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Christmas Retail: Black Friday Shoppers Down Slightly From 2020

By Gary Symons
TLL Editor in Chief
The National Retail Federation says the number of Black Friday shoppers was down slightly this year, but roughly in line with the average over the past four years.
The NRF says nearly 180 million Americans shopped during the five-day holiday shopping period from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday, according to the annual survey released today by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics. The survey of 5,759 adult consumers was conducted Nov. 24–29 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.3 percentage points.
In total, 179.8 million unique shoppers made in-store and online purchases during the holiday weekend, exceeding NRF’s initial expectations by over 21 million.
That compares with 186.4 million shoppers in 2020 and is in line with the average of the last four years.

“Retailers have adapted and enticed customers with a number of incentives throughout November. The Thanksgiving holiday weekend remains a significant time for friends and families to check specific holiday items off their lists,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Over the last few years consumers have shifted their holiday shopping plans to start earlier in the season.”

Shay explains that the slight decline from 2020 does not represent a pullback in consumer confidence. Instead, the survey found more consumers were shopping early, partly due to changes in the way retailers are marketing their goods in the lead up to Christmas.

“As retailers continue to extend deals and other offers into October and early November, half (49 percent) of shoppers said they took advantage of early holiday sales or promotions before Thanksgiving this year,” Shay said. “Most weekend shoppers (82 percent) felt the deals were the same or better than last Thanksgiving.”

The other big change this year was that the momentum of online shopping has slowed, or even reversed. During the pandemic, many consumers shifted their buying mainly to online outlets due to pandemic restrictions or their own fears of catching the COVID-19 virus.

That trend has now shifted back in favor of brick and mortar outlets, as the number of people who shopped in stores increased this year.

“Retailers saw an increase in foot traffic, with approximately 104.9 million shoppers visiting stores, up from 92.3 million in 2020,” according to the NRF report. “The overall number of online shoppers decreased to a total of 127.8 million from 145.4 million last year.”

NRF says part of the reason for the shift is that the importance of supporting local businesses remained top of mind for many consumers, with 71 percent indicating they were shopping specifically for Small Business Saturday.

Similar to recent years, Black Friday surpassed Cyber Monday in terms of total online shoppers, with 88 million shopping online the Friday after Thanksgiving compared with 77 million on Monday.

While many consumers chose to shop early, Black Friday remained the most popular day for in-store shopping, with 66.5 million shoppers, followed by 51 million shoppers on Small Business Saturday.

“Over the last few years, Black Friday has emerged as a powerhouse day for both in-store and online shopping,” Prosper Executive Vice President of Strategy Phil Rist said. “Even though many consumers are starting their holiday shopping before Thanksgiving, a considerable portion of their purchases are still made over the course of the five-day weekend.”

In addition to a slight decrease in the number of shoppers, those shoppers also spent less during the Black Friday weekend event. On average shoppers spent an average of $301.27 on holiday-related purchases such as gifts, décor, apparel and toys. This is down slightly from $311.75 in 2020, the NRF found. As in previous years, most ($215.40) of that amount was spent directly on gifts.

Top gift purchases over the weekend included clothing and accessories (bought by 51 percent of those surveyed), toys (32 percent), gift cards/certificates (28 percent), books/music/movies/video games (27 percent) and electronics (24 percent).

The more important result from the survey is the finding that holiday spending in general has increased, even while Black Friday weekend shopping declined. That has a lot to do with marketing choices by retailers, as opposed to lack of consumer confidence, the NRF concludes.

“With a longer holiday shopping season, consumers have welcomed the flexibility it offers,” the report says. “The vast majority (84 percent) of holiday shoppers reported they have already started shopping and have completed more than half (52 percent) of their holiday purchases on average.”

NRF defines the holiday season as November 1 through December 31 and has forecast that sales will grow between 8.5 percent and 10.5 percent over 2020 to between $843.4 billion and $859 billion.

According to NRF’s annual survey released in October, consumers plan to spend $997.73 on gifts, holiday items and other non-gift purchases for themselves and their families this year.

Similar results were found in a report from NPD Group, which also raised the specter of a ‘lull’ in Christmas shopping due to the high numbers of early purchases made before and during the Black Friday period.

“Black Friday came back from last year’s pandemic pause, but it was heavily diluted,” said Marshall Cohen, chief retail industry advisor for NPD. “Between the early push from promotions and fears of supply shortages, plus the lost art of the doorbuster hitting industries that have historically relied on them, the captivating crowds and impulsivity of the deal frenzy were absent from Black Friday 2021.”

Early holiday shopping momentum, combined with a Thanksgiving peak that neared pre-pandemic levels, will make the weeks that follow particularly critical to watch.

Cohen says the week after Black Friday historically has been the start of a holiday shopping lull, but the drop-off has been less dramatic in recent years. The 16% decline in sales during the week after Black Friday 2019 was a marked improvement over the 22% drop in 2018, he points out. Then came 2020, which completely bucked the trend of post-Thanksgiving week declines. This year, there is potential for the return of a deeper overall lull.

“It’s been an eventful couple of months but there is still a lot of Holiday left and, if the post-peak lull does materialize, planning and flexibility will make the difference in these final weeks,” Cohen said. “This preparation will prove even more critical when looking beyond the 2021 holiday season, as consumer demand is poised to shift yet again.”



 

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