Holiday Shopper Report – 2018 Edition

The holiday season is officially upon us again! As usual, I set out again this past weekend to do my annual holiday shopping review to see first-hand consumer behavior during this important period of time for retailers. My annual shopping adventure used to begin on Black Friday – the day retailers traditionally move from the red into the black – however now many stores are having “Black Friday” sales several days leading up to Thanksgiving. This year I traveled to the East Coast for Thanksgiving with family. It was nostalgic in many ways since, as a kid, I used to get up early with my mom and sister and brother to go shopping. Being in my hometown for my annual shopping venture was a real treat this year – plus my mom kept me company as we went from store to store!

Early last week my email box began to fill with deal offers and it has yet to let up. Excitement for sales began to build as I flipped from one online circular to the next. Thanksgiving morning I picked up the local paper on my way to a family gathering to browse the physical fliers too. Many stores were opening at 5pm so I was thrilled to learn that turkey dinner was being served at 2:30pm. Retailers were promoting soft goods like pajama sets for under $5 and giant stuffed animals for $10. Electronics continued to push super low-priced flat screen televisions as in years past as well as cameras, video game consoles, cell phones and tablets.

After getting stuffed on turkey and all the fixings I headed out to the local mall in Livingston, New Jersey around 5:15pm. I was surprised that the parking lot at Macy’s was so sparsely populated, especially since it was not even that cold out and there was no bad weather in the forecast. Macy’s had promoted many deep discounts for Black Friday including about 15 free items (after mail-in rebate). These discounts were going fast as shoppers, although fewer in number were racing from department to department to snatch up free deals on everything from pillows to pearl earrings, slippers to bath mats to stuffed Mickey and Minnie dolls! Soon my mom and I were snatching up free offers too as the frenzy was contagious. Other deals included deeply discounted kitchenware items such as crockpots and griddles and pots and pans. Clothing and boots were also popular items and by the time we left the store the main check-out line was about 40 people long.

Next we headed towards Target. On our way we passed Best Buy around 6:30pm. Their lot was pretty full – more so than Macy’s had been. Pulling into Target we had no problem finding a parking spot, the lot was about half full. By this time it was 6:45pm and Target had been open for 1.5 hours. Upon entering the store we saw that the deepest discounted televisions, $199 55” 4K flat screens were sold out, but there were other discounted televisions still available. Since I had no need for one, nor could I carry it on the plane, we kept moving. I was surprised that many of the advertised doorbuster deals were still available including hot toys for 50% off. While we resisted many of the larger items, we were tempted by books that were 50% off list price as well as toys and kids clothing items for $4 and $5! Within 30 minutes we had lapped the store and grabbed a few deals and were on our way to pick up the kids and head home.

Once the kids were soundly asleep and the rest of the family was heading to bed I decided to go on a quick outing to see what was still hopping at 11:30pm. A brief stop at Walmart showed that many deals were still available – mostly soft goods of slippers, pajamas, stuffed animals and towels. Electronic deals like iPads were already sold out – except for rose gold color. Televisions were also hit hard and not many remained – only smaller screens. I only had a few minutes to stroll through the store since I learned it was closing at midnight – ironic because this is the time stores used to open on Black Friday. In years past many retailers would stay open all night, but Walmart did not do that this year, nor did Target.

My next stop was Kohl’s which I walked into at exactly midnight. My first question was to ask what time they were open until! Turns out I had plenty of time since they were staying open all night. There were plenty of fellow shoppers at Kohl’s and both check out areas had significant lines of about 15 shoppers. Doorbusters ranged from kitchen gadgets and pot sets to toys and dolls at 50% off. Electronics like Amazon Echo devices and Fitbits were also deeply discounted. I made my way around the store and snapped up some deals before calling it a night around 12:45 in the morning.

Friday was a day of rest and family time, but on Saturday we headed out to support local shops on Small Business Saturday. It was great to be in my hometown of Lafayette, NJ to support small shops that may have turned over, but in an area that I had so many memories shopping at – back at a time when you could only buy things in physical stores or via catalog! We shopped at 2 clusters of stores and each had discounts of 15-25% off as well as other items to lure shoppers in such as a hot chocolate bar in one store and cheese in another and yet a third with wine tasting and carolers. Shoppers were out supporting local businesses and that was good to see. We did our part getting hand crafted holiday themed goods at several shops. The village of stores we visited even had a scavenger hunt for the kids to stay entertained as parents went from store to store. Holiday music filled the chilly NJ air and it indeed felt a lot like the holidays had officially arrived!

Early reports show that shoppers were out in force online this holiday weekend – many opting to shop from home instead of in stores – this validates with the lower number of shoppers I saw out at stores. Online sales jumped over 23% over last year. A whopping $6.2 Billion in sales were rung up on Black Friday with $2 Billion coming from smartphones. Today’s Cyber Monday deals are expected to bring in $7.8 Billion which would be a 18% increase over last year. That’s a whole lot of shopping going on right now. The battle over consumer dollars is fierce today with some online retailers like Gap offering 50% off everything plus an extra 10% off plus free shipping – which is a staple for most Cyber Monday deals. Competition this holiday season is heating up as the giving season approaches. We are tracking the action and results closely.

I hope you all had a joyful Thanksgiving and a fun start to the holiday shopping season!

– Meredith

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