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Is Black Friday dead? Not quite, but retailers may need to pivot

Paul Tiedt | Dec 16, 2016 Paul Tiedt 12/16/16

As always, Thanksgiving came and went in a blur of turkey-induced naps, awkward conversations with extended family members, and of course, blockbuster retail deals. Though Black Friday continues to account for a large portion of holiday spending, recent consumer trends have many wondering just how long that will last.

To see how retailers fared this year, we used our market intelligence tool BrandGeek to get a better understanding of Black Friday shopping behaviors. Here’s what we learned.

BrandGeek’s longitudinal data shows a year-over-year decline in Black Friday visits

The weeks following Black Friday are always accompanied by reports about general shopping trends, but BrandGeek lets us go a click deeper to see how those trends play out at the respondent level—and how they change over time.

Using proprietary visit detection technology, we passively collected consumer behaviors for a panel of more than 50,000 SurveyMini users who were active in both November 2015 and November 2016. We then analyzed the behavior of those panelists and compared their shopping patterns year-over-year.

In 2015, 75% of the panel shopped at a retailer over Black Friday weekend. In 2016, that figure dropped to 72%. Additionally, consumers who did shop over this year’s holiday weekend made fewer shopping trips on average. In short, Black Friday 2016 saw fewer shoppers making fewer visits.

Graphic_1These declines weren’t a major surprise, as many have been sounding the alarm of Black Friday’s demise for years. For example, take this recent Business Insider article, “Black Friday is dying a slow death.” Though the title may be a slight exaggeration, the author points out that 102 million shoppers visited stores over the 2015 Thanksgiving weekend, which was down from 147 million in 2012.

Obviously the rising popularity of Cyber Monday and online shopping in general has forced retailers to reconsider how they inspire shoppers to spend during the busiest weekend of the year. To combat that trend, many retailers wisely shifted strategies to offer exclusive deals across their own e-commerce channels and extend holiday sales events over the entire months of November and December.

Even though foot traffic may be declining, there’s still no denying that Black Friday weekend is, far and away, the most important weekend of the year for most retailers. So to find areas of opportunity, we went beyond BrandGeek’s behavioral data to look into the feedback provided by Black Friday 2016 shoppers. 

There’s a slight shift in what’s driving Black Friday shopping trips

While they’re still top factors, coupons/promotions and advertising campaigns were cited as the primary reason for visit less often than last year’s Black Friday weekend. Conversely, customers cited factors relating to convenience and the customer experience more often.

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Make no mistake about it: customers head out over the holiday weekend in search of deals. But all things being equal, they also want more convenient, shopper-friendly experiences.

And that’s an important point. Brands may not be able to compete directly with the convenience of one-click shopping or the slashed prices of digital retailers, but they can control for these experiential factors with things like:

  • Increased front-end staffing for shorter checkout lines
  • Department-specific training to get staff up-to-speed on new products + deals
  • Managerial support to help address any customer issues

Just a quick side note, we saw that trend bear out in our clients’ data, too. SMG’s research team recently analyzed the Black Friday results from our retail clients, and compared them to last year. While BrandGeek data showed little change in average Overall Satisfaction scores for Black Friday retail shoppers, SMG clients saw a 1.3-point bump compared to 2015.

That increase came with improvements to important experiential measures, including Staff Knowledge (+ 3.4 pts), reduced problem occurrence (-.7 pts), and more effective problem resolution (+4.6 pts).

Our biggest takeaways

Visits may be declining, but Black Friday is still a high-stakes weekend for retailers. To capture visit share, it’s critical to offer competitive deals. But to really win with customers, you need to differentiate on the customer experience.   

If you’re a large multi-unit organization looking for faster insights that lead to better business decisions, reach out to me at ptiedt@smg.com. I’d love to set up a short demo to show you what kind of data we’ve already collected for your brand.

Paul Tiedt | VP, Client Insights