Posts Tagged 'Black Friday'

Black Friday: Losing battle for specialty stores?

I’m a little late publishing this comment from RetailWire, about how specialists can combat the price wars on Black Friday by taking advantage of their own niche:

If your promotional strategy the other 364 days of the year is not to “give away the store,” don’t compromise it on Black Friday just to appeal to deal-seekers who may never return. That being said, it pays to have some key items or categories on sale and (importantly) to execute the other basics as Bob suggests.

But if the long-term goal is to build a bigger contact list or more loyalty among your best customers, think of Black Friday as a chance to “surprise and delight” — maybe with a higher level of customer service than the shopper is finding at your competition.


Diminishing returns for Black Friday

With the release of the NRF’s annual holiday shopping forecast comes a RetailWire discussion about Black Friday. The debate? Whether the event itself is essentially dead as a volume driver. My opinion? Not so fast:

“Killed” is too strong a word, because Black Friday still represents one of the biggest shopping days on the retail calendar. But the day has lost its punch for a number of reasons:

1. Most obviously, the shift from brick-and-mortar to e-commerce. With the growing number of store closings and “zombie malls,” this will be a bigger problem than ever throughout the 2017 holiday season.
2. The Thursday paper stuffed with promotional circulars doesn’t reach the huge number of Gen Y and Z shoppers who don’t even read the paper.
3. As stores have extended Black Friday opening hours into Thanksgiving itself, they have simply cannibalized their own business.

I could go on, and these are tough “macro” challenges for an individual retailer to overcome. Some of the potential solutions involve greater use of targeted social media and other messaging to reach younger customers…and this is true from early November all the way to the last crucial weekend before Christmas.

But the biggest challenge may be to make the sale offerings and merchandise content more compelling. Easier said than done (without months of advance planning), but the recent focus on putting entire assortments on sale — instead of key items at compelling price points — has drained Black Friday of its former sense of urgency.

Is the pendulum swinging back on early Thanksgiving openings?

I’ve argued for awhile that earlier and earlier Black Friday (or Thursday) openings are counterproductive. Here are some recent thoughts posted on RetailWire:

Some of the biggest players (Walmart, Target, Macy’s, Kohl’s, JCPenney and Best Buy) still plan to open on Thanksgiving. But the pendulum is swinging back, and the Mall of America’s announcement that it plans to close on Thursday will be a major influence on other mall operators. It seems clear that the push for earlier “early bird” hours on Black Friday (followed by midnight openings, followed by Thursday openings) has had a diminishing effect on sales — by draining any sense of urgency out of Friday morning shopping. (And the availability of goods online hasn’t helped, either.)

It’s hard for the retailers who insist on being open for Thanksgiving to be the first one to blink, but it seems clear that consumer sentiment is tugging them in that direction.

And this more recent post:

While the reports of the death of Black Friday are greatly exaggerated, there is no doubt that it’s lost importance on the retail calendar. The shift to e-commerce is part of the reason, but the bigger cause is retailers’ greediness in pushing their “early bird” hours earlier and earlier and finally opening on Thanksgiving itself.

My long experience working for a company that knew how to “nail” Black Friday tells me that the event was once as much a social occasion as a way to hunt for deals. Opening earlier and earlier never seems to result in more net sales but actually becomes counterproductive when any sense of urgency about “early birds” flies out the window.

Black Friday 2015 observations

Many RetailWire panelists and others have commented on the relative lack of mall traffic, on the day after Thanksgiving. While some of this can be blamed on the rapid growth of both e-commerce sales and Thursday openings, I still lay part of the blame on merchandise content. In short, the lack of newness in women’s apparel is hurting sales right now, and not just on Black Friday:

One mall doesn’t make a big sample size, but the Simon mall that I shopped on Friday morning is anchored by Macy’s, JCP, Sears, Bon Ton and Kohl’s. So it’s a good place to look for areas of common ground. I noted the same thing that many observers saw nationwide: Mall traffic was not impressive around 10am on Friday, at what should be the height of “doorbuster” sales.

Yes, the growth of omnichannel, Thursday openings and weeklong “doorbusters” (instead of for a few hours on Friday morning) have all affected After Thanksgiving volume. But these tactics didn’t just start in 2015…they have been gaining strength for the past several years. So how to account for the visible dropoff on Friday? I believe it still comes down to merchandise content, especially in the women’s apparel areas that have been troubled all year. In my observation, this was consistently the quietest area of the stores.

That being said, it’s too early to write off the weekend (or the season) until somebody adds together the brick-and-mortar numbers with the e-commerce sales and what is likely to be a robust Cyber Monday (or “Cyber Week”) this year.

Thanksgiving 2014: A post-mortem

I posted the following at RetailWire on the Monday after Thanksgiving. The “punch line” is that Cyber Monday sales were soft, too. Despite a lot of positive tailwinds, this holiday may be another squeaker:

It can’t come as a surprise that sales on Friday itself fell in brick-and-mortar stores, although the size of the decrease was bigger than I expected. Every year that sales are pulled forward by earlier openings — first from 6am to 4am to midnight on Friday and now to 6pm or earlier on Thursday — takes the sense of urgency out of Friday morning. The entire four-day weekend has to be considered disappointing.

This year’s decline was more pronounced than usual because of the rapid shift to e-commerce and mobile commerce (not reported in the overall weekend numbers) and the probability that some sales shifted to the early part of November this year. As the consumer becomes more empowered each year by the information at her fingertips, she is also less likely to believe that Black Friday pricing is really the lowest of the holiday season.

Add it all up, and it probably made for a more pleasant, and less crowded, shopping experience on Friday. But the sheer size of the numbers will leave retailers sweating it out — as usual — for the next couple of weeks.

And still more on “new Black Friday”

Again — in hindsight — the effort to spread out Thanksgiving shopping from a one-day event to weeklong has not paid off in incremental sales. Here’s a RetailWire comment that I posted about a week before Thanksgiving:

“New Black Friday” is simply a marketing handle meant to acknowledge the new reality of shopping patterns from Thanksgiving morning through Cyber Monday. It’s hard to say whether the idea is likely to drive additional sales, but it should help address the operational challenges of early-morning doorbusters even at the cost of some sense of urgency. Most importantly, it is an omnichannel-friendly approach to a key shopping weekend that has evolved dramatically over the past decade.

Thanksgiving hours: Stores continue to push the envelope

Just like the last post (about the NRF), there seems to be annual chatter about whether stores are opening too early for Black Friday weekend. (And “Friday” is clearly a misnomer.) In a few short years the commonplace opening time has gone from 5am to 3am to midnight to 8pm (last year) to 6pm (this year), if Macy’s internal announcement is any guide. Most of my fellow RetailWire panelists agree with me on this one:

Macy’s crocodile tears about this decision (it wasn’t easy, competitive pressures, and so on) get more disingenuous every year. Let’s be frank: Macy’s is by far the largest department store retailer in the country and one of the biggest general merchandise stores of any kind. So there is no point in being defensive about a decision to open earlier and earlier every year just because “the other guys made us do it.” Macy’s has the ability to set the tone for the industry — and to leverage its omnichannel initiatives — instead of just being a “follower.”

As I noted last year — when 8pm openings became more common — it is inevitable that many retailers will not close for Thanksgiving at all, and that day is not too far away. It’s smart brand positioning (and good employee relations) for stores like Nordstrom to keep away from the whole idea of opening on Thanksgiving Day.