Thanksgiving Weekend Loses Steamand Allure?

Over the past few weeks, we’ve written extensively about the evolutionary shifts in holiday shopping that have been solidified during the early stages of the 2014 season. But last week, Thanksgiving Weekend provided the affirmation. Sales over the four-day stretch fell by 11 percent this year, according to the National Retail Federation. In fact, the NRF found that only 133.7 million people braved the crowds this year over the weekend, a 5.2 percent drop compared to last year, and average spending also fell 10.2 percent year-over-year. 

Do these double digit declines foretell a not-so-merry calamity in the making? Are retailers receiving the proverbial coal this year? Not necessarily. Despite the seemingly morose performance from Thanksgiving Day to Cyber Monday Eve, the NRF has maintained its cheery 4.1 percent year over year sales growth projections for November and December.

As I explained last month, more consumers began their shopping earlier this year, as retailers began aggressively offering heavy holiday discounts and promotions beginning November 1. These deals managed to capture more of consumers’ limited budgets earlier in the season: Online sales alone jumped 14 percent year-over-year from November 1 to the end of Thanksgiving Weekend, according to Adobe. Essentially, this early November activity essentially has had the effect of diluting Thanksgiving Weekend sales.

Meanwhile, considerable online sales growth has also changed up this year’s shopping dynamics. E-commerce sales were up 17 percent year-over-year for Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, according to IBM, while Adobe pointed to 17 percent growth in Cyber Monday spending. A big part of this growth has come from mobile, which IBM says accounted for 50 percent of all online traffic over Thanksgiving Weekend and 22 percent of all Cyber Monday sales. At a high level, the convenience and comfort of online shopping—both via desktop and mobile device—continue to eat up in-store sales, which is putting pressure on brick-and-mortar retailers to entice shoppers to browse their shelves in person and fill up physical carts.

What’s clear is that Black Friday and Thanksgiving Weekend are no longer the long-anticipated, ceremonial commencement of the holiday shopping season. Nor do they offer leading insights into the health of the U.S. consumer during the holiday season. Certainly, meager sales results during the four-day stretch could force retailers to slash prices, which would ultimately hit bottom lines if unit sales growth doesn’t make up for the losses. But the holiday season is now very much a marathon for retailers, and while they will likely remain focused on driving sales around Thanksgiving for years to come, the weekend is slowly but surely losing its full punch.

How did your business fare during this year’s Thanksgiving Weekend?