a profit (go into “the black”) after an entire year of operating at a loss (“in the red”), on the day after Thanksgiving because holiday shoppers would spend large amounts of money on discounted merchandise. The bargain shopping phenomenon has persisted in the U.S. for over a century.
In 2019, American shoppers spent $7.5 billion on Black Friday, as Thanksgiving weekend, which accounts for Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday, brought out 189.6 million U.S. shoppers. This is a 14 percent increase in shoppers from 2018. It is highly possible that despite the reinforcement of lockdowns across the country and stricter policies around social distancing reinforced, the “cabin fever” of the past three-quarters of isolation will produce, if not surpass, previous numbers.
According to a 2019 Nielsen Report, Black consumers commanded $1.3 trillion in annual buying power with the majority of our product discovery coming by way of ads on mobile devices. This explains how I got “persuaded” into buying so many sneakers last year while scrolling Instagram, but I digress.
The economic downturn of 2020 may adjust the narrative around Black consumerism in the holiday season, or it could provide the opposite effect of gratuitous purchasing that underlines the “therapy” in retail therapy.
2020 Black economics and corporate America’s response to a summer of uprisings
Sixty-six percent of Black households with children reported serious financial problems during the outbreak, including depleting savings, trouble paying credit card bills and other debt, and affording medical care, according to a September poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The poll also indicated that 74 percent of households with children that have annual incomes below $100,000 reported serious financial problems during the coronavirus outbreak.
Based on the average median incomes of American families, it does not take a doctorate-level economist to recognize how damaging the 2020 coronavirus-disrupted economy has been for Black families. Job loss has been rampant in addition to the disproportionate toll of devastation the virus itself has bestowed on Black Americans. But because of our seemingly indomitable spending power, American corporations revved up their marketing strategies geared toward the Black community during one of our most vulnerable periods.
After George Floyd was killed by Minnesota officer Derek Chauvin in one of the most horrendous acts of state-sanctioned violence, virtually every major American business released their version of a #BlackLivesMatter public statement and featured images of Black folks in their ads throughout the summer.
Despite this, there were select companies with a history of advocating for racial equality and against systemic racism. Still, what the majority of the top corporations understood was regardless of the personal ethos of their founders or individual board members, it was wise business to publicly stand in solidarity with a consumer base that spends far beyond what we bring in.
Black Finance Experts Discuss Black Friday and Black Consumerism
I needed a deeper understanding of the correlation between the economics of 2020, the lure of Black Friday and how America’s current social climate might impact Black consumerism on Black Friday/the holiday season in general, so I reached out to a pair of experts.
Tiffany Hawkins and Allan Boomer are finance gurus that co-host a really dope podcast called “The Momentum Advisors Show.” The premise of the podcast centers on personal financial advice, information on entrepreneurship and insight into how listeners can build a successful financial legacy for themselves and their community.
Tiffany and Allan collaborated in their responses to my queries. Here’s what they had to say:
The Momentum Advisors, Allan Boomer and Tiffany Hawkins
Donney Rose: Given the economic strain brought on by the pandemic, how likely is it to expect Black consumers to make purchases on Black Friday in the same manner as they would in a normal year?
Momentum Advisors: There has definitely been an economic strain with it comes to job loss, but for those who have not lost their jobs, they are seeing the adverse effect of being able to save a lot more money due to not commuting to work, lack of travel, reduced grooming needs, minimal (or no) social spending, etc. Because of this, we do expect to see Black consumers making purchases this Black Friday at the same pace as they have in previous years — if not more.
Because adults are spending more time at home and kids are forced to stay indoors, consumers are compensating by putting more money into home/electronic purchases to ensure they can have the best experience while still in lockdown. This goes for the kids, as well. Parents feel horrible that their kids are not having the “full” experience of being a kid, so they are trying to fill that gap with new computers for virtual learning, new game consoles and more toys.
We think the shift in Black consumer spending this Black Friday will be in the industries where money is spent but not in the dollar amount. More technology, electronics, toys and home goods versus apparel and footwear. We see the “holiday season” starting earlier this year due to COVID-19 and being more about e-commerce than traditional in-person shopping. Cyber Monday is potentially a bigger deal than Black Friday this year.
DR: One result of the summer of unrest sparked by the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor was an uptick in the promotion of Black businesses. Do you believe that this trend will resurface as shoppers are considering Black Friday/Cyber Monday buying options?
MA: We believe the trend of spending with Black businesses will continue for the long haul but not to the extent that it should. We also hope that “buying Black” does not just apply to Black consumers this year. Nielson estimates that Black households accounted for $1.4 trillion in spending in 2019. We hope Black businesses will earn a larger share of that spending, but also that more non-Black consumers will participate as well. We have seen Corporate America make a huge push in buying Black this year, supporting everything from Black banks to Black suppliers.
Our biggest fear is that consumers will choose the convenience of Amazon over buying Black and supporting small businesses. COVID-19 has had an adverse effect on small businesses and it has been amplified for Black businesses that often lack the capital necessary to stay afloat during tough times.
Conversely, the Black Lives Matter movement has sparked new long-term programs that will benefit Black businesses indefinitely, requiring large retail centers to commit to lining 15% of their shelves and inventory with Black-owned products. Target and Sephora are examples of the major retailers who have committed to this “fifteen percent pledge.” This bigger tactic encourages us that the trend of spending Black will only continue to grow because of exposure and ease of access at regular retailers. We have also seen online platforms like Uber Eats, Door Dash, Facebook and Etsy make a concerted effort to feature Black businesses on their platforms for commerce.
DR: What, if any, role does “blackening up” their advertisement play in helping major corporations procure Black dollars in a period of social unrest and economic downturn?
MA: LOL @ “blackening up.” We always feel that representation matters in all arenas, across all levels. When done in earnest, adding Black faces to advertising not only shows the company/brand acknowledging their Black consumer base but, it also welcomes Black consumers who might not have considered the company/brand before. In these circumstances, I think Black people are more open to spending with these institutions.
Now, unfortunately, this “blackening up” isn’t often done in earnest and doesn’t look like incorporating black images into quality advertising. We often see it taking the corner of adding a “trap jingle” to a commercial spot or using excessive slang, trendy jargon (i.e., “Bye Felicia!”), and broken English amongst urban youth. This is a mockery of what that institution thinks about the Black culture and the Black experience. And while highly offensive, it is very telling to the Black consumer that those companies don’t know who we are and don’t acknowledge the intricacies of our culture. It is in these moments when [we] hope Black consumers see this as the key opportunity to seek out a Black-owned alternative for purchase or service.
DR: Do you believe that the incoming presidential administration plays any role in the confidence of consumer shopping this holiday season? Do you believe that shoppers anticipate an economic recovery in 2021 and therefore may be less hesitant to spend now?
MA: We don’t believe the [incoming] administration plays a major role in consumer holiday shopping. Americans are historically retail-driven no matter what the circumstance is. The desire to purchase is rarely rooted in politics and more so rooted in emotion — not even ability or access. We think most Americans are feeling a bit more optimistic about the country they live in because of the election of a new president, but we are under the impression that they are not any more or less hesitant to spend in 2020.
We do believe that this is different when it comes to home purchases, business loans, autos, etc. We imagine that consumers may be holding off for these larger purchases due to an expectation around specialized loan programs, a new stimulus plan, opportunistic interest rates, etc. that will/can come into play under the new administration.
DR: What is some advice you would offer to Black consumers, specifically in this unprecedented holiday season?
MA: The biggest piece of advice we’d offer is that spending will not erase the traumatic experience of 2020. You can’t buy it away, you can’t gift it away, you can’t credit it away. Let’s enter into this holiday season focusing on the things that matter most and coming up with a plan for the new future. Again, for those who have remained employed throughout the pandemic, this has been a HUGE opportunity to save money. Expenses have been forcibly cut across several line items for most of us. That is the opportunity to repopulate those funds towards growth, investments, paying down debt and legacy planning.
For those who were faced with unemployment or job shifts, it’s time to focus on the future and what stability means to you. Now that the ground has been knocked out from under your feet, how do you build a new foundation? How do you ensure the ability to thrive [in] this new world? Is it taking an online class to pivot industries? Is it going back to school — online — to enhance your capabilities? Is it (finally) starting that business you’ve been thinking about for years? Is it being a more diverse investor? Whatever it is, it’s time to be more serious about who holds your future in their hands: them or you?
About the Author
Donney Rose is a poet, essayist, Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow, advocate, and Chief Content Editor at The North Star. He believes in telling how it is and how it should be.