What the Black Friday Numbers Really Mean

Plenty of us who follow retailing have been talking for some time about the convergence of in-store and online shopping experiences and how consumers are being empowered by the new choices being afforded them by technology. The Black Friday weekend offers us some of the most compelling evidence yet of what I’ll call the Power Shift.

While sales for weekend overall were up 13 percent to $59.1 billion, the most revealing number of the weekend was Black Friday sales in stores; and they were down 1.8 percent from last year to $11.2 billion, according to ShopperTrak. It was the first decline since recession-plagued 2008. Early openings and promotions, as predicted, kept some shoppers home on Friday. The National Retail Federation chief executive, Matthew Shay, said that while Black Friday “is certainly not dead,” he conceded that “it’s starting to spread out.”

Holiday shopping is spreading out all right. Black Friday sales online topped $1 billion for the first time, according to comScore, which said online sales went up 26 percent from a year ago. ComScore said that for the entire holiday season, it expects online retail spending to increase 17 percent. That’s more than last year’s 15 percent increase and much more than the 4.1 percent increase in spending forecast for spending overall. ChannelAdvisor chief executive Scot Wingo said, “Online has been around 9 percent of total holiday sales, but it could breach 10 percent for the first time this season.”

One of the big drivers of that online sales growth is mobile devices. I.B.M., which analyzes online traffic and transactions from 500 U.S. retailers, said mobile devices accounted for 26 percent of visits to retail websites and 16 percent of purchases on Friday. That was up from 18.1 percent and 10.3 percent, respectively, from the same day last year.

Online shopping’s traditional big day is today, Cyber Monday, and the NRF predicts that more than 20 million shoppers plan to use mobile devices, up from 17.8 million a year ago. ComScore predicts Cyber Monday sales overall will increase 20 percent over a year ago.

“Cyber Monday will be a big day, but not as much of a big day as it has been in the past,” Mia Shernoff, executive vice president for Chase Paymentech, said in a Reuters story. She offered an interesting insight into why. “Faster broadband Internet connections in the office used to drive this. But now many consumers have faster connections at home and smart phones and tablets — they don’t have to wait.”

That’s all part of the Power Shift. All these devices and all this product information have transferred so much of the power in the retail equation from retailers to consumers. They’re shopping online and with their phones and tablets. They’re getting reviews and pricing information to get the best deals. They’re pushing retailers to look at their businesses in new ways and meet them where they are.

If you still need proof that this is happening, just look at the numbers.


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