The December Doldrums: Retail Forecast Between Thanksgiving And Christmas

Holiday shopping is more of a marathon than a sprint, requiring careful preparation and strategy. But customers who expected to win by saving their dollars for later in the race may be disappointed this year, according to The New York Post.

Slow and steady may not win the race this time. The tortoise may not outstrip the hare.

The long weekend after Thanksgiving is the media darling, with brand-name recognition for three out of the four days: Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday (plus Giving Tuesday, to give a full account of where consumer dollars might be going during the final week of November).

However, fame isn’t the only determinant of success. Thanksgiving weekend — including the evening of Thanksgiving itself and the sales that go with it — only generates around 15 percent of holiday spending, according to retail consulting firm Customer Growth Partners.

And while that 15 percent is substantial — with eCommerce sales up 17 percent on Black Friday to hit a record $5.03 billion, and breaking even more records with $6.6 billion in sales on Cyber Monday — it’s still only 15 percent.

Meanwhile, the two Saturdays leading into Christmas typically generate a combined 11 percent of holiday spending, making Black Friday only the third-biggest shopping day of the season.

And in between, there’s the valley. Call it the “December Doldrums.”

There are two types of shoppers during the holidays. Customers either rushed out to start shopping as soon as they’d swallowed their last bite of pumpkin pie, or they’re biding their time until the end-of-season fire sales later in December — the ones the New York Post is saying won’t happen this year, since retailers have less overstock than they did in past holiday seasons.

Forbes agrees that discounts may not be as deep as in previous years. Retailers were evidently more conservative about buying inventory this year, which means they won’t need to burn through as much with late-season deals — which means that gross margins will likely be up this Christmas shopping season. So while consumers may be disappointed not to see their favorite store offering 75 percent off on Christmas Eve, the smaller markdowns are good news for merchants.

Forbes further corroborates the conclusion that Black Friday weekend is a lot of hype and is less profitable than the media likes to make it sound when compared to bigger shopping days later in December (including the week after Christmas, when gift cards are redeemed, returns are processed and the trajectory is set for seasonal clearance).

However, Forbes hardly paints the middle of December as the retail doldrums.

With the biggest sales behind and (consumers hope) ahead, it would make sense for them to take these intervening weeks to catch their breath and wait for the bell to ring on the second round of holiday shopping.

That’s one way to look at it. But simple math shows that the season’s big shopping days still only add up to less than 30 percent of holiday spending, leaving the remaining 70 percent to spread out over the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

It’s hardly fair to call that volume the “doldrums.” Forbes predicts that consumers will take about a week to catch their breath before diving into the shopping season in earnest.


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