Thanksgiving Weekend Signals Strong Start to the Holiday Shopping Season

Shelley E. Kohan
Shelley E. Kohan
Vice President of Retail Consulting

As forecasted, shoppers took to their mobile devices early and often during the holiday weekend, leading to strong online sales growth while complementing in-store traffic results that fell in line with expectations.

Black Friday results from Thanksgiving through Saturday showed shopper traffic down 3.1 percent, as measured year-over-year. On retail’s coveted day of Black Friday, traffic was down 4.5 percent. The surprise of the three days was Thanksgiving, where shopper traffic was actually up 6.7 percent.

Online showed a similar trend for Thanksgiving, with sales reaching $2.9 billion as reported by Adobe Analytics, up 48.7 percent from last year’s level of $1.9 billion. Culturally, shopping on Thanksgiving while with family and friends has become widely accepted, driving online growth to record numbers this year, and more than likely negatively impacted shopping visits to brick-and-mortar stores on Friday. However, on Saturday the traffic to stores picked up, showing smaller declines in traffic and falling in line with expectations.

A key factor with Saturday is the growing prominence of Small Business Saturday and the shopper trend of supporting niche businesses. Declines in traffic on Black Friday were not a surprise, but rather expected as the online world pulled shoppers to the digital side of the business. RetailNext earlier forecasted that Friday, December 22, not Black Friday, will be the busiest brick-and-mortar day for shopping visits and biggest day for sales based on historical data when Christmas falls on Monday, coupled with the fact that on December 22 shoppers will not have the diversion of online competition with the holiday landing on that Monday.

The trifecta of Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday breaking $10 billion in retail sales may exceed expectations with $7.9 billion already in the tally for online sales, as reported by Adobe Analytics. As excepted and predicted, mobile purchasing has driven a large portion of the online sales as shoppers are more comfortable transacting and not just browsing with mobile devices, and have become quite adept at shopping and purchasing more expeditiously than years past.

An interesting caveat is Amazon, responsible for 45-50 percent of online sales, and who earlier announced that Cyber Monday will actually become Cyber Week, running through this entire week. This will impact Cyber Monday in three ways: 1) sales will be spread throughout the week and not focused entirely on Monday, 2) shopper frequency of visits to Amazon will increase as shoppers exhibit their collective “fear of missing out” (FOMO) on the best holiday deals, and 3) the overall shopper spend will most likely increase based on more visits and additional products continuously being added to the promotional “deals.” The “countdown clock” will certainly create a foreboding sense of urgency.

The retail sector is coming on strong, and a successful early November is great introduction to holiday 2017!

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