A chilly Black Friday for some brick-and-mortar retailers

Online sales appear strong as line blurs between shopping experiences

Dive Brief:

  • Black Friday in-store shopping is relatively light in many key locations, retail analysts are reporting.
  • However, digital sales remain strong, with Target reporting a record online shopping day Thursday.
  • The trend of the season may be the blurring line between the two forms of shopping, as retailers work to integrate the in-store and online experiences.

Dive Insight:

Black Friday looked as dark as the color for which it is named in some stores, with relatively lighter crowds reported at numerous large retail locations. But online sales were robust, and the story of the season might be the blurring of the line between the two forms of shopping.

Although few numbers for Black Friday sales are available, some retail analysts were reporting disappointing crowds, and share prices for major retailers Target, Macy's, Best Buy and Wal-Mart fell during Friday stock trading.

There was plenty of retail activity as the long holiday weekend began Thursday, but a large percentage of it was online. Adobe Digital Index, which tracks online spending, reported online sales growth for Thanksgiving morning alone grew 24% year-over-year, hitting $498 million. Tech gear and electronics were the biggest sellers, with 31% of the online sales coming from mobile devices.

Digital retail strategy firm ChannelAdvisor reported online Thanksgiving sales "blew the doors off," with a 58% increase year-over-year on sales via mobile devices.

Thanksgiving was the biggest online sales day in Target history, the retailer reported. "We expect to see the demand continue throughout the weekend and into December as we offer more savings on the year’s most popular gifts, including Star Wars and Apple products," Target CEO and board chairman Brian Cornell said in a statement.

Target's sales were drawing attention in part because of a strategy designed to compete with online-only retailers such as Amazon, with Target working to integrate the online and in-store shopping experiences. The line between the store and the digital experience is blurring for other retailers as well.

“We’ve said this Black Friday would be the most integrated between Wal-Mart stores and – and we delivered," Steve Bratspies, chief merchandising officer of Wal-Mart U.S., said in a statement. He said more than 25 million people had looked at Wal-Mart circulars and store maps online in advance of Black Friday.

At retail store sites, Thursday crowds were "good but not great," Craig Johnson, president of retail consultancy firm Customer Growth Partners, told Reuters. And analysts at research firm Suntrust Robinson Humphrey were more blunt: "We believe Thanksgiving shopping was a bust," they said in a research note.

Weather also might be a factor in some parts of the country. Heavy snow, ice and rain were reported in parts of the Midwest and West. And protesters in Chicago aimed to disrupt sales along the busy Magnificent Mile retail corridor in the wake of the arrest of a police officer for the shooting death of a black teenager.

The National Retail Federation forecast November and December retail sales would grow 3.7% this year over last, which is stronger than the 10-year national average of 2.5% but still shows signs of buyer caution. The NRF estimates nearly 136 million customers will shop at stores and online over Black Friday weekend, up from 133.7 million last year.

Initial sales statistics should come out over the next few days, including a highly watched survey from the NRF. However, FiveThirtyEight Economics notes that number should be taken with a grain of salt; last year, the NRF said Thanksgiving weekend sales fell 11% from the previous year, but the Commerce Department subsequently reported that November-December sales actually rose by 4% in 2014 over 2013.

Finally, there's this: One newer form of (newly legal) retail had its own Friday discounts. In Colorado, legal marijuana dealers offered discounts and giveaways for what some were calling Green Friday (or Weed Friday). This marks the second pre-Christmas season for legal marijuana sales in Colorado.

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Filed Under: Consumer Trends E-commerce
Top image credit: Flickr; Beatrice Murch