All but the youngest among us realize how much ecommerce has changed how the world works. In just ten years or so, internet and mobile technology have transformed the shopping experience, and in so doing, turned consumer behavior and expectations inside out.
For decades, the day after Thanksgiving marked the official start of the Christmas shopping season in the US. Retailers began to open their doors a bit early and offer sale pricing on merchandise to entice shoppers. Over the years, this shopping day became known as “Black Friday,” purportedly named as the day when retailers’ business move from running “in the red” to running “in the black” — in short, profitably.
As we enter the holiday season, retailers are preparing to roll out holiday promotions. It will be interesting to see what they come up with this year. Long lines of shoppers waiting at brick-and-mortar stores are beginning to give way to online deals that start earlier, continue later and rival the doorbuster prices available before the crack of dawn on Black Friday. Still, many consumers still get excited enough about deep discounts on clothes and electronics to leave their Thanksgiving dinner or cozy beds for door-opening time at big retail stores.
But with promotions stretching for weeks, the best deals are not necessarily available on Black Friday. In fact, doorbusters are often sold out within minutes of store openings, so showing up at 8 a.m. on Black Friday is likely to leave shoppers with only the deals that can easily be matched or beaten online. Furthermore, the Wall Street Journal reported in 2016 that many retailers actually recycle the previous year’s deals, giving bargain shoppers little in the way of new deals. We’ll see how long they can get by with that; customers have waited all year to be enticed with real savings on in-demand products.
Retail sales over the holiday period are sure to increase this year, but there are many nuances behind the basic sales numbers. Black Friday may effectively kick the shopping season off sooner this year, due to the unusually early Thanksgiving date. On the other hand, there is evidence that most of the holiday spending is moving closer to the Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday period, so retailers have to be ready early to capture their share.
And there will be spoils — based on healthy economic and consumer confidence numbers, the National Retail Foundation predicts that holiday retail sales (not including gas, restaurants, and automobiles) in November and December will land in the range of 720 billion — as much as 4.8 percent higher than last year, and an average of 3.9 percent higher than the last five years. This season may see shopping patterns similar to last year’s, when holiday spending grew by a similarly impressive amount (5.3 percent). Retailers are already planning to hire slightly more holiday workers this season than last.
Forbes’ round up of 2018 holiday shopping predictions confirms upward trends in online shopping and mobile in particular. More than half of holiday spending will be done online (57 percent), while in-store purchases will account for 36 percent of consumer spending. In an interesting development, US consumers continue to spend increasing portions (now up to 40 percent) of their holiday budgets on experiences instead of things, in part due to Millennial consumer influence.
Mobile had its first $2 billion dollar day on Cyber Monday 2017, with conversion rates on smartphones up 10 percent from the previous year. Salesforce is going so far as to say mobile devices will dominate this year — their recent report predicts that for the first time, more holiday purchases will be made on smartphones than any other device — 68 percent of all ecommerce visits will come from mobile. Moreover, another mobile-driven trend, AI-based product recommendations, will drive one-third of purchases.
So now that we know how retailers are ramping up for the season, the real question remains — how can consumers score the best deals?
- Start early — check for deals at your favorite retailers’ websites. Use TheBlackFriday.com to quickly locate deals. Major brick and mortar retailers have embraced online selling in a big way to compete with Amazon. Most of these retailers already have “Black Friday” deals running, some of them starting November 1.
- Check online coupons and retailers’ mobile apps. There may be some deals waiting for the savvy shopper.
- Check product reviews, features and comparisons. Many products, especially appliances, tech and electronics, have many models with varying features. Make sure you know what you are buying. Sites like Consumer Reports can help you make sure you don’t waste your money.
- Compare prices. Just because there is a great discount does not mean it is the best deal. Don’t forget to include shipping costs when comparing prices.
- Save your short list of items to your wish list. Check back to see if prices have changed.
- Shop online and stay out of the chaos. A number of retailers with ecommerce websites, such as Best Buy, are offering their Black Friday deals earlier online than in store.
Smart shoppers can score great deals any time of year. If you love your Black Friday traditions, have at it! But if dealing with masses of humanity at 5 a.m. isn’t your thing, don’t worry about missing out. Ecommerce has officially changed the bargain hunting game. And for all the fanfare over Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the biggest shopping day this season will most likely be December 23. Nothing like the last minute — that’s a tradition many of us will stick with, whether we like it or not.
What will you do with the extra shopping time this year? Take more time to find the best deals on the perfect gifts? Retailers are doing everything they can to make it easy for you. In fact, if you don’t watch that smarter-than-ever smart phone, you might spend more money than you intended. Either way, let’s hope the season brings less stress, better shopping experiences, more successful bargain hunts, and lots of relaxing time with loved ones.