Home Blog 2019 Industry experts share takeaways from Black Friday 2019
Dec 2, 2019

Black Friday Through the Eyes of NPD Industry Advisors and Analysts

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The shopping methods have changed, but consumer intrigue around Black Friday remains. Black Friday may not look like it did ten years ago, but it is still the top shopping day of the year.

NPD’s industry advisors and analysts ‘went shopping’ over Black Friday weekend and shared their observations via Twitter, using #NPDHoliday. Whether their focus is on tech or toys, blenders or beauty, sneakers or shoppers, there were common themes that emerged.  The overarching takeaway – retail needs to think differently to win the consumer.

Insights from the Experts

1. Marshal Cohen – Black Friday didn’t disappoint, it just looked a little different.

Marshal Cohen
Chief Industry Advisor, Retail

Black Friday didn’t disappoint, it just looked a little different.

Black Friday showed up this year, but it was clearly different – and it needs to be measured differently.  Some will talk about how Black Friday fell short.  But did it?  Add in all the selling that was done as early as Nov 1st (and even some before that) as part of the Black Friday promotions, and Black Friday didn’t disappoint.  

It didn’t disappoint the consumers either. Deals and doorbusters were plentiful with items worthy of waiting for, or even buying on impulse.

  • The big tech winners were TVs, headphones, and smartphones. It seems like the new holiday gift schedule has smartphone upgrades right in time for holiday gifting.
  • The popular toy items were LOL surprise (no surprise there), and Frozen was “hot”.
  • Home is the new growth area for holiday with more attention on small appliances this year, going beyond the heavily promoted “everywhere” Instant Pot. Floor care got a lot of attention too, demonstrating that practical gifts ruled.
  • Fashion fared well in the areas of cold weather products and deep discounts. Some retailers even offered 60% off fashion – an aggressive move this early in the holiday.

Store traffic didn’t disappoint in the early hours, both on Thanksgiving night for those that opened Thursday, and Black Friday morning. But those early promotions took their toll on what normally is a huge Saturday of shopping, leaving Black Saturday looking a little gray.  Online also stole some business from stores, as e-commerce fared well.

All in all, Black Friday set the stage for a good start to the holiday season. Black Friday 2019 didn’t disappoint.

2. Stephen Baker – Despite some historic tech deals, it will always be about more than one day.

Stephen Baker
Vice President, Industry Advisor, Technology and Mobile

Despite some historic tech deals, it will always be about more than one day.

As expected, Tech maintained its high profile among Thanksgiving week shoppers. Historic deals on big screen TVs, and strong demand (based on both high interest and quality promotions) for both headphones and Smart Home devices led the charge. 

TVs remained the Thanksgiving defining product (as they have been for a number of years) across a wide variety of retailers, not just ones typically associated with TVs. Few products are as focused on Thanksgiving week as the TV. According to NPD’s Retail Tracking Service, televisions account for as much as 35% of all tech revenue during Thanksgiving week, and more than 20% of sales during the whole holiday period (when they are the largest revenue category). 

But, overall it is apparent, from NPD’s store visits and the overall viewpoint of retail, that the focus on one day of the holiday season has become excessive and misplaced. Crowds in stores, or broken websites have little to do with a retailers’ (or a brand’s) success during the holiday season. Black Friday is now part of a five-day kickoff for the holiday season. Thanksgiving openings steal retail in-store volume from Black Friday, and Black Friday (and Thanksgiving) steals online volume from Cyber Monday. Yet these two weeks, Thanksgiving Week and Cyber Week, remain the two most important in the 9 week holiday selling season – accounting for over 35% of tech revenue last year, compared to the 30% of sales they represented in 2010.

Let’s dispel another long held myth – that holiday shopping continues to happen earlier and earlier.  October remains a wasteland of sales for tech products, with weekly revenue dropping precipitously during this bridge between the Back-to-School season and the start of the Holiday season, which always begins the first week of November. Every year, the onset of November spurs consumers, brands, and retailers to turn on the holiday spigot, resulting in varying sales increases that can be as high as 35% between the last week of October and the first week of November. This year’s 13% increase from the last week of October to the first week of November was below average – likely due to the calendar’s long period of run-up to Thanksgiving.

The first three weeks of November, the weeks prior to Thanksgiving, account for 21% of tech sales during the 9 week holiday season, and have done so every year since 2010. I am confident NPD Retail Tracking Service numbers will show what they have shown every year – a core group of consumers begin their holiday shopping at the start of November and no amount of promotion or marketing will move those numbers ahead.

3. Matt Powell – It was a “Blah” friday for sports retail.

Matt Powell
Vice President, Senior Industry Advisor, Sports

It was a “Blah” friday for sports retail.

2019 will go down as the year we went from “Black Friday” to “Blah Friday”. Limited edition drops got a tepid response, and markdowns ruled the day.

The discounts offered by retailers were the same as last year, promoting the same brands. With no hot brand of scale and no true hot item, it will be very difficult for sports retail to show gains. At the same time, the brands have already made this the most promotional holiday ever, offering steep discounts as high as 50% off. This can only get worse in the coming weeks.

The late Thanksgiving will make comparisons difficult. Sneaking a peek at the weekly data, the week before Thanksgiving in 2019 showed a sharp decline compared to the week before Thanksgiving 2018. With Cyber Monday moving back to December this year (from November last year), the November results will look terrible. Retailers will be scrambling to make it up in the short December period.

In the malls that I visited, traffic was weak and uninspired. At midday, I got a first row parking spot (Thanks, Sears!). The only stores with traffic were Apple, Pandora (35% off), and Starbucks. There were lots of young consumers in the aisles, but little buying going on. After Black Friday wrapped, Black Saturday was like an average Saturday.

A retailer's job is to surprise and delight their customers. Ain't a lot of "Surprise" or "Delight" out there. All in, a lackluster start to what will likely be a lackluster season. #BlahFriday

4. Juli Lennett – Juli Lennett – Close the deal, don’t lose to impatience.

Juli Lennett
Senior Vice President, Industry Advisor, Toys

Close the deal, don’t lose to impatience.

Patience is just not my thing. My two teenage daughters tell me this all the time and told me this often on Black Friday as I complained about the traffic, finding a place to park, lines to enter the store, lines to checkout, etc.—Black Friday is not the time or place for the impatient.

Despite my lack of patience, I have to admit it; along the way I did find some great bargains on things I needed, well wanted, which made me feel fantastic! There seemed to be plenty of employees in most of the stores to answer my questions and direct me to the products I was looking for. Amazing store employees were the biggest plus of my Thanksgiving/Black Friday shopping — they were cheerful and helpful (and l live in New York where that just isn’t always the norm). Retailers should be very proud of that. But, there are two major things that I think every retailer could do better.

First, have people dedicated to restocking empty shelves with the best-selling products. There is no excuse to not re-stock the products that are flying off the shelves. This is a missed opportunity for retailers.

In Q4 2018, according to NPD’s Consumer Tracking Service, nearly 70% of toy purchases were planned. What’s more is that 5 in 10 of the planned purchases were to buy a specific toy, and 2 in 10 were to buy a specific brand. This underscores how important it is to have the right products on shelf at the holiday and to continue replenishing the shelves. Store employees’ actions are critical during these four weeks in getting products out of the back and on shelf. If not, the purchase of that specific toy goes to a different retailer. Mom and Dad don’t want to disappoint their children on Christmas and tend to buy exactly what’s on the list.

Second, get rid of the long lines. Make it easier for me to check-out of your store. I abandoned my shopping trip three times on Black Friday because I just wasn’t patient enough to wait in the long lines which I perceived to be at least 30 minutes long. How many other impatient people were out shopping on Black Friday and “abandoned their carts” like me? How much money is retail leaving on the table each year? You got me in the store with a great sale, close the deal!

Next on the agenda is Cyber Monday. I’ll be looking for more deals and I’m looking forward to no lines. Online shopping is a dream shopping experience for impatient people like me – unless, of course, your website goes down. Argh!

5. Joe Derochowski – It’s about the importance of the season.

Joe Derochowski
Executive Director, Home, Appliances

It’s about the importance of the season.

I came away from Black Friday 2019 with 5 key observations.

1. Consumer shopping patterns have changed. No longer are the days with long overnight lines for Black Friday deals.

  • On November 9th, a fellow shopper with a KitchenAid stand mixer, Ninja Kitchen System, and Dash waffle maker told me “These Black Friday deals are too good to pass up”.
  • Thanksgiving is much busier than Friday morning.

This shopping occasion has expanded, which is opening the door to new innovations in marketing throughout the season. Rather than focusing on the event, we should turn our attention to meet the various gifting needs of the season (Christmas, Hanukkah, and self-gifting).

2. Retailers continue to improve. Across the board, retailers continue to make it easier for the consumer to shop when, and how they want to shop.

  • While in-store traffic felt a little light this year, store personnel all talked about how buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPUS) has grown.
  • Retailers were more innovative in marketing, whether free beverages and snacks at Walmart, or shopping list management with directions, deeper discounts for in-store shopping at Bed Bath & Beyond, or future shopping incentives at Target.
  • Aisles and shelves were kept better organized under the pressure of the Thursday and Friday morning activity.

3. Home lost the promotion battle this year.

  • The Home industry didn’t seem as prominent the mass media shopping lists.
  • Home products didn’t garner the same promotional aisle space as in prior years

TV’s were stationed throughout many retailers across the store, even my local grocery store was promoting televisions. There wasn’t a store that I went to on either Thursday or Friday where several consumers were not walking out the store without a large screen TV.  The Home industry lost out to large screen TVs this year – How can we be among the hero products during next year’s Black Friday rush?

4. Better emphasis on Thanksgiving needs. It is challenging to market to the needs of an important occasion like Thanksgiving dinner while also promoting Black Friday. This year there were more items related to preparing, serving, and storing the Thanksgiving meal than last year. Let’s carry this mindset to all holiday season entertaining, and create conversations among friends and family about hot home-related products – create buzz that leads to more sales.

5. Focus on the fundamentals.  Many core home categories were the focus of Black Friday promotions. Coffeemakers, multi-cookers, air fryers, indoor grills, cookware, cutlery, tabletop, and food storage led the way.  Home is a consumer fundamental, and the retailers who promoted it as consumers walked in the door saw a benefit. The key is to solve consumers’ I wish, I hate, I love moments – the fundamentals.

As Black Friday continues to get watered down, we need to remind ourselves of the importance of the occasion, and most importantly the importance of the season.  Happy holidays!

6. Larissa Jensen – The beauty of Black Friday is in the eye of the shopper.

Larissa Jensen
Executive Director, Industry Analyst, Beauty

The beauty of Black Friday is in the eye of the shopper.

I hate crowds. And so Black Friday and I have never mixed. Deal or no deal, it wasn’t worth it for me. This year I was curious on both a personal and professional level. So I went for it and ventured out on Black Friday, which now also includes Black Thursday.

During my two days out in stores, I was like a kid in a candy store. As a total newbie I walked around in literal awe over the deals, which to an experienced shopper is par for the course. I was checking out the beauty deals but let’s be honest here, tech reigns supreme on Black Friday, along with apparel, toys, and sneakers. That said, if you were out deal hunting anyway, there were plenty of beauty deals to be found.

Across the varied retailers I visited, Target, TJ Maxx, and even Kohl’s had the fewest beauty deals – likely due to their already competitive price points. TJ Maxx had no Black Friday deals on anything, Kohl’s offered a small percentage off fragrance purchases, and Target discounted all beauty gift sets by 30%.

In specialty stores, Ulta had a bigger focus on Black Friday deals throughout the store, while Sephora had a limited selection of items merchandised at their entrance, along with a few select items on sale for half price. Despite the difference in approach to Black Friday, both Sephora and Ulta were pretty crowded. This provided me with a better read on the interest in beauty on Black Friday - something that’s a little harder to recognize at a cross-industry retailer where the interest in other categories outshines beauty offerings.

On the department store front, Macy’s was the runaway winner. While Bloomingdales offered 10% off every beauty brand (excluding Chanel), and Nordstrom had some marginal discounts primarily on beauty devices, Macy’s came out strong with a robust offering of door busters and huge price cuts on beauty sets from top selling brands. Walking in at 6:30 am, I found fragrances for $25, neatly stacked cosmetic sets for $10 and $15, along with plentiful skincare sets, and festively packaged minis across every beauty category. It was like a wonderland of discounts.

While being a “Black Friday tourist” was fun, when all was said and done Black Friday failed to live up to the hype. Crowds were bearable, parking was plentiful, lines were short, and I didn’t get trampled. Honestly, deals in beauty are plentiful online so unless you’re looking for the thrill of the hunt, you can shop from your couch. Seems like more people are subscribing to what I was doing all along. Avoiding stores and crowds and just shopping at home.

This is a snapshot of our advisors’ and analysts’ Black Friday 2019 observations across appliances, beauty, fashion, 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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