Retailers Modest about Thanksgiving Weekend as Holiday Promotions Get a Jumpstart

Holiday creep? This year, we’re seeing a full-on holiday leap. Instead of Thanksgiving Weekend ceremoniously ushering in the full onslaught of the holiday shopping season, a new normal has taken root, and retailers have been out in front of shoppers earlier and more often this year. In fact, according to our 2014 Retail Compass Survey of CMOs, over one-third (34 percent) of retailers say they will have already run most of their holiday promotions by the time consumers are sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner. 

As major players—from Wal-Mart, to Amazon, to Office Depot—began their holiday promotions the day after Halloween, the pressure is on to capture the most of consumers’ limited holiday budgets early, before competitors swoop in with deals later on in November and December. With this early promotional activity in effect, most retailers anticipate that Black Friday and Cyber Monday will still be important shopping holidays this year, but their sales projections are modest. All in all, they forecast a 2.4 percent increase in Black Friday sales and a 3.9 percent increase in Cyber Monday sales.

With promotional activity being spread out earlier in the season, and with Thanksgiving Weekend being downplayed, there’s little surprise that 64 percent of retailers say they will offer more discounts and promotions this year. And as Black Friday’s start time pushes further back into Thanksgiving Day, it’s clear that competition for in-store foot traffic remains intense.  Tactically speaking, 67 percent of retailers say that exclusive in-store deals and discounts will be their top method for drawing consumers to stores and enticing them to buy early in the season, when consumers are hungry and holiday budgets are still discretionary. At the same time, doorbusters and limited time products and promotions remain key strategies, as retailers know that cart sizes can quickly increase once shoppers simply step into stores. To that end, a notable 17 percent of CMOs cite in-store events as their top tactic to persuade shoppers to put down their devices and come shop in person.

Outside the long lines and flashy promotions within brick-and-mortar stores, retailers are also heavily tuned into their customers’ online activities and expectations. Consumers’ desire for a seamless, convenient and consistent experience across channels has left 36 percent of retailers focusing their promotional strategy equally between online and in-store offers. However, as e-commerce sales may rise up to 16 percent this year, according to forecasts from comScore, retailers are also homing in on the online opportunity: A notable 19 percent say they are focusing most of their promotions online, up from 13 percent in 2013.

Meanwhile, 34 percent of CMOs note that social media promotions will be their most successful online promotional tactic, and another 28 percent point to free shipping as the key to yielding the most online sales this year. As my colleague Natalie Kotlyar noted earlier this year in Retail TouchPoints, free shipping has quickly become a popular and differentiating offer, and many retailers, including Target, have already reduced or eliminated order minimums and extended the frequency of their free shipping offerings.

Stay tuned for the next round of results from the 2014 Retail Compass Survey of CMOs, where we take a deeper dive into digital engagement this holiday season.