Black Friday Through the Eyes of NPD’s Industry Advisors

Black Friday sets a mood for the consumer and is an indication of things to come. But, while a good Black Friday makes us all feel holiday will do well, a poor one doesn’t mean poor growth performance for the holiday overall.

Whether they were in New York, Virginia, Florida, Illinois, or Texas, there were common themes that each of our industry advisors noticed as they hit the stores over this peak holiday shopping period. The biggest callout – Black Friday weekend has changed.

Click on the bars below to see the recaps, and follow #NPDHoliday on Twitter to see everything our advisors saw in their Black Friday travels.

The Industry Advisors

  • Marshal Cohen
    Chief Industry Advisor, Retail
    @marshalcohen
  • Stephen Baker
    Vice President, Industry Advisor, Technology and Mobile
    @NPDSteveBaker
  • Matt Powell
    Vice President, Senior Industry Advisor, Sports
    @NPDMattPowell
  • Juli Lennett
    Senior Vice President, Industry Advisor, Toys
    @JuliLennett
  • Joe DerochowskiJoe Derochowski, Executive Director, Home, Appliances
    @JoeDerochowski
  • David Portalatin 
    Vice President, Industry Advisor, Food
    @NPDPortalatin

Insights from the Experts

1. Marshal Cohen – This Black Friday was very telling – it had a lot to say

Marshal Cohen
Chief Industry Advisor, Retail

This Black Friday was very telling – it had a lot to say.

The deals were plentiful, both in offerings and depth of product, but by day’s end, there was still product left, though not piled as high as at the start. The days of stampedes of shoppers fighting for too-good-to-be-true deals on limited quantity items seem to be gone. Instead, there were a fair number of shoppers queued up at store openings and seeking deals in a more orderly fashion.

Retailers were more prepared and organized than ever before which helped to create this sense of calm in a storm of deal hunting. Black Friday spread continued with some retailers, like Best Buy, starting their Black Friday promotions as early as November 1st. Online retailers, like Amazon, also got in the action well before Cyber Monday. Staggered opening times helped to eliminate some of the chaos, allowing the 20 percent of consumers who shopped Black Friday weekend to casually, and strategically, go from one store to another. New digital maps offered guidance to those items, and in-aisle checkouts made for a modern, speedy, and efficiently painless shopping process. Rather than relying on the element of surprise, retailers shared deals ahead of time, and offered larger quantities of door-buster product. Perhaps the biggest shift came from stores stepping up their online game, giving consumers more shopping alternatives.

The focus of the weekend has also changed. Shoppers and promotions were both focused more on self-gifting items like smart home and robotic vacuums than more personal gift items. Fewer shopping bags pointed to in-store shopping followed by mobile purchasing – avoiding the need to cash-and-carry, especially large items.

New trends emerging.

NPD’s Checkout data revealed that 2017’s peak holiday shopping occurred from noon to 4:00pm on Black Friday. Similar to last year, it was a slow start Thursday night, but by Friday at noon the malls were packed with shoppers. Last year, we saw surges on Thursday at 6:00pm, and on Saturday from noon to 2:00pm. Some of this year’s surges lasted longer, depending on where you were.

Thursday night went to Best Buy, Walmart, and Target. Once the peak hit on Friday, the malls were bustling and store traffic reached an all-time high at outlet centers across the east coast. In some cases, parking lots filled beyond capacity, and the sides of the highway became an alternate parking option. In the 20 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve never seen it so packed.

Apple, Pandora, and Adidas were among the busiest stores. Athletic/active apparel inspired stores, and apparel chain stores with aggressive discounts fared well overall. Mall based mass merchants, like Kohl’s, Target, and Walmart had a great range of successes in electronics, small appliances, toys, and select apparel. Best Buy did great with efficient offerings, toys, and self-gifting consumers.

Positive signs, but still room for improvement.

All in all, this was a great Black Friday. Consumers came out in droves and retailers stepped up efforts around inventory and servicing. Consumers still seemed excited about last year’s product innovations, and pricing was not as high as many predicted. All of this sets a healthy tone and good momentum for the holiday season. But, retailers can still do a better job of using technology in stores to create the endless aisle. They have the opportunity to provide more innovation, in the product and how it is sold.

Black Friday was a huge success for retail this year, making it clear that stores are not dead. Rather, stores have entered a transformation that will strengthen their ability to compete. The biggest challenge will be to extend this excitement beyond the holiday shopping season.


2. Stephen Baker – There is so much more to holiday shopping for Tech than just Black Friday

Stephen Baker
Vice President, Industry Advisor, Technology and Mobile

There is so much more to holiday shopping for Tech than just Black Friday.

“It’s the end of the world (Black Friday) as we know it, and I feel fine.” With apologies to REM, I think this sums up this weekend nicely.

We have been rapidly moving towards this point over the last few years – in fact, check out my quote in a 2010 TWICE article. We are at a point where the focus on Black Friday is totally misplaced. Over the last 8 years the fastest growing week for the tech industry has been Cyber Week, which represented almost 16 percent of sales in 2017, up from 12 percent in 2010. Thanksgiving week is key as well, steadily representing about 22 percent of all sales over that same time period, despite the growth in Cyber Week volumes. Consumers really have, as I said eight years ago, adopted their shopping patterns over to the reality of today’s retail – they now seem to view the intersection of retail and online seamlessly. We observed that trend over this year’s holiday shopping weekend, with seemingly diminished crowds on Thanksgiving evening and on Black Friday morning, followed by rapidly mounting traffic as Friday wore on. These shopping patterns prove that consumers will shop in stores when the time and product is right, but will also take advantage of the many blessings afforded to them by at-home shopping at any time of day.

This holiday is likely to be a continuation of the strong momentum we have seen all year in the tech market. TVs, as they always do, will lead the way. But, once again, we would expect to see the most popular deals drive consumers into higher price-points and bigger screen sizes this year. The other segment to call out for 2018 is smart home, and not just the smart speaker giveaway fest sponsored by Google and Amazon, but the myriad of products and prices afforded on all the next level of Smart Home goods, from locks and doorbells to cameras and lighting. The rapid expansion of these products into adjacent channels – from mass merchants and discounters like Kohl’s, to sporting goods and hardware stores – helped to make smart home products the most widely available technology products this Thanksgiving week.

We remain enthusiastic about the holiday season for the tech industry, and believe our three percent revenue growth goal is not only reachable, but also likely to be exceeded.

3. Matt Powell – Black Friday was a blend of bland and bold for Sports

Matt Powell
Vice President, Senior Industry Advisor, Sports

Black Friday was a blend of bland and bold for Sports.

After what was the most promotional holiday ever in 2017, as expected, holiday 2018 looks like it will eclipse last year.

With no true hot item or look, and with major brand drivers in a soft patch, brands and retailer must promote to drive sales. The brands were particularly aggressive this year at the expense of their wholesale partners. On the retail side, Dick’s took the bold stance of 25 percent off the entire store.

Traffic was very weak to start off the day, as Black Friday creep moved sales to earlier in the month. Clearly the ease of shopping on the internet precluded consumers from having to get up early and stand in lines. Parking lots filled up later in the day, but it did not appear that many were actually buying. The longest line I saw was at Starbucks.

Many of the Black Friday shoe releases were uninspiring, with brands still trying to force performance footwear on an athleisure market. However, there were a couple of bright spots for the sport industry. Fashion outerwear and fashion cold weather boots seemed to be moving well, as they had been for the last eight weeks.

All in, a lackluster start to what will likely be a lackluster holiday for sports retail.

4. Juli Lennett – Black Friday is as much about options as it is about bargains

Juli Lennett
Senior Vice President, Industry Advisor, Toys

Black Friday is as much about options as it is about bargains.

I admit it. I do not like shopping and I especially don’t like shopping on Black Friday. I don’t like hunting for a parking spot, I don’t like crowds, and I hate waiting in line. Patience is not my virtue. This Black Friday was a bit different – it was my job to go shopping on Black Friday. I didn’t actually have to buy anything, just observe, so I wouldn’t be forced to wait in any long lines. Overall the experience wasn’t as bad as I anticipated and, in fact, I enjoyed most of it. And, if I was going to spend time stalking people so I could take their parking spot, and immerse myself in wall-to-wall people, then I was going to take advantage of some Black Friday deals.

The two things that really stuck out for me this year were the timing of the crowds and the shopper experience.

My experience was that the serious bargain hunters did their most important shopping (for themselves) when the stores opened on Thanksgiving. But after a few hours, those hunters had gone home—they had swooped in and swooped out. They knew exactly what they wanted. Another large group of shoppers seem to have shopped online to get their favorite deals but then took advantage of in-store pick-up on Black Friday—there were long lines for BOPUS. The rest of the shoppers casually drifted into stores throughout the day on Black Friday, but not too early, and continued shopping until the stores closed.

In terms of the shopper experience, I was very impressed with the effort from most of the retailers to create a positive in-store shopping experience. From providing apps with maps to find exactly what you were looking for, to providing plenty of courteous, helpful, and cheerful staff on the floor ready to service customers.

However, there are still two areas where retailers could improve. First, get buyers out the door more quickly with multiple checkout options—arm employees with devices to check-out shoppers in the section where they shop, or provide self-checkout. Buyers who thought the lines were too long abandoned their items, or even full carts, in the stores – not good for the retailer or consumer. Second, if the item is out of stock, make it easy for shoppers to buy the item while they are in the store and eager to make a purchase. If the answer the shopper gets is to “go online”, chances are the shopper will find a better price online and buy it from your competitor.

If we do this again next year, I’ll need a more comfortable pair of shoes.


5. Joe Derochowski – The spirit of Black Friday has expanded

Joe Derochowski
Executive Director, Home, Appliances

The spirit of Black Friday has expanded.

I am preparing for the day when my kids ask “Is there really a Santa Claus?”, armed with the response that Christmas is “something bigger, it is about the spirit of the season”. Black Friday used to be a single day filled with early morning shopping frenzy and busy traffic all day where consumers were pining to purchase items at bargain prices. Similar to my impending Santa Claus question, today, Black Friday is about something bigger, it’s about bargain shopping spread over multiple days and shopping platforms.

The mad rush has moved from Friday morning to Thursday night, at least for those retailers who were open on Thursday. While store managers said that Friday was busier than last year, Store managers and employees all talked about how Thursday night was “crazy” – it was busier than Friday. There was an evident scramble on Friday to deal with the stock outs and refresh the look of the merchandise. On the other hand, similar to recent years, there were no lines early Friday morning – other than a few people looking for deals on TV’s. The shopping really looked like any other Friday, with huge traffic flows from 11:00am to 4:00pm. Many consumers said they started much of their shopping on Wednesday because they could access the Black Friday deals that early.

Retailers have also done a much better job of integrating online shopping with in-store. The online promotions are reflecting the same promotions seen in the circular and in the store. This makes for a more seamless consumer shopping experience, but does pose some operational challenges for store employees looking to maintain the parallels amidst the mad rush of shoppers.

The door-busting categories for the early shopper seem to be led by TV’s and computers. At Menards, the drivers were dog beds, quilts, and step ladders. The home categories that received the most promotion were the categories that have been hot all year – Instant Pot, air fryers, coffeemakers, cookware, Dyson stick vacuums, upright vacuums, iRobot and Ecovac robotic vacuums, and electric toothbrushes. I expect to see these categories leading the sales for this week.

The majority of consumers have mixed feelings, but those who are the true ‘treasure hunters’ do miss the Black Friday bustle of years past. While Black Friday, the day, is no more, in-store traffic showed that consumers embraced the spirit of the day on Friday and the days preceding. All indications are this should be a good Holiday season, with both consumers and retailers emerging as winners.

6. David Portalatin – Black Friday is for leftovers

David Portalatin
Vice President, Industry Advisor, Food

Black Friday is for leftovers

I’ve never paid much attention to Black Friday before. As NPD’s Food Industry Advisor, my focus has always been on the big meal. I look at the way grocery retailers and food manufacturers collaborate to provide convenient yet authentic meal solutions for the vast majority of American’s who either feasted at home or prepared a dish to take to someone else’s home on Thanksgiving day. As far as Black Friday dining goes – many of us are too stuffed, and gorging on leftovers, to eat out at a restaurant.

In fact, on any given day in America, 13 percent of our meals are sourced from a restaurant. On Black Friday, that number is 12.4 percent. In other words, for restaurants, Black Friday is much like any other day. Many observers who are rightly awed at the throngs amassing at retail storefronts reasonably assume that adjacent eateries and mall food courts must pick up some customer traffic. It’s a reasonable assumption, albeit an incorrect one. Long Black Friday lines at Starbucks, or a crowded independent full-service establishment, are likely to exist on any other day.

For Black Friday shoppers, the pursuit of the elusive deal and beating the crowd to the next door buster takes priority over stopping to eat. After all, there are leftovers aplenty waiting at home!

Now, Valentine’s day…..let’s talk restaurants then!

This is a snapshot of our advisors’ Black Friday 2018 observations across apparel, appliances, food consumption, foodservice, home, retail, sports, technology, and toys. Follow #NPDHoliday to see what they are observing throughout the holiday shopping season. For more in-depth perspectives across our other industries, visit our Holiday Insights page.

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