Black Friday, the day following Thanksgiving in the US, has traditionally been the start of the holiday shopping season. The name originated in Philadelphia, to describe heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicular traffic, when many folks took off the day after Thanksgiving as an extended holiday and used it to shop. That was back in the 1960s. By the mid-70s it spread to other large cities as a retail event. Another explanation was given the increase store traffic that particular Friday, it was the point when retailer ledger entries got made – not in red ink, representing losses – but in black ink, indicating profits. Get it? Black Friday!
But in recent years, lack of any real retail differentiation – not to mention the Internet, although we will be mentioning it later – forced retailers to do something to ensnare shoppers. In the absence of real merchandise differentiation and the presence of universal low-lower-lowest pricing strategies, retailers started to open earlier on Friday, the logic being if you got the shopper first, they wouldn't shop someplace else. Or wouldn't shop as much someplace else. Most opened at 8:00 AM. Some opened at 6:00 AM. But in 2008 some moved openings to 4:00 AM. Then 2:00 AM. Last year Macy's, Target, Kohl's, and Best Buy opened at midnight. This year Wal-Mart opened at 8:00 PM on Thursday. But most had already begun sales on Wednesday, which kind of waters down the concept. And the effect.
According to our annual Holiday Spending Survey, 27% of consumers had already shopped this month. The rest were waiting. Only 6% of consumers were waiting for the traditional Thanksgiving Black Friday. Thirty-six percent (36%) of shoppers indicated they're waiting till December. And 9% indicated they were actually going to wait until the last 2 weeks of December to shop, figuring that by then the best deals were to be had. So much for all that early-earlier-earliest holiday advertising and store-openings!
But to quote the President, "It's arithmetic." The reality is there is just so much money that the consumer is going to spend for the holidays. OK, some will spend a little more, some a little less, but the survey says… $870.00 on average this holiday season. And while the TV and news reports play up the crowds and the earlier store openings, and consumers weathering the weather, traffic is up, but increases in sales not so much. According to the National Retail Federation, the average amount spent by a holiday shopper over the weekend was only up 6%, reflecting precisely the reported increase in total spend found in our survey.
Some 24% of consumers indicated they were going to wait till Cyber Monday to shop – although given mobile outreach today, how could you tell the difference one day to another? (BTW, the origin of "Cyber Monday" was folks returned to work after the holiday and as they had their computers right in front of them (and the boss wasn't looking) did some additional shopping for the holidays online and, thus, online shopping showed a bump for that day.
Many people shopping online were looking for alternatives for those "door-buster" specials like the advertised 46" flat screen TV for $299 they missed at the 6AM store opening, having also missed the small print that advised each brick-and-mortar store only had 5 available. Today bricks-and-mortar companies use Cyber Monday to offer even more deals on their online sites.)
But there's no denying that online shopping is on the rise. We estimate that online shopping was up 24% this weekend over last year, and will be higher after yesterday's numbers, the "official" Cyber Monday figures, are added in.
Given the earlier advertising and store openings, and the massive shifts in technological outreach, maybe we need a new name for this shopping period. How about "Super Cyber Brick-and-Mortar Lowest Prices Shopping Month"? All reasonable suggestions considered.