Thanksgiving Day openings, Black Friday doorbusters, hysterical crowds running for the $300 flatscreen when the doors open—yes, they will all still be there this holiday season. But things are slowly beginning to change.
According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), the holiday shopping season (November and December) has traditionally accounted for over 20 percent of yearly retail sales in the United States. Historically, Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, has been the biggest shopping day of the year. Then online shopping came along, and Cyber Monday became a major agent of change. Now, Super Saturday, the Saturday before Christmas, is rivaling Black Friday for the lead, and the Sunday before Christmas is also becoming a major player in the sales race.
Consumers are also changing shopping habits in terms of timing. It is said that nowadays, 40 percent of consumers begin their holiday shopping before Halloween. As a result, some retailers are putting holiday merchandise on display as early as September.
Other changes also continue to alter the flow of holiday shopping. Heavy discounts by many merchants early in the holiday season and stores opening on Thanksgiving Day are cutting into Black Friday sales. However, at least for now, Black Friday remains the official kick-off to the holidays.
Stores opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day has been a growing trend over the past few years, but that trend is also transforming. As of this writing, at least 60 retailers have announced that they will not open on Thanksgiving Day this year. According to Blackfriday.com, those retailers include Nordstrom, Barnes and Noble, Neiman Marcus, PetSmart, Marshall’s, Home Depot and Lowe’s. Sears, K-Mart and Target are reportedly weighing their options on the subject.
Experts believe that taking Thanksgiving off will not affect overall holiday sales, which are projected to jump 4 percent over 2016. Die-hard shoppers who must shop on Thanksgiving Day can do so online.
Remaining closed on Thanksgiving saves operating costs and improves employee morale. Outdoor equipment retailer REI has bucked trend even further. For the past two years, their stores were not only closed on Thanksgiving Day, but they were closed on Black Friday as well. REI encouraged both their employees and customers to use the time off to participate in an outside activity, like hiking, camping, or skiing. They even paid their employees for both days. REI hasn’t yet announced what it’s doing for 2017.
Tennessee-based CBL and Associates is going so far as to completely close four of their malls in Illinois on Thanksgiving Day. Only those stores with exterior entrances will have the option to open.
Longer shopping seasons, the explosion of e-commerce and changing consumer habits are all having a major impact on the changing makeup of the holiday shopping season. An article in the Harvard Business Review even suggests that retailers should retire the holiday shopping experience altogether. More and more, consumers don’t want anyone or any retailer dictating their shopping schedule. Wealthier shoppers are becoming used to buying products they want when they want them. More price-sensitive shoppers are also changing their habits.
Retail Next, a provider of in-store analytics, has indicated that December traffic and sales are beginning to shift into January, suggesting that shoppers are learning to wait for post-season sales. Today’s consumers want deals regularly, not just on two or three days of the year. For every shopper who is excited by the mad rush of shopping during the holidays, there is another who is turned off by the hassles and crowds.
Over-emphasizing the holiday season puts tremendous pressure on retailers, too. Forcing a high percentage of sales into the limited holiday timeframe taxes supply chain, labor management and accounting, not to mention its negative effect on employee morale. In addition, once-traditional holiday “extras,” such as free shipping, free gift with purchase and discounted gift cards are now expected by consumers year-round and are no longer an incentive to buy more during a single season.
There is also the newly emphasized trend of creating a more inviting, interesting and enjoyable consumer shopping experience, something that’s difficult to do in the hustle and bustle of a compressed holiday shopping season.
While it’s true that the 2017 holiday season won’t look greatly different than those of the past few years, definite signs of change are already apparent. In five or ten years, we’ll probably see a different shopping experience for consumers, both by venue and time of year. Hopefully that experience will be much more relaxing and enjoyable for both consumers, retailers, and associates.