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Turkey, gratitude and data-driven Black Friday shopping

Updated: Jan 13, 2021

How retailers use big data to get the most out of the holidays.

Happy early Thanksgiving, friends! T’is the season for overeating and overspending. For many, Thanksgiving weekend kicks off the holidays and, with huge-mongous Black Friday deals, the holiday shopping. Did you ever wonder just how the stores can afford such big price cuts? Or, how certain products seem to rise to the top as the gift of the year? Or, how brands have the power to make you want to leave your pumpkin pie and second cup of coffee to rush to the often violent Walmart premises?

You probably won’t be shocked to hear that the Black Friday wizardry is connected to big data. What sales and marketing efforts aren’t these days, right? But, here are a few specific ways the B2C retailers you know and love are leveraging data.


More than a decade ago, Target made waves by using big data to market baby products to pregnant women before their babies were even born, which resulted in one father discovering his teen daughter was pregnant before she told him. How did Target do this? They analyzed what women on their baby registries were buying at 20 weeks into their pregnancy and looked for those same markers in other female shoppers… and then sent advertisements for baby clothing and products to their homes. Awkward for the family in question, but all in all a pretty fascinating early use of big data to tailor marketing messages.

Now, with credit card purchases, website searches, social media engagement, loyalty programs, geotargeting capabilities and marketing automation platforms that score a consumer’s every move – there are so many ways that companies can build data-driven customer profiles and personalize Black Friday promotions that are so up your alley you kinda can’t ignore them.


Data warehousing is a relational data system that enables businesses to analyze huge volumes of data very quickly, resulting in fast and easy business intelligence. With the help of machine learning, these data sets can help predict what products will trend when (based on lots of factors, such as historical data, geographic location, economic influences, demographics, seasonality and more). Data warehousing also makes it way easier to optimize inventory management, account for spikes and keep the supply chain supplyin’.

Store layouts

Data collection can actually happen while you’re inside a brick and mortar store having a traditional shopping experience. Sensor and QR code data can be collected and analyzed to help companies understand the traffic flow inside of their stores. Similarly, brands that have their own apps, like good ol’ Target, can gather a lot of info from in-store product searches, interactive maps, coupon redemption and more. All of this data can then be analyzed to help stores optimize their layout and direct customers to the products and promotions they want to push.


So, the store personalized its marketing to you, featured the most relevant products, ushered you masterfully through the physical store – now how much should they charge for that product of the season? Data analytics can help stores quite a bit with pricing strategy. For example, machine learning can analyze patterns to indicate how reducing the cost of a big ticket item impacts the sale of other products throughout the store, and pricing can be adjusted across the board to allow for maximum profit. Analysis of historical and trending data and competitor pricing can be invaluable as well. Plus, pushing promotions to customers digitally via smartphone ads, apps and social media platforms gives brands the ability to test offers and adjust.

Of course, this is no ordinary year…

Naturally, 2020 is not going to be a very typical Black Friday experience. With the pandemic quickly moving toward its second surge, shopping centers have all sorts of precautions in place and people are understandably wary of shopping in person. Despite that, Americans are still planning to spend $148.5 billion on Black Friday this year (which is an increase from 2019.) But, even knowing how much they plan to spend, what items they’re scoping out and where they plan to shop still doesn’t necessarily help stores take a data-driven approach to the big day. One thing about using systems like AI and machine learning to make predictions is that the technology must have access to previous known failures conditions… and the last pandemic Americans shopped through was a century ago.

Many stores are reacting by playing it safe and making the Black Friday experience stretch out over weeks of promotions, special offers and relentless retargeting. Of course, a lot of stores are also closing for the holiday to give their essential workers some much deserved time off.

Wherever you shop and however you celebrate, On Now Digital wishes you a safe and happy holiday!

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