Jan 15

2013 Holiday Shopping Paradigm Shift Sets New Norms

You had to have been prematurely hibernating for the winter to NOT notice the incredible paradigm shift that is occurring where holiday shopping is concerned. What was once relegated to the annual tradition of unleashed “capitalism at its finest” known as Black Friday has grown to include not only Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday (aka around this house as the “Holiday Trifecta of Decadence”), but even Thanksgiving Day itself.

At the rate we Americans are going, we only can hope that someone doesn’t go too overboard and create a formalized movement to encourage yet further indulgence among consumers on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. How does “Shopaholic Sunday” grab you?

Oh wait, just because we haven’t labeled it so, yet anyway, doesn’t make it any less true, right? After all, isn’t Sunday of that weekend a little bit like pre-Cyber Monday at this point for many of us?

Sorry, just a little “rabid-shoppers-run-amok” humor for you, and please don’t be too offended if I’ve touched a nerve because you’re one of them. Trust me, I’m right there with you.

Redefining Tradition

Love it or hate it, Black Friday as a stand-alone and traditional event of any real definition—with what many of us appreciated as reasonable boundaries—is out the window. In its place stands something more along the lines of what The Boston Globe has described as “Grey Friday,” a day when customers now can shop at a more leisurely pace given they have so many more retail options available to them — be they brick-and-mortar or online or both — and much more time to hunt for and land good deals.

But it’s not just the actual day when we do our shopping that matters most anymore, or at all for that matter, it’s how we’re doing our shopping that’s truly revolutionary. In fact, now that all of this year’s hoopla has dimmed somewhat and the experts are weighing in with their final assessments of what went right, what went wrong and what’s truly different this year than in years past, one thing is for certain…

Many things have changed on the Black Friday deals and sales front, and they’re not likely to go back to the way they were ever again. As a result, charting a new course for evaluating the “success” of this year’s big weekend in particular has been a challenge for more than a few discerning pundits.

Comparing Apples to Oranges

Where once upon a time Black Friday sales alone were considered one of the most important economic indicators heading into any New Year and used as a benchmark for year-over-year comparison, those days may be over. In fact, recent changes in how and when retailers market their products and services and how consumer purchasing has been altered as a result may mean 2013 goes down in history as the year when the goal posts had to be moved.

And that’s an appropriate metaphor given that holiday-related retail shopping has more or less become a sports-like endeavor, one that has created its very own season of sorts. Remember back in the day when the holiday songs and displays didn’t pop up until just before Thanksgiving, and we were all allowed to get through Halloween before the red and green décor started showing up?

Uhhh, that’s over. In fact, to the dismay of many, it now starts as early as mid-October or even earlier in some instances.

Additionally, this year’s Cyber Monday — an unequivocal success by any standard — fell on December 1. As a result of that alone, any data on how well retailers did or didn’t do this season when it comes to consumer holiday gift buying is largely incomplete as of today, until the final returns are in for all of the fourth quarter anyway.

The final word on this issue is that while many headlines have been focused these past couple of weeks on the fact that brick-and-mortar sales on Black Friday were down a bit from last year, they don’t necessarily tell the whole story. To do so accurately, we have to begin restructuring our benchmarks of comparison for the future to ensure we’re comparing apples to apples and not apples to oranges.

Tech Takes Off

No matter what quarter it lands in, one thing is for certain…Cyber Monday 2013 was a huge success by all accounts. And there’s no question that the ever-strengthening presence of tech in our world, given that it’s facilitating our ability to shop online from anyplace and anywhere, is part of the reason the brick and mortars saw a dip in sales on Black Friday itself, not to mention Thanksgiving Day.

In fact, online sales on Thanksgiving added up to a new record high, increasing by close to 20% over last year. On Black Friday, online sales went up 19% when compared to the same day in 2012. And the average order value was up pretty much across the board as well.

As for Cyber Monday, it was by far the biggest online shopping day in history to date, up a full 20.6% over 2012, with much of the buying activity occurring via mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets.

All told, Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday became the biggest five-day online sales extravaganza on record, up a whopping 16.5% over the same period last year.

So, given that holiday shopping now starts earlier than ever and mobile and online sales are skyrocketing, are we really seeing a decline in consumer spending or a reshuffling of when and how consumers get the job done?

Columnist Barbara Fanfan, writing for the retail industry on About.com, has this to say, and we couldn’t agree more: “New rules require new measures of success. Single day measurement tools can’t be used to appropriately measure multi-week promotional efforts. Fabricated retail boundaries are not sacred anymore because consumers continue to demonstrate their willingness to cross those traditional boundaries.”

The “Shop Small” Phenomenon

Depending on any one person’s point of view, the true impact of American Express’ Small Business Saturday effort on the bottom line of smaller brick-and-mortar or mom-and-pop retailers varies in estimation. However, there’s little doubt that what started out as a bit of an experiment on the part of AmEx has now become an all-out movement, one that is very much here to stay.

Just look at its ever-widening global presence as of this year. Since its inception in 2010, Small Business Saturday has grown to encompass not just the United States, but the U.K., Australia, Israel, Canada, South Africa and parts of Asia.

While obtaining firm numbers on just how much the event affected any one small business’ sales is somewhat anecdotal, some stats are fairly unequivocal and incredibly encouraging, especially where the critical public message about the need to “Shop Small” is concerned.

For instance, consumer awareness about Small Business Saturday and its mission jumped up to 71% from just 67% across the U.S. last year, according to the 2013 Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey released by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and American Express on December 2. Moreover, it found, 46% of consumers who said they knew about the event said they purposefully intended to shop that day.

The end result?

Spending on the Saturday after Thanksgiving among small businesses, in most places anyway, was up. In fact, consumers who knew about the event reported having spent upwards of $5.7 billion with independent merchants on the big day. That’s an increase of 3.6% over last year.

“In just four years, the nation has adopted Small Business Saturday and made it part of the holiday shopping tradition,” said the President of American Express OPEN, Susan Sobbott, in a recent statement. “On November 30, we saw a continuation of this growing trend as communities around the country came together to celebrate local businesses and helped drive consumers to Shop Small on the day.”

But it’s not only the American consuming public that has gotten on board with this growing phenomenon this year. Even the U.S. Congress embraced the effort—both the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-run Senate.

Imagine that! Congress does have the capacity for bipartisanship. It actually can come to agreement on something. Now that’s a paradigm shift that many of us would welcome. In fact, I’d like to put in a request for more of that and put it on top of my holiday gifts list this year. You?

Great Stats and Write-ups about This Year’s Holiday Shopping Extravaganza:

If you’d like to read more about how the experts and pundits are sizing up this year’s holiday shopping season thus far, we’d like to recommend the following resources:

“Conflicting Retail Industry Sales Reports and Stats Don’t Give Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday, Cyber Monday Credit for Long-Term Sales Performance Success,” by Barbara Fanfan

“Ecommerce Strong on Black Friday, Cyber Monday,” by Marcia Kaplan

“Small Business Saturday’s $5.7 Billion Shopping Spree,” by Patrick Clark

“2013 Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday Retail Sales Results Summary,” by Barbara Fanfan