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by Kate McMahon

Imagine. There was a time when American consumers looked forward to Black Friday as a welcome way to kick off the holiday shopping season.

But times have changed. According to new research, social media vibes about Black Friday have done an about-face.

In fact, the majority of Twitter conversations about Black Friday last year focused on anger, sadness, fear and despair – not great bargains or a rewarding experience.

Crimson Hexagon, which (in addition to sounding like a great name for a band) tracks social media intelligence, has analyzed millions of social posts between 2010 and 2015 to gauge consumer perception about Black Friday. It found that in 2010, more than half the posts were positive, and only 20% deemed negative. Fast forward to a major mood swing in 2015, when nearly 40% were negative and only a third positive.

It is not hard to imagine that Black Friday attitudes could erode even more this year.

Not surprisingly, the research confirmed consumer frustration about Black Friday shopping “insanity” and fears of being trampled over a laptop or a 42-inch television. Shoppers also felt the discounts weren’t any better than regular sales and were annoyed that commerce cut into Thanksgiving Day, particularly for retail employees.

This tweet was typical: “Black Friday is out of hand. It is interrupting Thanksgiving and people are fighting over TVs.”

It’s important to note that among the most outspoken online critics of the Black Friday brick-and-mortar experience were Millennials - the very generation that shops and aggressively comments online.

It is not hard to imagine that as Millennials age and become the center of the mass marketing target, their attitudes will marginalize Black Friday even more.

That said ... The National Retail Federation (NRF) expects 137.4 million Americans to shop online or in stores over the four-day period beginning on Thanksgiving, up from 135.8 million next year. The NRF said 74% of those surveyed plan to shop on Friday.

I think the most telling numbers will be the split between brick-and-mortar vs. online Black Friday shopping this year. According to the retail researcher ShopperTrak, last year’s in-store sales on Black Friday plunged by $1 billion - from $11.6 billion in 2014 to $10.4 billion in 2015. The drop was attributed to a 14% increase in online sales that day. Cyber Monday sales are expected to increase once again.

The Black Friday event that ruled retail 20 years ago has been upended by e-commerce. The challenge for retailers, I think, is moving forward from that outdated, one-day “Super Bowl of Shopping” model to a strategy for a winning holiday season, online and in-store.

It is not hard to imagine that 20 years from now, Black Friday could be a completely obsolete construct.

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