Early estimates for the biggest shopping weekend of the year point to strong results overall. While foot traffic was mixed throughout the four-day weekend, online sales were strong heading to Cyber Monday (Nov. 26). Retail analytics firm ShopperTrak reports visits to physical stores were down 1.7% on Black Friday, and 1% lower on Thanksgiving Day. Meanwhile online sales were higher.
ShopperTrak notes the 1.7% dip in foot traffic is close to the 1.6% dip seen a year ago as more sales gravitate online. Still, the National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts 164 million people did shop over the weekend and the majority of them shopped in physical stores. Many also said they planned to shop online. Black Friday was the biggest shopping day, with roughly 116 million consumers making a purchase at retail.
Adobe Analytics reports Black Friday shoppers spent $6.22 billion online, a gain of 23.6% a year ago. Consumer shopping online Thanksgiving Day rose 28% year-over-year, and totaled more than $3.7 billion. Estimates for Cyber Monday are projected at $7.8 billion, up 18.3% from last year. Overall, the National Retail Federal projects holiday sales will increase between 4.3% and 4.8% year over year.
“Retail is a vibrant, dynamic and competitive industry, but one thing is certain — consumers are the winners no matter which day or which way they shop,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay.
Consumers were looking for deals this past weekend and it was the biggest promotions that got shoppers out to the stores across the country, despite colder than normal weather in many states. Analysts at Coresight Research reported large crowds turned out early at certain retailers looking for bargains. In the Northeast, Coresight found traffic was highest at discount stores and outlet, and lowest at drugstores and dollar stores.
“Traffic was particularly high at Kohl’s J.C. Penney and Walmart,” Debra Weinswig of Coresight reported.
She said promotions ranged from 15%-80%, but 30% seemed to be the sweet spot. There were also a number of 40%-50% off promotions across the retail spectrum. She also reported inventory levels ranging from good to well-stocked, with many retailers replenishing shelves throughout the day.
The exception to that was on door-buster deals where retailers from Best Buy to Target and Walmart had deep discounts on electronics and 4K televisions in very limited quantities. In Northwest Arkansas, the Target store in Rogers advertised a 50-inch smart TV for $199. They had only 19 of them when the store opened at 5 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. Target did make some other deals for a few customers who waited in long lines to get the advertised TV. Walmart also noted in its ads there were limited quantities of many of the deals offered Thanksgiving night. Best Buy in Rogers also had long lines on Thanksgiving evening trying to buy 4K televisions at a deep discount. The store ran out of the advertised televisions and did make alternative deals for some customers who had waited in long lines.
Weinswig said retailers overall appeared to focus on assortment, inventory, and pricing this year. Coupons were also popular with some retailers like Belk, Kohl’s and J.C. Penney and consumers took full advantage of the promotions. Walmart did not offer any special coupons, deals were made on a first come basis. Weinswig said the Walmart doorbusters were well advertised, and it was easy for shoppers to navigate. She also reported sales employees were “exceptionally friendly and helpful.”
“The stores were well decorated, inventory levels were high, items were disappearing quickly but employees were quickly replenishing. Lines were incredibly long but well organized. This is a store that could benefit from line-busting technology,” Weinswig noted.
She said Target’s doorbusters were well marked and customers were very focused on toys and electronics. The store was well covered and associates were in aisles to answer questions and keep customers moving through the store. TVs, toys, soft and hard home, sleepwear, and cold weather accessories appeared to be top items.
CoreSight also reports Dollar Tree had normal traffic with lots of seasonal good up front. Weinswig said the heavily shopped stores were a bit disheveled in appearance.
Best Buy traffic was moderately dense with a long checkout line of at least a dozen shoppers and the approximate wait time was 15 minutes. Promotions covered 100% of the store, with bins at the entrance containing goods marked down up to 45%. The rest of the store offered discounts of up to 30% off. Employees commented there were no great deals and they expected a lot of people to order online. There was a full aisle for toys.
Weinswig said J.C. Penney was incredibly crowded with shoppers. The retailer took care to restock shelves and notable technology like mobile checkout was used to help reduce the time standing in line.
“Everyone was in great spirits and excited with their purchases in home, outerwear, cold weather accessories, footwear and women’s,” Weinswig said of the J.C. Penney stores visited on Black Friday.
She said Kohl’s was “definitely a winner in toys as a result of the changing retail landscape.” The retailer’s promotions in home, outerwear, sleepwear and cold weather accessories all appeared to sell well. Kohl’s helped to draw in traffic by handing our Kohl’s cash ($15 coupon), which could be redeemed through Dec. 5. There was also a 15% off coupon for those who shopped on Black Friday.
“The doorbusters were easy to find online and throughout the store. Customers were shopping across multiple categories for themselves and for others (we saw people trying on clothing and footwear). The biggest challenge was the wait times in line: Kohl’s could definitely benefit from line-busting technology,” Weinswig noted.
While the off-price discounters like T.J. Maxx and Ross Stores appeared to be ready for the holiday season, they offered no extra effort for Black Friday. Weinswig said traffic in these stores was light, likely because there were no specific holiday sales promotions.
While major retailers get a lot of publicity around Black Friday, small businesses have their day on Small Business Saturday. This year an estimated $17.8 billion was spent at small retail establishments on Nov. 24, according to the National Federation of Independent Business. The trade group said among those who shopped small businesses on Saturday, 41% made purchases online.