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Does Black Friday still have a point?

By Janet Hoffman, Special to CNN
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Black Friday losing significance as a key holiday shopping day, says Janet Hoffman
  • Consumers are more likely to be apathetic and to shop online than in past years, she says
  • She says deep price cuts in 2008 holiday season changed consumer expectations
  • Stores focus on shopping experience in an age of rising online sales, she says

Editor's note: Janet Hoffman is managing director for the retail practice at Accenture, a management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company which provides services for major retailers.

(CNN) -- Today is Black Friday -- the longstanding cornerstone of the holiday season -- and many retailers are seeing the need to unveil even more incredible offers than ever to battle the growing suggestion of Black Friday fatigue.

Accenture's holiday shopping study this year showed a rise in consumer apathy toward the Black Friday shopping tradition, with more than half of consumers (53 percent) saying they were unlikely to or undecided on whether they will shop on Black Friday (compared to 48 percent in 2009).

Traditionally, Black Friday, with its notorious "door-buster" deals, was the kick-off to the holiday shopping season, both for the store and the consumer. Now, it could be argued that Halloween marks the new holiday shopping starting point, as retailers try to catch as many sales as they can as early as possible with holiday advertising, promotions and an online push.

This year will pose its own challenges in the fight for discretionary dollars as retailers also have to compensate for Christmas falling on a Saturday this year, meaning customers have one fewer weekend of holiday shopping.

You can trace the increasingly lackluster consumer response to the Black Friday shopping tradition to the turbulent 2008 holidays.

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That year, we saw some retailers offer eye-popping discounts as high as 75 percent across their stores in early November to compensate for high inventories, high uncertainty, lower consumer confidence and less money in their pockets.

This was a defining moment that dramatically changed the game. It not only took some of the gloss off Black Friday that year, but it also changed expectations for years to come of knowing when you would be able to snag the best holiday promotions and sales throughout the season.

The growth in popularity of online shopping and the growing opportunity to find as many good deals online as in the store poses another challenge to Black Friday's popularity.

The increase in the number of homes with broadband internet access means that more and more shoppers can afford to, and prefer to, stay home and bag the offers online, rather than brave the crowds. Accenture's survey showed that 69 percent of consumers said that they will be buying holiday gifts online this year, up from 64 percent in 2009.

Despite this changing landscape, Black Friday is not finished. It is still a significant day for a huge number of consumers and the sense of tradition that many attach to it means that it still has a role to play.

A number of retailers are already exploring creative opportunities to regain some of Black Friday's appeal and are looking at ways to engage with the customer through many different channels.

Some are offering deals throughout the week. Some are opening their doors earlier. Some offered door-buster savings on Thanksgiving Day on their websites. So instead of waking up at 4 a.m. -- or earlier -- and braving the elements with the rest of the die-hard shoppers for a couple of hours on Friday, for many consumers, it was a simple question: "Do I grab my laptop and surf the net for presents or sit in front of the TV to watch the game -- or both?"

The purpose of the brick-and-mortar store, however, is shifting from just being the place to make a transaction to providing more of an experience for the shopper. Retailers have an opportunity to redefine Black Friday and stimulate excitement around the day, helping them to build customer loyalty throughout the season.

With all the challenges, Black Friday will remain at the heart of the holiday shopping season for the foreseeable future and the winning retailers will be the ones that continue to go beyond the door-buster deal to win the hearts and minds -- and wallets -- of the consumer.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Janet Hoffman.