What to Expect for Black Friday Weekend

By: Nikki Baird

Normally we at RSR go out on Black Friday and share our perspective on what activity on that special day may mean for the retail season overall. However, increasingly the “season” has already begun by the time we get to the Friday after Thanksgiving, whether because some retailers open on Thursday now instead or because online shoppers are savvy enough to pick up gift deals well before Black Friday gets here. Therefore, rather than offering my take on how the season looks based on how Black Friday does, here’s some predictions for the big retail weekend itself:

1. Mobile shopping while in-store. With more retailers putting store inventory availability online, I expect to see more shoppers hedging their bets on Black Friday (or Thursday). Look for shoppers to go to the store where they expect to have the best chance at getting deals, only for them to use their mobile phone to see if they can find somewhere else (i.e., online) to buy that missed opportunity rather than driving around searching out other stores. In some cases, the retailer that got the foot traffic will benefit from the online traffic, but in other cases it will mean a lost sale — and some other retailer’s win.

2. More active boycotts of retailers open on Thanksgiving Day. There’s a divide in our country: those who are OK with stores being open on Thanksgiving Day and those who are not. Personally, I plan to be snoozing on the couch in a turkey coma while football plays on the TV after Thanksgiving dinner. And even those who get up in arms about Thanksgiving Day shopping hours aren’t likely to stir themselves to come shame the retailers that are open. But there does seem to be more activity in the social sphere, and I suspect there will be a lot of Facebook and Twitter declarations made on Thanksgiving Day stating how scrooge-y those retailers are for being open. Will it be enough to form some sort of backlash for next year? My prediction is no … because of No. 3.

3. Big growth in Thanksgiving Day sales, a drop in Black Friday sales. Granted, Thanksgiving Day sales are starting from small numbers anyway, so it’s easy to demonstrate big growth. There will also be more stores open for more hours on Thanksgiving Day, which makes it easy to show big growth. I’ve seen research that shows millennials in particular are more than keen to shop on Thanksgiving. However, my prediction is that this won’t be a growth in overall spend for the weekend, but rather a shift of the spend from later in the weekend to earlier. The net result will be that the weekend’s sales will be up slightly, with mobile and online shopping being the growth drivers and in-store sales — even accounting for Thursday — flat or down.

Nikki Baird is a partner at Retail Systems Research (RSR), a research firm focused on the intersection of retail and technology. Nikki can be reached at nbaird@rsrresearch.com.

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