November-wide promotions, staggered Thanksgiving week sales, and a wide selection of compelling online offers may have contributed to a more muted Black Friday in stores.
Results appeared to vary widely by retailer and region the day after Thanksgiving. But both analytic and anecdotal reports suggest that while some brick-and-mortar merchants won the battle, physical stores may be losing the Black Friday war.
Among the former, ShopperTrak, which measures brick-and-mortar traffic, found that footsteps were down 1.7 percent on Black Friday compared to last year.
By comparison, online sales were up 23.6 percent on Black Friday, said Adobe Analytics, hitting a record $6.2 billion.
According to JLL, which manages 60 commercial properties, 23 percent of retailers at its East Coast malls reported lighter store traffic on Black Friday vs. last year, and 41 percent described initial traffic at their respective shopping centers as weak. Results were somewhat different at JLL’s West Coast properties, where 86 percent of retailers said traffic volume was unchanged from last year, and 43 percent described initial traffic at their respective malls as weak.
That was certainly the case in Northern Virginia, where NPD VP and TWICE contributor Stephen Baker prowled stores and dutifully tweeted early on Black Friday morn. Citing vacant parking lots and empty aisles, he paraphrased REM by declaring that it’s the end of Black Friday as we knew it, and he feels fine.
— Stephen Baker (@NPDSteveBaker) November 23, 2018
Still, Baker found “signs of life” at Best Buy, particularly within the PC, mobile and smart-home sections, and, surprisingly, at Macy’s, which saw more traffic “than all the other places I have visited combined,” he tweeted.
Others also offered varied assessments. Steve Bratspies, chief merchandising officer at Walmart U.S., described the chain’s traffic as “steady all night long” across the country, and, reported scuffles aside, cited Black Friday as “an annual tradition for so many customers.”
It’s “still the best shopping day of the year,” he said, and 2018 was no exception, with phones, gaming consoles and TVs among the period’s top sellers.
Peter Boutros, president of Kenmore, Craftsman and DieHard and chief brand officer for Sears, described Black Friday traffic at Sears and Kmart stores as “firm to our expectations” but “softer than behavior nowadays,” as omnichannel shopping behavior takes hold.
Conversely, Best Buy said customers “flocked” to its stores on Thanksgiving night, and that the queue at its local headquarters store in nearby Eden Prairie, Minn., where CEO Hubert Joly greeted crowds, was wrapped around the building before the doors opened at 5:00 p.m.
One of the strongest brick-and-mortar reports came in from Video & Audio Center (VAC), the six-location Los Angeles chain, which enjoyed a 37 percent increase in sales for the Wednesday through Sunday period. “It was the best Black Friday week in our company’s history,” said co-principal Joseph Akhtarzad, and “totally beyond expectations.”
VAC’s corporate director and chief technologist Tom Campbell credited the results to a Black Friday focus on mid- to upper-tier products, plentiful inventory and a teaser ad campaign that began the previous Sunday. He said the line at its flagship store and just-opened Galleria shop at the Westfield Century City Mall was over a city block long when the doors opened at 4;30 p.m. on Thanksgiving afternoon, but that customers were treated to coffee and bagels while they awaited deals on smart speakers, 4K TVs and headphones.
“No $29 DVD players here,” he said.
Looking ahead to December, Campbell said “People are in a buying mood for major technology,” and that demand will continue through the balance of the holiday.