Commentary

Ahead Of NRF Numbers, Expansive Black Friday Looks Like A Winner

As Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Monikerless Sunday and Cyber Monday blend in one long singularity of bargain hunting both in-store and online — at big boxes, pop-ups and everything in between — the gut feel seems to be that we’re at the tail end of a record spending spree this morning. The National Retail Federation will issue its report on the weekend’s spending data tomorrow. But the way those sales are registered is changing.

“Now that we've all eaten plenty of turkey and fallen asleep on the couch watching football, it's time for yet another Thanksgiving weekend tradition: declaring Black Friday dead,” Bloomberg’s Sarah Halzack wrote at 8 a.m. Friday.

“But if I were a retailer, I would tune out the funeral dirges being played for Black Friday and listen instead to what I assume your sales numbers are telling you: The occasion is still critically important. And in at least one way, it might be getting even more important,” she goes on to write. Not only do Black Friday (and Cyber Monday, and their spill-over into the entire weekend) attract the “tens of millions,” sales this year were projected to grow at a double-digit rate both in-store and online by Adobe Digital Insights.

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“When Business Insider's Sarah Jacobs arrived at the Atlantic Terminal Mall in Brooklyn early Friday morning, she found a meager line outside waiting for the mall to open, and even fewer people outside Target and Best Buy,” writes Business Insider's Kate Taylor.

“Empty malls seem like bad news for retailers. However, with the growth of e-commerce and services like in-store pickup, retailers can cut down on store traffic while still growing sales,” Taylor continues. “Shoppers spent a total of $3.54 billion online as of 8 p.m. ET on Black Friday, a 15.6% increase over last year, according to Adobe Analytics. That's on top of the $2.87 billion spent on Thanksgiving Day,” she reports.

Not that the two worlds are mutually exclusive.

“A funny thing happened on the way to the future: Most shoppers are not going all-digital. Surveys show they’re eager for good experiences at retail stores. And all those Millennials doing their shopping on their phones? It turns out that they’re skipping shopping on their desktops and taking their smartphones to the mall...,” the Christian Science Monitor’s Laurent Belsie pointed out on Friday. 

Again, no shocker here but “while mobile sales are growing, the most prevalent use of smartphones in stores is researching products or looking up product information (58%, closely followed by checking or comparing prices (54%), according to a June survey of 603 consumers by Retail Dive, an online news source,” Belsie continues. And according to a Deloitte study he cites, 92% of those who own smartphones use them while shopping.

Meanwhile, the malls have appeals that are hard to replicate on a 5-inch screen.

“Like millions of other Americans, Zahid Khattak headed to the mall early the day after Thanksgiving. But unlike many others, he wasn't stocking up on holiday presents. That, he said, he would do later, online,” writes Abha Bhattarai for the Washington Post. “‘This is just an event — an excuse to come out,’ he said, as he waited for his 7-year-old daughter to get a purple butterfly painted on her cheek. ‘We don’t really need to buy anything.’

“Instead, the family waited in a line for face-painting. They lined up for an artist who turned balloons into pink and green swords. They walked to Santa’s workshop, complete with interactive displays,” Bhattarai continues. “Elsewhere, there were free makeovers, spin classes, pizza samples and a selfie stop hosted by radio personality Tommy McFly in front of the Lord & Taylor.”

All this — and other efforts by the likes of Walmart, Nordstrom and Apple — are meant to counteract the trend to buy on other days of the extended weekend. “This year, 35% of consumers who plan to shop during Thanksgiving week say they will do so on Black Friday, down from 51% last year and 59% the year before, according to professional services giant PWC.”

But buy they will, 24/7, online, offline and any way they can.

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