Retailers, Etailers Brace for Invasion of the Black Friday Shoppers

A total of 164 million Americans, or 69 percent of the U.S. population, plan to shop Thanksgiving weekend, according to a new survey by the National Retail Federation.

Upwards of 115 million people, or about 70 percent, plan to shop on Black Friday, the report shows, while 78 million plan to shop on Cyber Monday, 71 million on Small Business Saturday, and 32 million on Thanksgiving Day.

About 66 percent of consumers said they plan to shop during the weekend to take advantage of special deals and promotions.

Comparable predictions for previous holiday seasons were not available, because this is the first NRF report that has taken into account the entire weekend shopping plan.

American consumers are expected to spend an average of US$967.13 per person during the holiday season, up 3.4 percent from year-ago predictions of $935.58, based on a study NRF released late last month.

For the first time, a healthy majority of shoppers — 59 percent — said they planned to shop online. Fifty-seven percent planned to shop at a department store, 54 percent at a discount store, and 46 percent at a grocery store or supermarket.

Smartphone Embrace

American consumers have embraced mobile shopping like never before, suggests a report the Consumer Technology Association released last week.

For the first time ever, more consumers indicated they would use smartphones to shop in November — 61 percent — than any other device, the association’s 2017 Pre-Black Friday Survey found.

“We’re seeing a rise in the ‘omnishopper’ this holiday season,” said Danielle Cassagnol, industry communications managerat CTA.

“This is the always-on and connected consumer who is browsing items, making purchases and responding to holiday deals all from their phones — at any time of day when the right deal strikes,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

Laptop shopping finished second, at 54 percent, and desktop shopping finished third, at 46 percent. Nineteen percent of consumers said they planned to shop using a voice-activated smart speaker, like an Amazon Echo or Google Home device.

For the first time, more consumers planned to shop on Cyber Monday, across all channels, than on Black Friday, the survey revealed. Fifty-seven percent of consumers planned to shop on Cyber Monday or later in November; 51 percent planned to shop on Cyber Monday; 44 percent planned to shop prior to Thanksgiving Week, and only 38 percent planned to shop on Black Friday.

“Moving forward, CTA predicts less and less emphasis will be placed on Black Friday as a single shopping holiday and instead spread over days and weeks,” said Cassagnol, “especially as we see retailers try to pull the season forward while also rolling out fast shipping programs that aid the last minute shopper.”

Videogames will lead all tech categories, based on the CTA poll, followed by smartphones, televisions, laptops and tablets. Robust sales are likely for smart speakers, with 4.4 million unit sales of Amazon Echo and Google Home speakers predicted, up 22 percent from a year ago. Drone sales are expected to reach 1.6 million unit sales, up 31 percent from a year ago, while 2.7 million virtual reality headsets could fly off the shelves, up 283 percent from a year ago.

Amazon Preview

Amazon on Tuesday provided a sneak peek at its Black Friday weekend deals, including $20 off the Echo Dot smart speaker, bringing its price down to $29.99, its lowest ever. It also plans to offer $50 savings on the Fire HD tablet, its lowest price ever. Amazon will discount the Acer Helios 300 gaming laptop by $130. It will open Amazon Music Unlimited to non-Prime as well as Prime members, with both eligible to sign up for three months of the service for 99 cents.

Prime members voice shopping on Alexa-enabled devices will get access to deals starting at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 22, hours before everyone else.

Fast Start

Holiday online shopping thus far is off to a roaring start. There were strong sales during the Veteran’s Day holiday week, according to data from Adobe.

Holiday spending totaled more than $1 billion on every day from Nov. 1 through Nov. 11, compared with only nine of those 11 days during 2016. Revenue growth was up 19.8 percent from a year ago, compared with a 4.8 percent increase last year, likely due to uncertainty during the presidential election.

Online shopping for the holiday season will reach $13.9 billion, Adobe predicted.

Veterans Day online sales came in at $1.3 billion, a 9.1 percent increase from a year ago. Top sellers among kids’ toys included Spin Master Hatchimals, PJ Masks branded goods, Hasbro Baby Alive, Nintendo Switch and Super Mario Odyssey, Microsoft Xbox and Sony Playstation 4.

Apple Airpods and laptops, Samsung tablets, Lenovo, Dell and HP laptops led in electronics categories, and revenue from smartphones was up, at 24 percent of purchases, Adobe reported.

Gaming consoles have been in demand this year, due to an evolution in the hardware and software from major brands, said Steve Bailey, principal senior analyst for games at IHS Markit.

The Nintendo Switch provides greater flexibility for users who want a mobile and home-based device, he told the E-Commerce Times, and its sales have spiked thanks to two of the best-reviewed titles of all time: Super Mario Odyssey and Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

The Xbox One X, which may be the most powerful console ever, will appeal to technophiles, observed Matt Piscatella, industry analyst for U.S. games at NPD.

The PlayStation 4 may have the best overall content library of all the consoles, he told the E-Commerce Times.

The Switch may set new sales records, Piscatella added.

“For the first time, we may have three very successful console hardware systems in holiday, each appealing to a slightly different segment of the market,” he said.

Overall, retailers have imported a lot of inventory, noted Nikki Baird, managing partner at RSR Research, but it’s not yet clear how fast they can clear their store shelves.

“If there are a lot of doorbuster deals sitting on the shelves come Dec. 1, or so, we may be heading into an early markdown and heavy promotion cycle for the second half of the season,” she told the E-Commerce Times. “That means sales might stay on track, but retailers’ margins would not.”

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.

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