In recent years, with each passing holiday season, consumers show an increasing tendency to at least express a negative stance toward Black Friday (including the notion of shopping the day before, on Thanksgiving), given the ugly side of humanity that such an aggressively commercial, money-centric event can bring out. Even retailers themselves — be it for genuinely altruistic reasons or perhaps as another form of promotion — have gotten in on the anti-Black-Friday action, with many shuttering their doors on Thanksgiving for the first time this year and poo-pooing the dark side of U.S. retail’s biggest weekend.
There are a few retail consumer surveys currently reporting that consumer intent to shop on Black Friday is down in 2015. One from CivicScience indicates that 81 percent of respondents are “not at all likely” to shop on Black Friday this year (an increase from 78 percent in 2014), while another from Ibotta shows that 57 percent of shoppers will do most of their shopping after Black Friday, with 49 percent expecting the best deals at that time.
But how much of this negative sentiment toward Black Friday is just talk, and how much of it will be proven out — or disproven — by consumer behavior on the big day(s)? Furthermore, when all is said and done today (or, to be more specific, this holiday weekend, taking Cyber Monday into account), will the real change in Black Friday shopping come in the form of how it’s done, meaning the degree to which mobile and online supplant the traditional method of in-store shopping?
Some Varying Predictions
Compared to the relative gloom-and-doom of the aforementioned reports, the National Retail Federation (NRF) has a much more optimistic analysis of this year’s Black Friday numbers, estimating a potential for 135.8 million shoppers online and in stores over Thanksgiving weekend.
"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,” commented NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay in the report in question. “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."
"To make it even easier on holiday shoppers this year,” he continued, “we expect retailers will offer exclusive savings each day of the big weekend, including Thanksgiving and Black Friday-only deals and even extended Cyber Monday promotions throughout the week that follows."
Similarly, RetailMeNot predicts a Black Friday “resurrection” of sorts this year, while the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) predicts a “record-setting” Black Friday week, citing that 155 million Americans will shop during the 7-day period beginning today.
’Tis The Digital Season
According to another survey from the NRF, almost half (46.1 percent) of holiday shopping — meaning both browsing and buying — will be conducted online (up from 44.4 percent in 2014), a rate that the outlet notes is the highest recorded since the question was first posed in 2006.
The survey also shows that 21.4 percent of smartphone owners will use their device to purchase holiday merchandise this year — which is the highest rate indicated since the NRF started asking that question in 2011.
"Despite the challenges that still exist in our economy, it looks as if consumers are eager to celebrate the holidays with friends and family this year,” commented Shay in the second report. “We expect consumers will tackle their holiday shopping lists with a healthy dose of optimism, tempered by a hint of caution as they look for ways to find the perfect, practical gift."
"We continue to see positive momentum in retail sales growth, giving us reason to believe consumers will show up this holiday season as they look to take advantage of all of retailers’ promotional offerings,” he continued. “In an effort to attract all shoppers – from the extremely price sensitive to the online millennial, retailers will be offering exclusive incentives, low prices, price-matching, top toys and everyone’s favorite — free shipping and buy online pick up in-store offers."
Why does Shay cite those last two factors as “everyone’s favorite?” The numbers from the NRF survey bear that out. 46.5 percent of the respondents to it state that they will take advantage of buy online pick up in-store or ship-to-store options, while 93.1 percent say they will take advantage of free shipping on their holiday purchases.
Millennials — perhaps unsurprisingly, being born-and-bred consumers of the digital age — are shown by the NRF survey to be the most likely to utilize same-day delivery, at rates of 16.7 percent for 18- to 24-year-olds and 15.9 percent for 25- to 34-year olds, compared to just 7.8 percent of all other age groups.
"The surprise factor isn’t the numbers surrounding millennials and their planned use of retailers’ innovative digital offerings, it’s the power that this cohort of adults has when it comes to influencing retailers to speak their language,” Prosper’s Principal Analyst Pam Goodfellow remarked in the NRF report. “Young adults and millennials are incredibly savvy when it comes to finding the right gift at the right price at the right place."
Black Friday Goes Mobile
And when you’re shopping with a mobile device, you’re always in the right place.
In addition to the 21.4 percent of smartphone owners who plan to use their device to make holiday purchases this year, the same NRF survey also found that, in 2015, more consumers will use their smartphones to research products than they did last year (37.9 percent versus 35.8 percent), look up retailer information like store hours and directions (28.4 percent versus 26.9 percent), and one in five (20.3 percent) will use their smartphone to look up product availability in-store.
Tablets will play an important role, as well, according to the NRF survey: Nearly half (47.5 percent) of holiday shoppers this year will use that device to research products, and 34.5 percent will make a holiday purchase on it, while close to one-quarter (23.5 percent) will utilize a tablet to check for in-store product availability.
These mobile-friendly numbers from the NRF are seconded by other research firms. According to the CTA (via eWeek), mobile shopping will “reach new heights” this Black Friday weekend, with more than half (53 percent) of consumers expecting to use a mobile device while shopping.
Retailers are aware of the growing consumer preference for mobile shopping, as many will be offering mobile-only deals this Black Friday.
Amazon is taking that strategy to the next level. Beyond having launched a Black Friday online store ahead of the actual day, Wired reports that the eCommerce giant will be offering a number of mobile-only deals and two-hour delivery on certain items throughout today. The company has implanted a feature for the holiday called “Watch a Deal,” which allows customers to mark the deals they’re most excited about and receive notifications on their smartphones once the offer is live.
"You can’t generate that same kind of excitement if you’re trying to do this in-store,” Ben Schachter, a Wall Street analyst at Macquarie, who specializes in Amazon, told Wired. “Consumers aren’t going to be there every day for eight days. That’s not to say they can’t try to replicate customer success online, but Amazon is dominating online."