Black Friday? Grey November? Does it Even Matter Anymore?
At the crack of dawn this morning, on the way to O’Hare, my Uber driver mentioned in the course of asking about my line of work that his daughter — mother of a 7-month-old baby — announced at the end of October that she had finished all of her Christmas shopping — through her Amazon Prime membership.
She lives a mile and a half from Woodfield Mall, one of the largest shopping centers in the United States and the biggest in Illinois. Though I don’t know for sure when she started her shopping, she could be among the 32 percent of shoppers that began their holiday gift hunting in October in order to avoid the holiday rush, according to data from GPShopper.
Meanwhile, the husband of the friend I was visiting in the Chicagoland area ventured out Sunday morning to snag a great deal on a 55” TV at Target. Five days before Black Friday, historically the day that both kicks off the holiday shopping season and debuts eye-popping offers on coveted items. Naturally, his TV-from-Target transaction started via mobile, as so many do today, and compelled him to visit the nearest store, which didn’t have the product in stock, but helpful and informed store associates called around, found one available and had that location hold it for pickup.
All of this to say that shifting consumer behavior in America, which has been upending retail as we know it for some time, now seems to be fully dismantling Black Friday as the be all, end all of shopping in this country. In fact, you may have seen the term “Grey November” floating around the internet, alluding to the full month, rather than a specific day or weekend, as the period of time when retailers now roll out their holiday promotions. By stark contrast, Chinese consumers are going gaga for the concept of the one-day shopping bonanza; on Singles’ Day this year, Alibaba’s 11/11 shopping festival raked in more than $25.4 billion in sales and processed 256,000 Alipay mobile wallet transactions every second.
Of course, in the U.S., “Christmas creep” might be a factor in the dissolution of the traditional holiday shopping calendar. For decades, Black Friday stood alone as the sole harbinger of holiday shopping; but then stores started opening, to great controversy, on Thanksgiving Day, and suddenly Cyber Monday was a thing, too. And in the recent past, in addition to decking their stores with boughs of holly from as early as October (or before?), retailers were offering holiday-themed deals before Halloween, too.
It’s no wonder, then, as holiday offers began to leak outside of the longstanding calendar, that at some point many consumers decided that they would do their holiday shopping on their terms. Amazon took the “Christmas in July” concept from figurative to literal with the launch of Prime Day in the middle of summer; celebrating its third Prime Day this year, the company posted its biggest day ever (outperforming Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Prime Day 2016). If there’s one company that can move the needle and get consumers to pay attention to something new and different, it’s Amazon.
But it’s certainly not all holiday doom and gloom out there; as evidenced by the strong performance of the off-price retail sector, plenty of shoppers still love the thrill of the hunt, and that’s what the Thanksgiving weekend is all about (once the turkey is carved and tables are cleared). From Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday, 164 million consumers surveyed by NRF say they plan to shop, and one fifth will be doing simply because it’s their “tradition.”
And now, because retail pundits love coming up with somewhat cringe-worthy names for things, suddenly the day before Cyber Monday gets its own moniker, too: Sofa Sunday. That’s when, according to Valassis, shoppers devote their time to researching what they plan to purchase on Cyber Monday, largely from the comfort of their couches, it seems. Forty-five percent of shoppers surveyed say they plan to spend most of their time researching deals for apparel and accessories, and 63 percent will be doing so on mobile, regardless of whether they’re at home or out and about — good news for the 60 percent of small and local businesses that have mobile-optimized their websites, according to a Netsertive survey.
“By now, people know what sort of deals they can expect to see during the weekend and are budgeting for them accordingly, and in many cases expertly,” Prosper principal analyst Pam Goodfellow said in a statement.
Indeed, there are plenty of shoppers who view the holiday weekend shopping event as a sport: the early wake-up to be first in line, the carefully mapped out stores they plan to hit. But for many, their time is just as or more valuable than rock-bottom prices. That is what has been driving the rise of e-commerce, especially around the holidays. Online shopping offers numerous perks: no jostling for parking in crowded lots, no jam-packed stores, no disappointment at empty shelves and out-of-stocks, no standing in maddeningly long checkout lines, no dealing with your kid’s meltdown in aisle six, no hurrying about in the cold and snow (for much of the country, at least).
But holiday e-commerce is not without its hiccups, either: 48 percent of consumers in the GPShopper survey said they encountered some sort of problem with a retailer over the holidays. Issues ranged from paying more for shipping on orders that still didn’t arrive in time (33 percent) to receiving an out-of-stock alert after the order was processed. That’s why 54 percent want the convenience and instant gratification of BOPIS in the hopes of avoiding a snafu. UPS alone likely will ship more than 750 million packages this year, and about 30 million daily on 17 of the 21 holiday delivery days leading up to Christmas.
In sum: there’s no one way to do the holidays right. Some of it depends on your demographics and geography. But give your customers a great experience that serves their needs — whether that’s the less-stressed online experience or the social bonding and tradition of hitting the stores and sales with loved ones — and you’re well on your way to a very happy holiday.