The holiday shopping season has undergone dramatic changes over the past few years, and 2021 has continued to deliver on that trend. NPD industry experts once again ‘went shopping’ over Black Friday weekend and shared their observations via Twitter, using #NPDHoliday. While the industries they focus on may differ, they all agree that the traditional idea of Black Friday shopping is gone. Read on to see some of our industry advisors’ takeaways from the weekend.

Marshal Cohen

Marshal Cohen

Chief Industry Advisor, Retail 

Black Friday changes course

The greying of Black Friday continued this year. Gone are the crowds, the long lines, the chaos, the sense of urgency, and the impulse shopping. What’s not gone is the consumers desire for a deal – deals they were able to get starting in October, well before November 26.

The pandemic solidified the change in course of Black Friday. Store retail has regained strength from the peak pandemic period and will continue to be strong. But retailers had to up their game online, which pulled a lot of traffic out of the stores. The highly anticipated supply issues also helped to push some early shopping, and intensified the already flattening Black Friday weekend peak. But, inventory concerns appear to have been more hype than reality as most retailers and items were well-stocked. The new pace of the holiday shopping season has evolved from the pre-pandemic wait-wait-rush to a slow-and-steady pace.

In addition to a fresh and new approach to Black Friday, wardrobes are getting an update: Consumers are making up for lost time, and changes in size, this holiday season. Sweaters and jeans seem to be gaining a lot of attention – a shift in consumer focus that signals more retail shifts to come.

Stephen Baker

Stephen Baker

Vice President, Industry Advisor, Technology

Tech focus on higher price and value diminishes the “doorbuster”

Black Friday is still dead – I think it was dying in 2018 and 2019. Despite increasing interest in shopping in-store consumers just aren’t inclined to get up at 5 a.m. to shop anymore, especially when prices are not aggressive and their interest is focused on higher price, higher value product (at least in tech).

It seems fairly certain that revenue will be up, compared to last year, given what the Thanksgiving week was like in 2020. However, unit volume, the best measure of consumer demand, remains moderate to weak and an impediment to sales growth. Lack of promotion combined with available inventory that is focused more on higher price, higher value products, not entry-level “doorbusters” are continuing to push average selling prices higher.

One great innovation influencing the new look and feel of Black Friday is buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS). As opposed to getting up early, BOPIS allows consumers to shop at home and pick up Black Friday purchases at their convenience. While I don’t think we necessarily saw more of it this year, BOPIS is clearly a retailer benefit and competitive advantage, especially this time of year.

Joe Derochowski

Joe Derochowski

Vice President, Industry Advisor, Home and Home Improvement

An emotional kickoff to holiday shopping checks a box

Black Friday weekend still provides a significant amount of retail sales but the door-busting and racing to be the early bird that got the best deals before everyone else has been replaced by more online shopping and holiday deals as early as October. This year, the early shoppers were less intent on winning a deal, and more focused on having fun, laughing, and socializing with their groups — an essential element of the holiday shopping season. Traffic was lighter, as the doors opened, but it did pick up, as the day went on, with more individuals shopping and fewer groups. In-store shopping on Black Friday appears to have become more about checking off shopping lists than the race to get an incredible deal. Cyber Monday will likely be the continuation of checking off those lists.

Retailers and manufacturers are also approaching new ways to connect, entice, and win over consumers to buy products on promotion and change how they shop in-store and online. There were fewer newspaper promotions and inserts, and more television commercials, social commerce, and other online marketing techniques to attract the attention of consumers. 

Home products were a focus area for most retailers this weekend. The hot items for the home Industry, either on promotion or that consumers were walking out the doors, included air fryers, smoothie makers, floorcare, waffle irons, toaster ovens, multi-cookers, and food storage, cookware, and bedding. Most of the items that have experienced increasing sales throughout the pandemic were the featured products.

Larissa Jensen

Larissa Jensen

Vice President, Industry Advisor, Beauty

Despite deals and inventory, beauty’s happy holiday won’t rest on the success of one weekend

Black Friday 2021 looked a lot like it did in 2019, which was not overwhelmingly busy to begin with. However, the stores weren’t barren like they were in 2020. This is not surprising given that Black Friday deals began weeks ago, as consumers were pushed to buy early with fears that supply chain issues would put a damper on holiday stock levels.

In my six hours of store tours, including a stop at one of the busiest malls in the country, I saw no evidence of stock shortages this Black Friday. Beauty products, home and kitchen appliances and tech products were in abundance.

There were deals across all beauty categories, including fragrance, which has had such an outstanding year that I’m not sure promotion was necessary. Of course, fragrance gift sets were front and center across many retailers; the runaway winner in most of these sets was the mini juice, which was featured alongside the full-size juice bottle. If shelves and shopper’s baskets are any indication, hair products will have a record-breaking holiday this year. Both skincare and makeup selections were solid, and the festive holiday packaging always lures me in. Judging from the lines I saw in beauty stores, many other consumers were enticed as well.

Black Friday is still an important part of holiday shopping, but it has become more important than ever to look at the holiday season as the longer tail of the entire fourth quarter. As brands and retailers extend the holiday deals, and as shoppers start shopping earlier, the spike in sales during Black Friday will soften over time. The beauty industry will have a very happy holiday, but those results won’t rest on the success of this one weekend alone.

Juli Lennett

Juli Lennett

Vice President, Industry Advisor,  Toys

The hustle and bustle were missing, and so were many of the top toys

My first impression of Black Friday started in the parking lot. I asked myself, “how is it that I found a close parking spot so easily?” I found my answer when I walked in the store — it seemed emptier than on a typical weekend. At the next store, reserved spaces for curbside pick-up were empty, as well. Had I slept through Black Friday and it was now Saturday?

The lack of shoppers in the stores made my mission much easier — to see for myself how hard it would be to find the top-selling toys. I made a list of the top selling toys over each of the last four weeks, based on NPD data. In my Black Friday visits to three of the top 5 retailers in the U.S., I was unable to find 14 of the top 34 toys and only six toys were found at all three. While visiting alternative store locations and their online sites, I was able to find additional toys that weren’t in stock at the first stores I visited.

It is likely going be tougher than usual to find the exact toy that your child put on their wish list this year. You’ll just need to work a little harder — shop around at multiple retailers, in stores and online, wait for stores to replenish (there will be more inventory trickling in), and shop again, again, and again! Online pre-orders will be game changers for many shoppers … and for the stores offering the option this year.

Matt Powell

Matt Powell

Vice President, Senior Industry Advisor, Sports

Early season deals led to lean sports inventory, and light traffic brought deal extensions

Disappointing foot-traffic early on Black Friday improved as the day went on, but few actual purchases walked out store doors. The only lines I saw were the result of staffing shortages and fewer open cash registers.

Following the early release of Black Friday deals, few sports deals were to be found on the actual day due to lean inventories. Sporting goods were well stocked, but that was not the case for many specialty athletic footwear retailers.

Throughout the weekend, shopping traffic appeared to be normal, for a Saturday, if not slightly less. At the same time, Footlocker and other retailers extended Black Friday deals to Saturday and many brands and retailers released Cyber Monday deals early. Despite these efforts, I expect these two focal holiday shopping days to disappoint, when compared to others in sports.