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Holiday Retail 2014:  The Scoreboard So Far

The official kick-off of the annual shopping season was a week ago and that can only mean one thing:  the annual horse race for holiday retail hegemony is now underway. Everyone is hard charging for the December 24th finish line.

However with all the retailers, issuers, card networks, digital wallets and technologists vying for consumer love and attention over the twenty or so most festive (and hopefully hectic) shopping days of the year that remain,  it can be hard to keep track of who’s even running the race in 2014 , let alone who’s really winning...and who’s just “Charlie Sheen” winning.

But, no need to fret or surrender any hard-won seasonal jollyiness because PYMNTS is keeping track for you. Now, any given moment this holiday season, you can know who who’s ahead, who’s behind and who is running somewhere in between.

Who (Or What’s) Looking Good

  1. Mobile eCommerce - Because It’s Better To Shop From The Couch Than Shiver In Line At 4 AM

The numbers are in and it looks like the thrill of standing in line at dawn is giving way to the thrill of staying home, eating a Thanksgiving leftover sandwich and shopping from one’s laptop or iPad.

Retailers saw E-Commerce sales jump n Monday (Dec. 1), aka Cyber Monday, compared with the same day last year, though how much is up for debate.

Channel Advisor, which tracked transaction data for more than 2,700 retailers selling online between midnight and noon Monday, reports e-commerce sales were up  15.6 percent. IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark showed a mere 8 percent growth in Cyber Monday sales. comScore data over the weekend showed a 32 percent rise in Cyber Monday sales figures to nearly $2.04 billion.

comScore also noted that Cyber Monday “represents the heaviest online spending day in history and the first to surpass $2 billion in sales (in the U.S.).”

It was also a good day for mobile traffic and commerce.  PayPal reports its mobile traffic ticked up 52 percent worldwide during the holiday shopping season’s “kick-off” weekend. The biggest increase, 62 percent, seen on Black Friday (when curiously, shoppers also really got going with e-commerce at around 1pm EST), was followed by Thanksgiving’s 47 percent jump. The climb on Cyber-Monday was less steep but still notable at 39 percent.

So, at least for this holiday season, it appears that the early bird didn’t get as many worms as those who slept in. The mobile shopping mantra seems to be why get up early, or even leave the house, when they can get what they want (at 1pm).

  1. Charity -  Because So Far It Really Is Better To Give Than To Receive

The holiday season is about many things--hope, family, generosity and, critically, finding an appropriate name for every day of the festival of retail that occurs during the week that follows Thanksgiving.

The most noble of the neo-shopping holidays, is probably Giving Tuesday, when shoppers off-ramp from traditional commerce to giving to charity.

And charity, taking a page from retail’s play book, has gone digital.

Instead of relying on Santa’s ringing bells to solicit in-person donations, the Salvation Army is  hoping to cast a wider net of contributors by leveraging social media and text-to-give options on mobile devices to help boost its 124th annual campaign. The social media campaign is being driven with the #RedKettleReason hashtag to their followers to remind them why they are donating. More than 40,000 donations have been submitted since the social campaign launched in mid-November.

“We have seen great success building awareness through our viral giving campaign called #RedKettleReason which equips supporters to educate their social connections about the breadth and depth of services The Salvation Army provides – specifically those services that are related to basic needs of children and families,” said  Lt. Col. Ron Busroe, the national community relations and development secretary for The Salvation Army.

Across the board, all signs are pointing to a robust Giving Tuesday with most nonprofits reporting big increases in their fundraising.

Online donations processed by Blackbaud on Giving Tuesday rose 90 percent, to $19.2-million from some $10-million during last year’s event. The average gift online this year was $142, up from $102 on Giving Tuesday 2012, Blackbaud says.

  1.  Kohl’s Wins At Social Media, Family Dollar Wins At Discounting

Though the headlines out of Black Friday were mostly about the slumping sales and foot traffic, some businesses had great days.  Family Dollar is considered an unexpected winner of Black Friday this year, pushed by a BOGO deal on toys.

It will carry that strong result into its acquisition by Dollar Tree, which is now forecasted to go through by February.  

Kohl’s on the other hand was the Twitter-sphere’s biggest hit during the holiday shopping weekend.  This is during what was apparently the most social Black Friday ever, according to social marketing software company Spredfast, as conversations about the year’s biggest shopping day more than doubled year-over-year.

And, apparently, never underestimate the value of an entertaining commercial since it will, quite literally, get people talking.  And shopping. Kohls was one of the few department stores to buck the trend and see their year-over-year foot traffic go up.

Who (Or What) Gets Honorable Mention

Stripe - Double Your Value, Double Your Fun

Online payments provider, Stripe, on Monday (Dec. 1) saw it’s valuation double in less than a year, to $3.5 billion, after it closed a $70 million fundraising round.

Stripe has partnered with some of the world’s hottest payments players, including being one of the few launch partners for Apple Pay. It is working with Facebook, Twitter and more recently, Alipay.

Stripe Co-Founder Patrick Collison said these partnerships illustrate the potential of the Stripe concept. “People were previously being kind of unambitious about what was possible, and now through things like the buy buttons on Twitter and Facebook or enabling Alipay, I think people are starting to see what might be possible,” Collison said.

Who (or What’s) Not Looking So Good

  1. ApplePay -  As It Turns Out, Those Chicken And Egg Problems Are A Bear

Well, you know what they say--heavy is the head that wears the crown.  After the Thanksgivng shopping weekend,heads at Apple might have been feeling a bit heavy.

More than 95 percent of iPhone 6 and 6+ users who could have paid with Apple Pay on Black Friday because they were in a store that took it, didn’t according to a survey of more than 400 users conducted by InfoScout. Five weeks after the launch of Apple’s revolutionary payment method more than 90 percent of those users hadn’t even given it a try.

While some of written off this result as “pretty good for a first time out,” MPD founder David Evans is ready to call it.

And that he did.

“Apple Pay is fizzling. And unless it drastically changes course Apple Pay will follow the hundreds of other attempts, made around the world in the last seven years, that have sputtered along at low levels of use or, much more frequently, have just flat-out died.

The evidence from Black Friday confirmed my fears...

Payments...is a two-sided market and getting anything off the ground in that kind of market requires solving the classic chicken and egg problem. It’s hard to get merchants excited about a payment method if consumers don’t want to use it, and its hard to get consumers to use a new payment method if merchants don’t take it….Hardly anyone succeeds.

Apple Pay set a huge hurdle for itself. It offered people an alternative that they could use at only about 2 percent of merchant locations in the United States and, just to put an exclamation mark on that, that they could not use at 98 percent of merchant locations.”

Uh oh.

  1. Department Stores -  Consumers Just Aren’t That Into You

Other than Kohl’s, 2015 so far hasn’t been great for department stores. Middle-of-the-road retailers like JC Penney, Burlington Stores and Ross Stores all saw weak performances on Black Friday.  Macy’s stock fell 3 percent on the Monday following Black Friday (Dec. 1), closing at $63.19. Target shares were down 2 percent, while Best Buy lost 6 percent ($2.15) on the reports of a slower than expected sales day.

There was some mixed news for retailers.  According to IBM,  Black Friday online sales at such retailers grew by by 22.9 percent over 2013.  Mobile sales were 25.7 percent. But as the Wall Street Journal pointed out, online sales cut into margins because of the cost of delivery and the cost of returns. A sale is still a sale, of course, but online sales can be margin killers.

Margin killer or not, to take advantage of any sale on line, one’s website does need to be working, which wasn’t exactly what Best Buy could claim that day. “A concentrated spike in mobile traffic triggered issues that led us to shut down BestBuy.com in order to take proactive measures to restore full performance,” the company said.

Apparently consumers who tried to access the Best Buy site between 10 am and 11:30 am, saw a message that said “We’re sorry. BestBuy.com is currently unavailable. Check back soon.” The mobile site also appeared to have been affected during that time.

Well, they were at least in good company. Luxury eTailer Net-A-Porter had the same problem when news of its legendary twice yearly sale got out and scores of well-heeled fashionistas rushed to, well, score a deal. The site was down for nearly two days.

  1.  Black Friday/Thanksgiving Shopping - Just Isn’t What It Used To Be

When the final numbers came in, they weren’t terrible, but they weren’t quite what they used to be either.   Total spending of $50.9 billion over the four day Thanksgiving weekend, according to the National Retail Foundation. A big number, for sure, but down 11 percent from $57.4 billion in 2013 and the second year of sales declines during Black Friday weekend.

There were 133.7 million shoppers out, which, again, sounds like a big number, but is actually down from 2013’s 141.1 million hitting the shops on and offline (which was down from 2012). Total shopping, including multiple trips by the same shopper, was also down that weekend to 233 million from 248.6 million in 2013.

“A strengthening economy that changes consumers’ reliance on deep discounts, a highly competitive environment, early promotions and the ability to shop 24/7 online all contributed to the shift witnessed this weekend,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “We are excited to be witnessing an evolutionary change in holiday shopping by both consumers and retailers, and expect this trend to continue in the years ahead.”

That is certainly the most cheerful outlook ever presented on an 11 percent decline.

Split Decision

  1. Walmart

It’s hard to say how to judge Walmart’s performance so far.  Some are calling the mega-retailer holiday retail winners this year--noting their recording breaking Black Friday and Cyber-Monday sales performances online.  Walmart had 1.5 billion page views between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and reports that they had recording breaking online sales for both.

In-store performance was more sluggish on Black Friday- though many analysts believe those sales were likely eaten up some by traffic generated by Thanksgiving Day openings.

So, as we said, a split decision.

So for those keeping score at home, Apple is under-performing as are department stores, though e-commerce is meeting and beating expectations.  “Day-based” events are going out of style, but on the upside, it does seem consumers are truly shopping everywhere—especially online at 1 pm.

And Walmart is a wild card.

We have three more weeks to watch and report.

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