Ever since the Uniform Monday Holiday Act took effect in 1968, “Presidents Day” has been observed on the third Monday in February. But the holiday is officially known as Washington’s birthday, as the observance started out as a celebration of his birth, after all.
George Washington wasn’t a huge fan of big celebrations, so his birthday was only marked with informal gatherings across the U.S. after he died in 1799: His birthday — February 22 — only became a federal holiday in 1879. But then the government changed his birthday to its current Monday observance in the 1960s to give workers more three-day weekends.
Whether it’s called Presidents Day or Washington’s birthday, the holiday offers time away from school and work and gives consumers time to shop. As a result, Presidents Day is a day when retailers discount everything from home décor to digital devices to woo customers heading to the mall — or to their own eCommerce websites.
In fact, retailers offered better weekend deals on Presidents Day last year than on the days leading up to Valentine’s Day. Shoppers using the Honey browser extension saved an average of about 18 percent on Presidents Day in 2017, which was about 1 percent more than the 16.9 percent they saved over the prior weekend, USA Today reported.
Presidents Day has a unique position on the calendar: It’s the last nondenominational holiday from February until Mother’s Day. And, in an economic sense, it caps what is historically the worst consumer spending month of the year. While February had its strongest performance since the Great Recession, with a $302 billion take in 2016, the month still fell $4 billion short of spending in March.
Retailers discount clothes for two reasons on Presidents Day — to clear out old inventory and encourage consumers to stock up on new items. As a result, retailers mark down already discounted items on the holiday.
“Last year, Anthropologie and Nordstrom offered an additional 40 percent off sale items for Presidents Day,” Perez told LearnVest. “Club Monaco and Urban Outfitters advertised an extra 30 percent off previously discounted winter merchandise.”
Retailers oftentimes advertise discounts beyond 30 to 40 percent — practically giving merchandise away. “Anything that is still on the clearance rack is going to be marked down over Presidents Day weekend, up to 70 percent off,” Vera Gibbons, founder of a personal finance website, told Yahoo News. That’s when “retailers are making way for the spring stuff, and they want to get rid of all that winter merchandise,” she said.
The sales also help to sell new fashion. The promotions get consumers through the doors of brick-and-mortar stores — or on the home page — to browse a retailer’s latest spring collection.
“As an incentive to encourage people to buy, they’ll often offer ‘teaser sales’ of 25 percent to 30 percent off select spring merchandise,” consumer shopping expert Trae Bodge told LearnVest. By offering discounts on a few items, retailers hope consumers will purchase spring clothes at full price.
Rise of eCommerce
Consumers are increasingly shopping online during Presidents Day — even for large purchases. Blueport Commerce, which provides eCommerce technology and services for the retail furniture industry, saw big increases during Presidents Day in 2016. Smartphone-generated revenue for companies on the platform was up 65 percent year over year then and accounted for 35 percent of total revenue on Blueport.
“We’re seeing an exponential increase in revenue from smartphones, pointing to a dramatic mobile shift in shopping for big-ticket items in the U.S.,” Carl Prindle, president and chief executive officer of Blueport Commerce, said at the time. “The idea of purchasing a sectional on a phone was once unimaginable. Today, a responsive website that works as well on a phone as it does on a tablet or desktop is the cornerstone of a retailer’s omnichannel strategy.”
And, while some consumers might go to a brick-and-mortar store to peruse the furniture selection, they ultimately might end up buying that chaise longue or sectional online.
“Our retailers closed smartphone orders from the parking lots of competitors’ stores, after shoppers had finished shopping around and were ready to buy,” Prindle said. “That’s a tremendous convenience for shoppers and a big win for our retailers.”