After a pandemic-related hiatus, I was excited to get back into stores during Thanksgiving Weekend.  Judging by what I saw, many shoppers felt the same but, overall, I would liken the atmosphere to a typical pre-pandemic weekend shopping trip. 

There was a renewed energy, but traffic (both foot and car) seemed lighter than in past years and the deals, while available, were harder to locate in some cases. But with anxious consumers heeding the warnings to start shopping early, and procrastinators still waiting in the wings, the Thanksgiving weekend won’t define the whole 2021 holiday season.

Cozy Still Hot

If you thought we were past “peak cozy,” think again. “Cozy” has evolved from a trend to a full-on lifestyle, particularly after the year and a half we’ve had. There are lots of footwear options to pair with all the comfy apparel out there (which seems to be getting more extreme), as the cozy trend has crept beyond slippers and boots to sandals, clogs, and even sneakers. These are likely to be some of the most coveted footwear items of the season, which is why promotions were selective here.  While not likely to be doorbusters, I also saw more fuzzy handbags than ever, and even a fuzzy eyeglasses case (!?). 

Deal … or no Deal?

Promotions were expected to be scarcer than usual, as supply chain issues curtailed some inventory levels. Footwear and accessories were a mixed bag (ha!). Brands and retailers like Coach, Tumi, and Birkenstock held back, some promoting only select items and highlighting gifts at key price points, rather than offering broad discounts. Others went all out, like Kate Spade and Aldo, which offered most of their assortments 30% to 50% off.

In department stores and larger shoe chains, I found it hard to understand how specific holiday deals compared to promotions typically found at these retailers. I thought it was easier to click right to the items on sale online rather than find them in-store. I also was surprised to see that discounts were readily available on some of the hottest brands, like Crocs, UGG, and Dr. Martens, although they were selective and, in some cases, less steep (10-15% off).  And lastly, some direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands, like Dagne Dover and Mejuri, took the opportunity to offer rare 20% discounts, while others, like MZ Wallace and Rothys, stuck with “gifts with purchase” and holiday collections.   

Mixed Merchandising

Merchandising at some of the larger department stores left a lot to be desired, particularly in handbags and travel goods. Bags piled in clearance bins, empty displays, and products on carts in the aisles were common sights. Supply-chain challenges may have contributed to the disorganization, but I suspect it wasn’t the only reason. Unfortunately, I see this happening all too often when out shopping these types of stores, at all times of the year. On the other hand, one of the largest sporting goods chains was my favorite stop on Black Friday. There were no major deals, just compelling, well-presented fashion and sports products with strong private-label brand messaging. 

Inbox Frenzy

As I write this post, my inbox continues to fill up with Cyber Monday deals. The emails have been flowing for weeks but they have intensified just ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, as brands and retailers looked to entice post-meal shoppers to shop online. It’s hard to cut through the clutter, and I know that most of these promotions will be extended, but one stood out. Although it appears confined to Cyber Monday only, ahead of its first earnings release as a public company, Allbirds offered its first ever discounts on select products. 

All in all, the 2021 holiday season is shaping up to be unique compared to past years, but the shifts we see in consumers’ shopping behavior this year may very well stick. With so many events and ways to shop throughout these hectic months, it’s unlikely that any one weekend or promotion will make or break the season anymore. While it is important for brands and retailers to understand what’s happening now, to make in-season adjustments to promotions, messaging, and so on, they will also need to evaluate the season in full, to properly plan for future seasons.