The winners and losers of Black Friday 2018
If last year is any indication, Thanksgiving won't take over Black Friday anytime soon, but the holiday smashed expectations and set the bit sales weekend up for success.
Adobe Analytics disclosed that $6.22 billion was spent online by the end of Black Friday 2018, an increase of 23.6% year over year, according to sales results emailed to Retail Dive. More importantly, retailers aligned sale prices across multiple days and multiple channels, giving consumers choices of when to spend. Customers were able to engage in traditional brick-and-mortar shopping, or to start early in the comfort of their own homes.
That flexibility may be why there was an overall decrease in brick and mortar foot traffic last year, according to multiple media reports, and along with it a corresponding reduction in Black Friday horror stories of stampeding customers vying to grab a handful of in-store deals. Black Friday sales don't have to be kept under wraps anymore, and instead can be part of a larger selling strategy that begins on Thanksgiving.
"For the first time online prices on Thanksgiving Day were as low as on Black Friday with consumers taking advantage of those deals in record numbers, making Thanksgiving Day the fastest growing online shopping day," reported Adobe Analytics in a statement emailed to Retail Dive following the sales holiday.
The announcement of sales prior to Black Friday drove a shift in consumer behavior. "Brick and mortars are finally realizing, 'You know what? We have to be agnostic as to where we get the sale. We just want the sale.' We saw a lot of that with the online sales coming out early," said Charlie O'Shea, VP senior credit officer at Moody's Investor Service, in an interview with Retail Dive.
"The brick and mortar guys — for years we would ask this question all the time — why are the prices different online than in stores? It made zero sense. You can finally get the in-store doorbusters on Thanksgiving night on the websites. And that's a watershed event," said O'Shea.
Black Friday provides a window into what could happen through the holiday season. With that in mind, there's something to be learned each year from who soars, and who never gets off the ground. Here is last year's list of the retailers that delighted customers and broke records — along with the retailers that crashed and burned.
Amazon was clearly out to win the holiday shopping season when, in early November 2018, it announced an expansion of free holiday shipping to non-Prime members. The e-commerce giant also successfully set the stage to take over more of the toy market share after the end of Toys R Us with the introduction of a paper toy catalog.
As analysts observed shoppers opting for the convenience of an at-home Black Friday experience, Amazon set the pace for back-end logistics, with consumers expecting fast turnaround times and quick delivery. Amazon entrenched consumers' expectations and pushed box stores, including Walmart and Target, to up the to e-commerce and shipping game.
Kohl's efforts to reposition the brand via store improvements and a partnership with Amazon reached a crescendo on Thanksgiving last year when the retailer hit record online sales, selling 60 Instant Pots per minute, reported CNBC.
Shoppers also took advantage of the retailer's "Kohl's Cash" loyalty program. Prior to the holiday, the retailer announced additional rewards, including deals that started Nov. 19 online (Nov. 22 in stores) through Nov. 23 that included $15 in Kohl's Cash for every $50 spent on qualifying purchases.
This is why I love Kohl’s ????????went from $162 to $42 pic.twitter.com/oEyh7p3CHM— ???? Brittany ????✨ (@itsmebrittanyb) November 24, 2018
Like many apparel retailers, for Black Friday 2018 Old Navy offered 50% off purchases. The brand has been the driving force behind any of Gap Inc.'s success, even as the retailer's parent company plans on closing hundreds of Gap stores. (And has since announced the split of Old Navy from its erstwhile parent company.)
It was a clever promotion that sent this apparel retailer straight to the winner's circle. Sure, Old Navy gave consumers half off their entire purchase last year. But, the thing that sent people over the edge was a $1 cozy socks. The "One Dolla Holla" sale was in partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of America. For every pair sold Old Navy donated $1 to the nonprofit, up to $1 million.
only takes $1 to make ya girl happy @ old navy pic.twitter.com/bzJwUYq6fT— Merry Cela ☃️???????? (@OsnapitzCela) November 23, 2018
Shoppers were able to purchase socks in-store with a 10 item per-person limit. The campaign proved that the brick-and-mortar promotion that was once the heartbeat of Black Fridays in the past isn't dead. What was once all about electronics can be adapted when customers are delighted — and when the price is right.
J. Crew offered a generous 2018 Black Friday deal with 50% off all online orders. The premise caved, though, when online shoppers weren't able to shop, but were instead met with a "Hang on a Sec" screen that explained that the site was experiencing more traffic than usual. The technical glitch stretched on for most of Black Friday, frustrating consumers — some of whom were eventually able to add items to shopping carts but not able to check out.
How are you not prepared for this?!? I’ve been trying to check out for an hour!!!! Don’t you want my money?!? ????????????????????— Lindsay Stewart (@Linds8578) November 23, 2018
J. Crew released a statement through social media apologizing for the delays. After it eventually fixed the site the apparel retailer decided to extend the 50% off sale through Cyber Monday.
The flub on the biggest shopping day of the year came only days after CEO James Brett announced his resignation at the company.
"It is a brand that has lost its way in terms of uniqueness and value offering," said Lauren Bitar, head of retail consulting at RetailNext told Retail Dive at the time. "It's strange that an established retailer who cannot afford to disappoint customers in any manner wouldn't have stress tested the site or have plans in place to throttle traffic."
Lowe's experienced similar technical problems, as its website went dark during the height of Black Friday. Online shoppers were greeted with a message that said the website was "down for maintenance," prompting some buyers to turn to rival The Home Depot to fill orders.
Last year Sears in the midst of Chapter 11 and announcing store closures when Black Friday rolled around. It made it even more important that the retailer position itself as a player throughout the holiday season. The brand suffered as a smattering of stories came out about the depressing conditions of physical locations. CNBC declared it a "ghost town," The Winston-Salem Journal wrote of the "sadness" and "nostalgia" surrounding the retailer, and MassLive penned an article regarding products at the Sears at Holyoke Mall and how, "There's more for your life at Sears. But nobody wanted this stuff in their lives."
2018 was the fourth year that REI decided to #OptOutside, or close stores on Black Friday and encourage staff and consumers to explore the outdoors. Last year's campaign included a partnership with The Trust for Public Land — a move that resulted in the company becoming a Twitter trending topic on the largest shopping day of the year.
REI's pushback on Black Friday and support of local parks and public lands added heat to an anti-consumerism countermovement that's been growing for several years. It also lent itself to great optics, with nonprofits adapting the retailer's own language to describe the day.
The New York Public Library
In a clever move last year, The New York Library reminded consumers of the best deal in town: 100% off of all books every day. The campaign appeared online as an advertisement in The New York Times and mimicked retail marketing language by announcing "the deal of the season" for an "unlimited time only" with free returns.
Article top image credit: Andre Benz