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Breaking Down Black Friday

Dec 5, 2018
Tamara Szames, Analyst (Canada) ;
Fashion Accessories

In 2017 the 2 weeks of Black Friday/Cyber Monday posted a decline of -3 per cent across the fashion industry in Canada as buying visits (both online and in-store) experienced declines. In an attempt to reverse this trend, this year we saw promotions starting as early as the first week of November. With 3 weeks of promotions leading up to Black Friday I was naturally curious as to how the consumer would react. Friday Morning I headed out to one of Toronto’s busiest malls, Toronto’s CF Eaton Center, to get a glimpse of what Black Friday was about from a consumer perspective.

With an early start I was anticipating large lines and lots of store traffic due to the lack of consumer confidence in online delivery thanks to the postal strike. I was shocked. Parking was a breeze and the mall was questionably relaxing - not a term we would normally use for Black Friday shopping.  After a few hours of walking the mall, speaking to store staff, online browsing, and exploring the shopping streets of Queen West it was clear that there were 4 big takeaways from Black Friday/Cyber Monday 2018.

  • Extended periods of Deep Discounts did not entice the consumer. In fact, this possibly derailed the consumer. Everywhere you looked retailers were fighting for a share of the consumers wallet. One thing I noticed was that the retailers that were extending the same promotion or offering a steeper discount on the already clearance merchandise didn’t have much traffic.  Furthermore, there didn’t seem to be a strong conversion between store visit and sale. Consumers went in, browsed around, and walked out empty handed. I heard from one sales associate that the same discount had been on since Tuesday and consumers were hoping to see a further discount so they held out in buying…only to be disappointed on Black Friday when sizing and product assortment were minimal.
  • Where deep discounts won was in the true spirit of Black Friday where new merchandise was discounted or “it” brands were discounted for the first time of the season. It was also of no surprise that teen girls 13-18 led the charge with shopping for fashion on Black Friday outperforming the market for 2 consecutive years for the months of November/ December. Categories like panties, bras and sleepwear were all the rage as specialty retailers catering to these categories for teen girls 13-18 were crowded and had long cash lineups. And brands that had led the growth in 2018 such as Nike, Lululemon, Levi’s and Roots continued to attract buyers each dominating their hero categories.
  • It wasn’t all just about buying the latest and greatest as the message “if you are going to buy, let it be for the greater good and help make a change” was heard loud and clear. This echoed the trend of values over consumption seen throughout 2018 as brands and retailers are taking a stand and changing the conversation to be more than just about fashion. The act of doing good is not new to the holiday season, as food drives and volunteering have always been heightened at this time of the year. However seeing the fashion industry embrace this seems pleasantly fresh. Cool kid brands such as Kotn, Everlane, and Cuyana, just to name a few, offered variations of donation. Kotn donating 100 per cent of their Black Friday / Cyber Monday sales to help change, Everlane said that all profits from Black Friday sales will be donated up to $150,000 to ocean preservation and Cuyana donating 10 per cent of their Black Friday proceeds to the California Wildfire Relief Funds. I even noticed mass brands such as Old Navy embracing giving back donating up to $1 Million dollars to Boys and Girls Clubs for every $1 per pair sold of cozy socks.
  • In addition to doing good consumers also looked to feeling good, happy and connected. It’s no secret that experiences are all the rage but emotional experiences during the holidays seem to be an untapped opportunity for the fashion industry. One of the longest lines at the Toronto CF Eaton Center was to enter the Google Gingerbread Smart Home, where nothing was actually for sale. When entering the Gingerbread house you got to experience a Google smart home and possibly walk away with either a fresh gingerbread cookie or a Google Home Mini. This had me thinking, what if fashion brands were to interact with the consumers like this and create an emotional connection between the product, brand and life moments? This “warm & cozy” feeling is the reason we continue to see cozy socks, flannel PJs and cashmere sweaters popping up right around this time.

To add on to the experience, Uniqlo was unique this Black Friday, also attracting large crowds and long cash lines. Uniqlo selected Black Friday to launch their limited edition collaboration with street artist KAWS X Sesame Street. Consumers were eager to gain access to limited styles and to become a part of the street artist community. While this launch was at regular price it was a great way to get consumers through the door and checking out the other deals, ultimately adding on to their basket size.

After all my research it was clear that there were some select winners this year, however most retailers didn’t blow it out of the park as they had hoped. We will know more in the coming weeks if buying visits have continued to decline during the 2 weeks of Black Friday/ Cyber Monday but ultimately retailers need to be cautious that they are not losing loyalty and trust among their consumers through the extended promotional period. Experiences and limited merchandise drops and the act giving back might be the secret to reviving fashion during the holiday season for 2018 & 2019.


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