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Black Thursday Turns Black Friday Grey

Nov 25, 2016
Marshal Cohen, Chief Industry Analyst ;
Retail

Pre-Black Friday online sales starting earlier than in past years, opening on Thanksgiving night; and ongoing doorbuster deals all proved to work well, but perhaps too well.  As Thanksgiving Day sales start to steal the business directly from Black Friday, it appears that Thanksgiving Day has become the new Black Friday, and retailers have no one to blame but themselves. 

Thursday night’s lines were long, and the bags and carts were full, but by midnight that flurry turned to calm. The stores that opened on Thursday were not very busy on Black Friday, and the stores that opted not to open on Thursday may regret it. While the Thanksgiving Day opt-outs were busier on Black Friday, they didn’t see the crowds they saw in previous years. The fact is there are more options for holiday shoppers today than in the past. The holiday shopping season and deals begin well-before Thanksgiving, stores offer longer hours, and the perpetual ecommerce options are spreading out the holiday shopping and spending opportunities for consumers – putting a spin on the idea of spreading holiday cheer.

The retailers that were busiest on Black Friday include electronic stores, mass merchants, beauty stores, and, as always, toy stores. Toy deals and having plenty of the “hot” toys in stock were the keys to success for those retailers. The surprises were the activity at athletic footwear stores and the interest in, yet again, big screen TVs. The too-big-to-pass-up TV deals drove huge interest.

In the 40 years I’ve studied Black Friday, I’ve never seen the crowds this soft on Friday morning; parking wasn't an issue, and lines were shorter than any weekend in October.  I’ve visited the same register at the same store at 7:00 a.m. for the past 15 years.  Last year, I found 70 people waiting to check out at that register. This year, there were only seven people in that line. That says it all. 

Overall, Thanksgiving week will likely chalk up a good start to the 2016 holiday shopping season, but this year it also marked a change to the cadence of holiday, with the shopping activity taking on a new, more spread-out rhythm. 

Welcome to the new Black Friday, or should I say, Black Thursday.  

Follow me on Twitter @marshalcohen to see what I’m seeing this holiday shopping weekend.

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