What caused the thin Black Friday traffic?

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Nov 29, 2021

Traffic both in-store and online on Black Friday was subdued due to fewer doorbusters on the day and earlier holiday shopping in a season being increasingly dictated by supply chain challenges.

On the positive side, in-store traffic saw a strong recovery vs. last year when the event was constrained by limits on occupancy and even fewer in-store doorbusters. In-store traffic at U.S. brick-and-mortar retail stores in 2022 jumped 47.5 percent year-over-year, according to Sensormatic.

Traffic on Friday, however, was down 28.3 percent compared to 2019, the last pre-pandemic year. Sensormatic attributed the decline to holiday purchases that started for many consumers back in October.

Brian Field, senior director of global retail consulting, Sensormatic Solutions, said in a statement, “Retailers kicked off holiday deals early this year to spread traffic peaks out throughout the season, helping to avoid crowded stores on Black Friday, better track and plan inventory, and create an improved holiday shopping experience.”

Concerns over out-of-stocks and potential shipping delays also spurred earlier purchases by consumers.

Online spending on Black Friday failed to increase year-over-year for the first time since Adobe Analytics began tracking the figure in 2012, reaching only the low end of Adobe’s predicted range.

Vivek Pandya, lead analyst, Adobe Digital Insights, said, “Shoppers are being strategic in their gift shopping, buying much earlier in the season and being flexible about when they shop to make sure they get the best deals.”

Retailers are motivated to avoid promotions as tight inventories and higher costs for raw materials, freight and labor are already expected to lead to lower fourth-quarter profit margins for many. Investment bank Cowen determined Black Friday had the lowest level of clearance goods in five years or more.

Forrester Research analyst Sucharita Kodali told Reuters, “Even though the holiday season should be okay from a sales standpoint — because retailers are discounting less — the margins won’t necessarily be higher because of inflation.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think the lighter Black Friday sales trend was most due to early holiday buys, skimpy deals or some other factor? What does Black Friday weekend indicate about how supply chain disruption may alter overall holiday results?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Shifting consumption habits and global supply chain drama led to Black Friday’s sales decline."
"We’ll see more spreading out over the next few years — supply chain issues or not."
"I’m predicting a noticeable rise in experiential gifts — movie tickets, Groupons, etc. Expect surprises!"

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34 Comments on "What caused the thin Black Friday traffic?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

There are so many factors impacting results that it’s hard to predict outcomes. Black Friday results were likely a combination of all of the things mentioned: early promotions, skimpy deals, inventory availability, etc. What does seem to be true, however, is that the supply chain concerns may have been overstated. I’m cautiously optimistic about the remainder of the holiday season, despite the new COVID-19 variant and the other headwinds.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Well, my friends who live in LA and Oregon will tell you it’s not particularly overstated.

storewanderer
Guest
5 months 27 days ago

Supply chain concerns as a generic statement are overstated. There is plenty of clothing in the supply chain, it is overstocked as always. But if you want an appliance, have fun. Certain toys, have fun. Electronics, again, have fun. But once you start looking at certain product categories they are not overstated.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

That Black Friday, as an individual day, is becoming less significant isn’t anything new. Even before the pandemic, the event was becoming protracted and spending was spread across more and more days. That trend was accelerated this year thanks to earlier holiday shopping and many retailers offering deals from October onward. All that said, traffic was great compared to last year and every retailer I spoke to was very pleased with the results. What’s more, the success of this holiday season can’t be judged by one day alone and it still looks like we are on target for record growth and spending in retail.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

It’s not either/or, it’s both and more! Greater acceptance of online shopping, supply chain concerns getting us to shop earlier, and a lack of doorbuster deals, all combined.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Omicron put a serious damper on everything.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

Well — yes.

I saw some increased traffic around malls this weekend, but we have been pummeled with bad news about the supply chain since the end of September and then comes the news of the next variant (that very little is known about). This year is probably a turning point where “normal” changes for the regular shopper.

Jenn McMillen
BrainTrust

With the national media pummeling consumers with doom-and-gloom messages about the supply chain, it’s no wonder that people started shopping early, not only to have something physical in hand to wrap and give but also to avoid the crowds now that a new COVID-19 strain is making the rounds. This is what happens when the holiday season has become 25 percent of the year (October/November/December) — shopping gets spread out so the traditional spikes aren’t there.

David Naumann
BrainTrust

With retailers beginning holiday promotions earlier and earlier every year, Black Friday is becoming less impactful as a shopping bonanza. With supply chain issues top of mind, retailers started promotions earlier to spread out the demand. While many families love the tradition of physical shopping on the day after Thanksgiving, from a brick-and-mortar perspective, Black Friday will continue to be diluted with the continued increase in online shopping.

Bill Hanifin
BrainTrust

Black Friday was losing luster before the pandemic as it has become more of a kickoff to the holiday season than the big event itself. Consumers realize the deals and offers keep on coming throughout the holiday season and don’t have the urgency or excitement about Black Friday as they did in the past. Add to this trend the early start on the promotional season this year and that might explain weaker performance on Black Friday this year.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

…because every day is Black Friday!

Melissa Minkow
BrainTrust

Seasonal and holiday spending occasions are becoming less and less relevant as retailers are discounting at other times throughout the year that work better for them. Consumers have wisened up to the fact that they can shop for any occasion whenever they want versus at one designated time during the year. Retailers have to promote along a timeline that can actually be supported with all the supply chain and staffing shortages, so this will likely set the tone for the future of holiday shopping.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

I think we are dealing with a combination of early shopping, supply chain concerns and a big push to Cyber Monday and e-commerce sales and the shop local phenomenon. In the long run, this early shopping trend might further weaken the power of Black Friday as an annual event concentrated on one day. In the meantime, the publicity around supply chain issues and its effect on product availability has raised awareness among consumers, so the fear of no availability pushed buying back into early November. If you shop local you aren’t hampered by supply chain issues, as what you see is what you get. NRF is still predicting up to a 10 percent total sales increase this year, so let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Dion Kenney
BrainTrust
5 months 27 days ago

No doubt, skimpy deals and early holiday shopping (encouraged by media attention on supply chain issues) have siphoned off some of the Black Friday sales. But there may be a larger social phenomenon at play, as consumer behavior and social re-calibration of careers, work, and the need for additional material accumulation may be dampening holiday sales enthusiasm. There are a lot of factors that are creating a pervasive sense of “social fatigue” and the traditional seasonal “shopping therapy” may not be providing its traditional palliative impact.

Mohamed Amer, PhD
BrainTrust

Black Friday, as a shopping day, is not what it used to be. Retailers started early holiday promotions to capture demand ahead of future uncertainties in supply chain flows and COVID-19 unpredictabilities. The surge in online shopping triggered over the past 18 months has also shifted consumer behavior.

From my local observations, there was abundant foot traffic and long queues to get into popular stores and brands. Doorbusters were definitely missing this year, but the current retailing landscape does not warrant them, and I still expect brick-and-mortar stores to show very healthy comps against 2019 levels.

Scott Norris
Guest

We spent several hours at the Mall of America on Saturday: crowds were brisk and parking stalls were full. There was a stanchioned line to get into the Timberland store, Apple was full to the gills, and there were plenty of shopping bags being carried around. Perhaps not the busiest day I’ve seen there, but certainly a very strong one.

Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

Shifting consumption habits and global supply chain drama led to Black Friday’s sales decline.

Prime Day in October 2020 gave a glimpse of how buying earlier eases holiday shopping and shipping pressures. Out-of-stock risks, inflation and worker shortages led retailers to warn shoppers to buy early this year.

Supply chain chaos ensures holiday shopping is no longer about a single day; it now spans the fourth quarter.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

All of the above. Throw in the fear of shortages, rampaging smash and dash thieves and crummy weather and you have the perfect storm. Besides, due to many recent factors like work from home, the customer is WAY more in tune with e-commerce shopping and given the above, anyone would have to ask, “why go out there?”

Oliver Guy
BrainTrust
Oliver Guy
Global Industry Architect, Microsoft Retail
5 months 27 days ago

Amazon’s record performance could well have taken a toll on other retailers. It may also be that more shoppers are buying online or waiting for better deals to come.

Given the unfortunate timing of the latest COVID-19 variant it may be that this had an impact over the weekend.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Physical traffic isn’t as important as it used to be — just look at the constant parade of delivery trucks in neighborhoods. In addition, I’m predicting a noticeable rise in experiential gifts — movie tickets, Groupons, etc. Expect surprises!

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

This is a pattern that we expected when the bigger chains launched “Black Friday” deals in October. We asked if it would impact Black Friday traffic and deals in November. The BrainTrust’s conventional wisdom was that there would be less traffic and here we are. The question will be, will the second part of the holiday forecast happen? Would retailers be concerned about their decline in traffic and push promotions harder in December? I suspect traffic was off because more consumers are comfortable shopping from home. I also think the pandemic has caused a number of people to reassess their spending priorities.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

First, convenience has dictated a new way to shop. Online is just easier. If you don’t have to try it on or look in the mirror, why visit the store?

I’m not sure supply chain is going to be a major disruption to the overall holiday results. Customers have a budget and they will spend it on what’s available. If they can’t get what they want they may wait, but who wants to have an envelope with an IOU under the Christmas tree or along side the Hanukkah menorah?

Phil Rubin
BrainTrust
Phil Rubin
Founder, Grey Space Matters
5 months 27 days ago

This is no surprise for a myriad of reasons. Black Friday numbers mean relatively little given the rebound, the strong consumer balance sheets and other shifts impacting consumer demand, starting with timing. A few observations on contributing factors:

  1. Black Friday is now Black Holiday Season. It starts earlier, there is Cyber Monday, and a race to be early and first with sales, including BF sales.
  2. The supply chain issues are real. Especially for consumer electronics but also for things like sportswear and shoes (look for your favorite running shoes – they aren’t available).
  3. Let’s not forget the macro trend of consumers prioritizing experiences over things.
  4. We are in the midst of the Great Resignation. There is a significant amount of people stepping out of work in the interest of better opportunities. Even though many people are resigning for other roles, there is a percentage of them “in transition” and thus not inclined to spend.
  5. Finally, consider COVID-19, Omicron and the fact that global markets sold off on Friday, tempering consumer optimism.
Liza Amlani
BrainTrust

Early shopping, less discounting and, more importantly, customers shifting their habits to more sustainable practices are a few reasons why Black Friday traffic was thin.

The holiday season has just begun and there are many shopping days left to break the bank with sales.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

When every day is Halloween, treats lose their appeal — and that just leaves the tricks. No doubt the right answer is a combination of all these factors and more. So retailers have to rethink their “Black Friday strategies” — at least as long as they try to stretch the “holiday period” further and further ahead. Supply chain disruption clearly played some role in lukewarm sales, but the root causes run much deeper. The interesting thing to me, assuming the numbers are correct, is the flat commerce performance. That probably deserves a deeper look on its own.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

If 2019 represented the last “normal” year before the pandemic, it’s no wonder that store and online traffic was down by comparison. There is plenty of evidence that online sales will continue to be brisk, and in-store sales will show gains versus a depressed 2020 — but the impact of COVID-19 (including inventory problems, worker shortages and inflation issues) still hangs over everything.

It probably didn’t help matters on Friday that most retailers took a very cautious approach to sales promotion. Our newspaper carrier told me that the Thursday edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — usually bulging with three extra sections of promotional circulars — was down to just one this year. (Not even a Kohl’s circular!) This sort of pricing restraint may be good for margins, but not necessarily for top-line sales.

Natalie Walkley
BrainTrust
Natalie Walkley
Director, enVista & Enspire Commerce OMS
5 months 27 days ago

While a lighter Black Friday may sound like bad news in some ways — it can be good news for brands and retailers if they are merely spreading out their sales over a longer period. “Surge days” like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Prime Day, etc., can put a strain on employees, systems, and fulfillment. We’ll see more spreading out over the next few years — supply chain issues or not.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff

Black Friday started months ago – it’s now an extended season not just a day. Consumers are shopping more intentionally and no longer need to queue up at the crack of dawn for deals.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

Black Friday in terms of brick-and-mortar retailers is history. A perfect storm of factors has created its demise: changing consumer needs, continued pandemic, out-of-stock in stores, online advancements, technology, enhancements, etc.

Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

It’s a combination of many factors. All the supply chain news drove everyone to shop earlier. No blockbuster deals or “must have” items for the holiday. The last-minute Omicron COVID-19 news took the psychological wind out of some people for shopping. I think it is just overall fatigue at this point.

RandyDandy
Guest
5 months 27 days ago
A few here have already mentioned that this particular Black Friday showed the cumulative effects of all that has come before on consumers’ behavior. Too many bargains early on; further ease at buying online; worries that inventories are low (though I would venture that shoppers would still have to go out and see that firsthand and not assume it); and more Covid fears. I would like to add one more cautionary point, and then my own tally. All the recent news (at least here, relentlessly, in San Francisco) about the horrible rise in retail crimes—whether during the night or, OMG, in broad daylight; and lone thefts or mob robberies—felt like a tipping point. To be quite blunt, it made me feel just a bit more anxiety: about my safety over shopping. So, collectively I feel (and I know I am not alone) less social and more prone to shy away from crowds. Further, it’s a sense that all of this has created within each of us, and as a group, a sort of fracturing of… Read more »
storewanderer
Guest
5 months 27 days ago

What you describe about being shielded from the public is exactly why the service industry is having such difficulty attracting employees. Add to it the safety concerns you mention above in the post and you can somewhat understand why things have gotten how they have.

storewanderer
Guest
5 months 27 days ago

Not only was the traffic thin but the amount of product people were buying seemed much less than in previous years as well.

Promotions were fewer this year. Staffing levels were way lower than a typical Black Friday, yet I also did not observe any long lines (I observed some lines … of 3-4 people maximum) and also did not see nearly every register open anywhere.

Was in stores all day Friday; usually on Black Friday the stores I go into on Friday night are completely trashed and a mess from all of the traffic. This time, I saw no messy stores other than stores that were already a mess before Black Friday (those Walmarts with unstocked, boxed-up pallets all over the sales floor).

With all of this said, expenses were clearly cut this Black Friday on the staffing and promotion side. Will the retailers actually come out ahead this way vs. the previous chaos that was also likely difficult from an expense control standpoint?

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust
First thought — Holiday supply chain problems have already been factored into customer shopping. Why would shoppers think that there would be any extra scarcity in shopping on Black Friday, especially when most retailers are pushing their holiday sales prices out to 12/1 (Home Depot, Lowes, Best Buy, et. al.)? The attractiveness of super deals only work when associated with fixed time pressure to buy, and the time pressure was sapped out of the system beforehand from supply chain concerns. Second thought — Pandemic concerns continue. Why are we comparing to 2019 growth and sales numbers? We’re down 28.9% from 2019, but up 47.5% from 2020. Any expectations that we are completely out of this pandemic are absurd. Many folks are still wearing masks indoors and to the store. Add to that threats of a new Omicron variant, there will be some decline Third thought — Retailers didn’t push it. Most larger retailers kept their doors shut on Thanksgiving Day — unlike in past years when there was a free-for-all, and customers lined up at… Read more »
wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Shifting consumption habits and global supply chain drama led to Black Friday’s sales decline."
"We’ll see more spreading out over the next few years — supply chain issues or not."
"I’m predicting a noticeable rise in experiential gifts — movie tickets, Groupons, etc. Expect surprises!"

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