Retailers desperate for shoppers to walk through their doors didn’t have much to celebrate in the critical days including and following Thanksgiving. But those that offered deals earlier or built up a robust e-commerce experience had something to be grateful for in the days around Black Friday.
Black Friday itself was “the quietest in 20 years” as real-life foot traffic plummeted due to pandemic fears, according to a report by Coresight Research, which tracks retail data.
Online sales, though, soared during the traditional make-or-break shopping period and on Cyber Monday.
All in all, U.S. retail sales are expected to rise 7.6% during the 2020 holiday shopping season, compared with a year ago, research firm IHS Markit projected on Tuesday.
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But while retail spending has largely recovered after the pandemic temporarily cratered sales, consumers have shifted markedly toward digital shopping, signaling that retailers that rely mostly on brick-and-mortar transactions are still in deep trouble.
“The role of stores may be forever changed,” said Hilding Anderson, head of retail strategy, North America at digital consultancy Publicis Sapient. “They are becoming increasingly relied on as fulfillment centers and experiential places for entertainment instead of for traditional shopping.”
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How Black Friday has changed
To be sure, Black Friday is no longer a day but a concept. Retailers began Black Friday sales week in advance of the day after Thanksgiving and plan to continue deals until Christmas.
The extended promotional period boosted spending in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving but sapped spending on Black Friday itself.
Total retail spending beginning in September and lasting through the Thanksgiving weekend rose 2.1% to $62.5 billion, according to estimates by research firm GlobalData Retail. During that stretch, online sales were up 48.3%, while spending at physical stores fell 8.6%. Overall, digital sales made up 27.2% of spending during the period, up from 18.7% in 2019.
But the days of Black Friday stampedes for so-called “doorbuster” deals are over.
Total retail spending from Thanksgiving Day through the weekend fell by 22.4% in 2020, compared with the same period a year earlier, according to GlobalData Retail.
“Given the backdrop to this year’s Black Friday, this turned out to be a pretty solid event for retailers,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, in a research note. “However, the shape of trade was remarkably different than in previous years. Spending on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday itself collapsed as consumers had already been enticed by deals earlier in the month and many avoided visiting stores.”
On Cyber Monday, when many retailers traditionally offer e-commerce deals, Americans spent $10.8 billion, up 15.1% from a year earlier, according to Adobe Analytics, which tracks sales data from a majority of the nation’s top online retailers. Cyber Monday marked an all-time record for one-day spending online in the U.S., according to Adobe Analytics.
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Much like Black Friday, however, Cyber Monday has become more stretched out, with retailers offering online details leading up to and following the day itself.
For example, consumers spent $9 billion online on Black Friday, a nearly 22% increase over 2019, according to Adobe Analytics.
“Because of COVID and the extension of in-store sales to online, there’s no difference between Black Friday and Cyber Monday anymore,” said Greg Sterling, vice president of market insights with online presence firm Uberall. “They’re now just bookends for an extended shopping weekend.”
Will shoppers keep spending?
One question that remains to be answered is whether shoppers will continue spending all the way up to Christmas. Some experts expect deals to dry up as the holiday approaches, while others have advised people to buy early to ensure their packages arrive on time during a year in which shippers have had a difficult time keeping up with demand.
Adobe Analytics recommended buying gifts before Dec. 11, saying it predicts shipping costs will begin to rise after that date, “erasing some of the value consumers are getting from holiday deals.”
Naveen Jaggi, president of retail advisory services at brokerage firm JLL, said difficulties with supply chains and logistics with volumes are expected.
“If online orders are not in before mid-December, then we can expect orders will not be delivered in time for the holidays,” Jaggi said, adding this is one reason more shoppers are expected to use curbside pickup and buy-online-pickup-in-store options more than ever before this year.
Sara Skirboll, RetailMeNot shopping and trends expert, said many products fully sold out during Black Friday and Cyber Monday and some sold out in popular sizes of colors or are back-ordered.
“The earlier you shop the better chance you have at finding the gifts you need and ensuring a timely delivery,” Skirboll said. “If you have your heart set on a particular item, I definitely recommend purchasing ASAP.”
Brian Walker, chief strategy officer at Bloomreach, an e-commerce experience platform, agreed that shoppers may not be able to expect shelves to be fully stocked.
“Consumers should anticipate challenges both with popular products being sold out … and they need to expect there may be shipping delays as both retailers and logistics and shipping companies deal with significantly higher package volumes this year,” Walker said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Holiday shopping 2020: Black Friday ailing, but earlier deals help