Nov 24, 2022 - Economy

Black Friday's surprise vanishing act

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The easiest shortcut to spotting Black Friday deals is vanishing before our eyes: the sales circulars that once stuffed Thanksgiving Day papers are becoming a relic.

The big picture: The circulars were a mainstay for holiday shoppers but retailers have been phasing them out, so discounts can shift with inventory.

  • COVID has transformed Black Friday sales from a few short days to weeks of discounts with more offers pushed online.

Why it matters: It's harder to find out what's on sale and make your shopping plans.

🗞️ In the past, we could flip through paper or digital ads.

  • Now they're gone from Best Buy and Walmart. So customers have to wade through websites and categories and products.

🛍️ Where they're left: Target, Kohl's and JCPenney have large circulars posted online. Lowe's, The Home Depot and Macy's have circulars in some newspapers.

Yes, but: With retailers rolling out more holiday deals online than in-store, the push to digital makes sense.

  • It's also not just happening around Black Friday. Stores including CVS, Walgreens, Target and Dick's Sporting Goods have trimmed weekly print advertisements, RetailWire reported in March.

Quick take: For decades, sales circulars have been how retailers promoted their discounts but had to be planned out weeks and more than a month in advance.

  • “The tools we have to surgically adjust pricing are so much more sophisticated than they were several years ago," Dick's Sporting Goods CEO Lauren Hobart said during a March investor conference where she spoke of previously having "blunt instruments in the newspaper."

Black Friday coupons in short supply

🗞️ Zoom out: Coupons in general are dying so it's not a shock that there were fewer Black Friday coupons in Thanksgiving papers.

  • Retailers do have coupons to scan in apps and codes to use online.

Thanksgiving Day newspapers were also in short supply as media companies stopped the presses for holiday editions in some parts of the country.

  • The Washington Post that arrived in Arlington, Va., Thursday morning included Kohl's, Macy's, Home Depot and Lowe's ads, Axios' Mike Allen reports.
  • The (Raleigh) News & Observer had all of those plus Belk, Dollar General and a few others.
  • The Sun Sentinel in South Florida had Home Depot, Lowe's, Rooms To Go, Macy's, Bealls and Bealls Outlet plus a Publix grocery circular for the sale starting Friday.

Some newspapers even charge more for the Thanksgiving paper that used to be known as the "biggest paper of the year" — aka a boatload of Black Friday ads they were paid to bring you. (Today's Post is $5; the N&O is $5.99.)

Flashback: In 2014, the Orlando Sentinel touted that its Thanksgiving edition weighed nearly five pounds.

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