As a certified retail geek, I love going Black Friday shopping. No, I don't get up at the crack of dawn to line up for specials and I sure as hell don't shop on Thursday night (although, like many others, I did buy a couple things via mobile and Alexa from the comfort of my home). Following consumers, retailers have extended out Black Friday promotions to begin earlier, last longer and be available from a wide variety of channels effectively rendering the Friday after Thanksgiving just another day of sales promotion. Like all of retail, holiday sales cycles are changing as shoppers make use of ever growing shopping options. Black Friday is now less of a day and more of a mindset for consumers. It's time to shop, not just for Holiday gifts but for most everything.
Retailers themselves are likely to blame for fracturing Black Friday as an event. In an effort to out promote each other to the bottom with margin negative deals on 'must have' items, consumers were busy ignoring them with new media and new shopping channels. As holiday shopping expanded timeframes, added hours and even expanded into Thanksgiving Day something amazing happened, people bought the same amount of stuff. Margins fell and costs rose delivering a net negative for retailers which saw stock prices take a hit as traffic, same stores sales and profits remained flat at best for most. Walmart and Target shares basically sell for what they did in 2006, Best Buy sells for less. A decade of basically doing the same thing and expecting different results. 2016 will likely be a watershed year for many retailers as old-style retailing reaches a breaking point.
For the first time ever, more consumers shopped online than in stores. As consumers migrate to non-physical channels, their shopping behavior is changing. Overall spend for Thanksgiving weekend was down about $10 per person compared to 2015 as heavy promotional activity drove down top-line spending. Its likely that shoppers are also playing a game of retail chicken betting that retailers will reduce prices even more as Christmas nears. 1/3 of shoppers bought only sale items as prevailing merchandising strategy continues to train consumers to expect deals versus paying full price. Cyber Monday set a new sales record of $3.3 billion with over 1/3 of the volume coming from mobile.
Here is what I observed shopping a Mall on Black Friday, Discounter on Saturday, online on Sunday and Monday.
SouthPoint Mall, Durham, NC
The mall had good traffic but wasn’t packed. I spoke with several store employees that had worked Thanksgiving night when the Mall was open 6-10 and they reported that traffic had been brisk and thought that it was affecting the overall traffic for Black Friday. Most retailers had deep promotions raging from 20% to 50% off and more. Banana republic had 50% off 5 regularly priced items skiing to move volume, while stores like Tevanna had BOGOs with nice gifting packages. Shopping app RetailMeNot had overhead signage touting 25% off in-store savings bringing omnichannel shopping together.
Nordstrom was well stocked with upscale holiday apparel with little discounting and strong traffic (Ted Baker jacket, Ugly Christmas sweater). Macy’s was an absolute train wreck with merchandise strewn all over the place that literally made the place unshoppable. The most heavily trafficked store was Lululemon which had no discount signage at all and little discounting. The athleisure trend was definitely benefitting Lulelemon as well as Athleta which had great inspirational mannequins with some of the hottest seasonal looks.
Southpoint continues to thrive as it has many dining and entertainment options, a trend that is growing as shopping center retail traffic declines. Several brands also have experience shops like the Nestle Toll House store.
Brier Creek Shopping Center, Raleigh, NC
This mega strip center was heavily trafficked when we visited mid-afternoon on Saturday. We visited Michael’s and Dick's Sporting Goods which both had deep discounts. As usual, Michael’s was very inspirational with lots of great displays featuring holiday decor ideas. We bought canvases for my daughter and some frames which were 50% off (I think frames are always 50% off) and with our Michael’s loyalty card save another 5%. Dick's also had heavy athleisure offerings and some promotions but not on top brands (Duke pullover and vest - regular price).
Online, Mobile and Alexa
Over the weekend I received 200+ promotional emails, many from the same brands. Tory Burch sent an email every day last week. Every. Single. Day. Digital spam extended across all channels with some websites becoming unreadable due to multiple ad servers jockeying to fill multiple advertising slots. I shopped several new channels this year including Google Store (Google Home $30 off, Outdoor Nest Cam), Philips Hue (Hue Lightbulbs - $2 off and Lightstrip - $20 off) and Cobbler Union (shopped its online sale but didn’t have my size). As with most online retail,, free shipping is table stakes. The overall level of discounting seems high, but unless you have a good sense of original prices, it can be difficult to determine the true value of deals. Google searches make it easy to compare prices across retail channels.
I’ve previously been shopping for an Arc’teryx jackets via its site and Google. The brand has exploded across my digital channels with retargeting which frankly doesn't make me feel warmer to the brand, quite the opposite. I'm obviously interested but the constant jackets stalking me isn't building any brand warmth for me. The marketers responsible obviously aren't using any suppression once its ads have been over-delivered.
Amazon continues to build integration with its Echo platform with strong promotions and good multi-channel integration. Weekly email updates alert to exclusive discounts via the platform and continue to drive focus on consumables (Finish Quantum Max Fresh Dishwasher Pods 64 count $9.51). Amazon is offering daily deals prompting a daily interaction with the platform to uncover them. Voice shopping is quickly becoming my preferred method of buying a known items. Amazon is also enhancing voice browsing, increasing the opportunity for human/machine interaction.
Bottom line, Black Friday is now a full week and more of promotional activity quickly spreading across many non-traditional retail channels. Brands and retailers that move quickly to engage, empower and support consumers throughout their shopper journeys will be rewarded with loyalty, others will discount themselves into irrelevancy.