Retail’s Thanksgiving Weekend in Review | RetailNext

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Retail’s Thanksgiving Weekend in Review

Ray Hartjen
Ray Hartjen
Director, Content Marketing & Public Relations

Retail’s biggest weekend is in the books, and the big winners were those online and the stores and brands delivering a consistent, fulfilling omnichannel experience.

Mall ShoppingThe dust has settled on retail’s biggest weekend of the year, and the results are surprising. According to RetailNext’s daily Flash updates for the Thanksgiving weekend, sales and traffic were down considerably year-over-year:

Correspondingly, the National Retail Federation (NRF) projected the four-day weekend spend to reach $50.9 billion, down 11.3% from last year’s estimated $57.4 billion.

While same-store sales and traffic have been down this year, prevailing thought was a modest increase in sales on a slight decrease in traffic over the four-day weekend. So, what happened?

Weather set an unsettled tone early, and sent shoppers online

The harsh winter weather that swept through the east coast early last week had negative effects at the storefront. Many travelers experienced flight delays and cancellations, and those at home weren’t inclined to leave to go to stores. The result was an influx of online shopping, and browsers were so pleased with the seamless shopping experience offered up, they came back in droves later in the week.

IBM reported that mobile browsing accounted for 52.1% of all online traffic on Thanksgiving, and online sales were up 14.3% compared to the year before.

“Holiday creep” started shopping early

The Holiday shopping season is creeping forward more and more every year, and it’s not stopping at Thanksgiving either. While more stores opened on Thanksgiving this year, many stores like Nordstrom continue to make a stand on being closed so employees can enjoy the holiday with their family and friends.

The general outlook on Thanksgiving openings is that they push sales forward, but do not grow them incrementally – essentially, the sales are captured on Thursday, cannibalizing sales on the weekend. The opportunity for retailers is to better use “bounceback” promotions and events to get shoppers to return later in the weekend.

Many Holiday promotions, however, are starting earlier in the Thanksgiving week, and most retailers are in full Holiday mode as soon as Halloween decorations get taken down late on October 31. Earlier sales and promotions took the urgency out of Black Friday and balanced retail over the month of November.

But, of course, the biggest impact on store sales was …

Omnichannel finally came together to deliver as promised

Retailers are finally delivering on a seamless omnichannel shopping experience, and consumers are driving the change, particularly with mobile shopping. Retailers are responding with consistent branding, messaging, promotions and pricing online and in-store. As Shelly E. Kohan, RetailNext’s vice president of retail consulting told Phil Wahba for his Fortune article, “The retailers that have combined their digital and physical presence as part of one overall strategy will be the winners. They got out earlier and won those early sales.”

Thanksgiving weekend is over, but the Holiday retail season is really just beginning. With Christmas late in its week, look for big promotions and heavy online and in-store traffic on December 20 & 21. Plus, the three-day weekend after Christmas should be incredibly busy as well.

As NRF CEO Matt Shay has said of the remaining Holiday season, “Every day is going to be Black Friday, every minute will be Cyber Monday.”

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