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TrendWatch: Retail’s Holiday Shift

TrendWatch: Retail’s Holiday Shift

Black Friday, Cyber Monday… these terms are becoming increasingly outdated as retailers shift strategies to mirror customer habits.

Black Friday, Cyber Monday… these terms are becoming increasingly outdated as retailers shift strategies to mirror customer habits.

Amanda Cioletti, Managing Editor

Instigated perhaps in equal measure by both 2008's economic downturn (the effects of which are lessening year after year) and by the lightening of brick-and-mortar traffic (due to a host of reasons ranging from the ease of online shopping to customers just rebelling against retailer's holiday spending messaging), retailers are turning to new and inventive means to keep shoppers' carts full and feet in their aisles during the holidays.

A notable shift this year is the willingness of many retailers to refuse to open on Thanksgiving. As the traditional kick start to the holiday shopping season has crept stealthily into the day of Thanksgiving over the years, many retailers are finding either that the extended hours do not equal added bottom line profits or they are trying to promote a value add to employees (and thus drum up some good PR). Retailers such as Costco, TJ Maxx, Nordstrom, Barnes & Noble, Burlington Coat Factory, Dillard's, GameStop, Home Depot and more kept doors closed on Thanksgiving; while stores such as Toys 'R' Us, Target and Walmart opened to eager shoppers.

Outdoor retailer REI took the most radical approach to a Thanksgiving/Black Friday shopping revolt, going so far as to close all of its 143 retail locations, headquarters and two distribution centers on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday, yet still paying its 12,000 employees. REI even created a campaign around it–#OptOutside, which encouraged people to get outside and spend time with family and friends.

"We think that Black Friday has gotten out of hand and so we are choosing to invest in helping people get outside with loved ones this holiday season, over spending it in the aisles," said Jerry Stritzke, president and chief executive officer, REI, in a letter addressed to the co-op retailer's 5.5 million members.

U.S. national parks also got in on the movement, with many offering free or discounted admission on Nov. 27 (Black Friday), from the Redwood parks of Northern California, to Washington's Mt. Rainier and beyond.

The shift in customer's perceived value, measured both in dollar spend and in experience, is affecting retailers and their holiday discount structure, as well.

Retailers have begun extending the discounts typically reserved for Black Friday and the holiday season earlier into November, prompting shoppers to begin shopping sooner.

According to the National Retail Federation, nearly 60 percent of holiday shoppers began their holiday purchasing well in advance of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

"The importance of Thanksgiving weekend to both retailers and consumers will never change. However, retailers have already given consumers several good reasons to start their holiday shopping earlier," says Matthew Shay, president and chief executive officer, NRF. "We suspect early holiday shoppers could still be on the fence about whether or not to try their hand at finding online and in-store deals Thanksgiving weekend. But this weekend isn't the end-all-be-all; it's important to remember, there will be several important weekends to keep an eye on before we wrap up the holiday season."

The crowds were there, though, whether they chose to shop from the couch or in-store.

According to NRF, more than 151 million people said they shopped either in stores or online over the holiday weekend, up from its initial pre-holiday shopping survey which predicted 136 million. NRF says that the average per person shopper spent $299.60, with 76.6 percent of that going specifically towards gifts.

"Holiday shopping started well in advance of Thanksgiving weekend this year, but there's no question that people were still incredibly eager to get their hands on the deals that retailers were offering on electronics, apparel, toys and even small appliances," says Pam Goodfellow, principal analyst, Prosper Insights & Analytics, which conducted the NRF survey.

And early results from Adobe's Digital Index found Cyber Monday sales have risen 16 percent over last year to more than $3 billion. Adobe also said that sales for the five-day period starting on Thanksgiving totaled $11.11 billion, 17 percent higher than last year.

And, according to IBM Watson Trend, in a report published by USA Today, "mobile traffic accounted for nearly half of all online traffic and 27.6 percent of all online sales Monday, which is up more than 25 percent from last year."

Topping the revenue gains was Amazon.com, whose Cyber Monday totals increased 21.1 percent over 2014. (Source: ChannelAdvisor via CNBC.com.)

So the good news is this: people are shopping. When they do it and how may be shifting, but money is flowing into cash registers. The holiday spending trajectory is optimistic for December, hopefully ending the quarter on a high note. ©

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