retail watch | Dec 1, 2022 |
Black Friday report: Strong in-person sales and stress-free shoppers

It’s all over except for the leftover cranberry sauce and buyer’s remorse, but Black Friday weekend is often considered a harbinger of the holiday shopping season for retailers.

Spoiler alert: It seldom is. While certain results do occasionally provide some direction for December expectations, the truth of the matter is that Black Friday, Cyber Monday and all the other artificial promotional shopping days of the past week often have little to do with how holiday shopping plays out over the next 30 days.

Retailers used to say the same thing about back-to-school and Halloween—that they were good leading indicators of future business. But by and large, that’s no longer the case, thanks to consumer sentiment, world affairs and the overall mood of the country, all of which seem to change not just by the month or week, but by the hour. Still, if one searches hard enough, there are some clues that might help the retail industry make the most of the buildup to December 25.

While most parties agree that Black Friday business was OK, the consensus ends there. Some analysts saw low-double-digit gains on the top line, while others pegged it in the mid-single digits. And of course, all of this was tempered by inflation rates in the 6 to 8 percent range that moved the scoring curve.

Beyond the fact that shoppers were generally in a buying mood, here are some other takeaways worth noting.

Physical stores were busy
After close to three years of primarily online holiday shopping, consumers hit the stores and made a day of it. In-person store traffic was strong across multiple channels, while companies without locations—brands like Wayfair, Overstock and some smaller DTC players—were caught short.

Online business plateaued
Again, the beneficiary of stay-at-home pandemic conditions, e-commerce had small gains, if any. It remains to be seen if this is a temporary leveling-off, or if this is the new balance in the retail world. Nonetheless, companies without robust online operations, like off-pricers At Home and Tuesday Morning, are missing out on as much as a quarter of the marketplace.

Deals, deals, deals
The American shopper never met a deal they didn’t love, and the past week or two continued to prove that. In news stories featuring interviews with shoppers, virtually every report included a typical consumer saying they were looking for bargains and sales. This is nothing new, but it seemed to be more critical than ever.

Consumers are much less worried than economists
While there’s still talk of a recession, inflation and all the other dark economic clouds descending upon the country, shoppers apparently haven’t gotten the memo. Yes, they are being thrifty, but they have by no means cut up their credit cards or hidden their checkbooks. They are buying—and show no signs of stopping anytime soon.

Some retail insiders continue to call last weekend “Black-and-Blue Friday,” even if some preferred “Gray Friday.” Whatever the color, whatever the shade, Americans came, they saw, and they shopped. All indications are that they are far from dropping anytime soon.

Homepage image: ©colnihko/Adobe Stock


Warren Shoulberg is the former editor in chief for several leading B2B publications. He has been a guest lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business; received honors from the International Furnishings and Design Association and the Fashion Institute of Technology; and been cited by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and other media as a leading industry expert. His Retail Watch columns offer deep industry insights on major markets and product categories.

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