Holiday Shopper Report – 2019 Edition

The holidays are here again! Time to share with friends and family. Time for giving and time for receiving.

After a filling feast, I headed out on my annual shopping adventure to see what was hot and what was not this year at the malls. Luckily the rain held off! I have been doing this since I was a youthful 26 and a newbie here at Bedell Frazier. It is insightful to gain perspective on the American Consumer, which represents 70% of US GDP. Shoppers are fickle and trendy. Understanding these trends are fascinating and helpful. It’s very investable.

Stores opened at 5pm on Thanksgiving Day. I had timed my feast so that I was out the door by 4:45pm. Doors had just opened minutes before I arrived at Macy’s in San Rafael, where we were greeted by an employee handing out fliers showcasing what has become an annual page of “free after rebate” Black Friday deals. Crockpots, frying pans, pearl earrings, pillows, glassware and more all free after mail-in rebate. I could not resist, and soon, I was in line checking out a “free” order of goodies. Gifts to give and also gifts to donate to Toys for Tots, ’tis the season for both.

Lines built up as many shoppers were also stocking up on free items, but I noticed that not many other items were flying off the displays. Of all the items my group purchased, only four were not “free after rebate.”

By 6:30pm we were off to Target in Novato. Upon arrival, I saw a few carts headed out with large screen televisions, but there were still plenty available inside. Lines at registers were non-existent and the aisles were easily navigable. Books, DVDs, family board games and electronics were the most popular items we saw in carts. Advertised doorbusters like Mario Kart, large televisions, cameras, Hot Wheels Ultimate Garage and LOL dolls were all still available even two hours after the store opened.

By 7:30pm I was feeling a bit tired – the early morning Turkey Trot I had run with my daughter had caught up with me. We decided to drive the shopping plaza to see what else was going on before heading home. As we drove past the Carter’s/ OshKosh B’gosh store, I spied a sign reading $5 pjs and shouted, “stop the car!” At the door, we were all given a mystery card with either $5, $50 or $100 to spend in the store. (In total, across the US, over $1,000,000 was handed out by Carter’s.) My mom was the biggest winner of our group scoring $50, which she quickly spent on lots of pajamas and other goodies! By 8:30pm we were home carrying our trunkful of purchases into the house. That was enough for our Thanksgiving shopping spree.

Friday, we hit up the mall in Corte Madera mid-day. By noon the parking lot was very full and we had to circle twice before locating a spot. There were noticeably more shoppers out on Friday than on Thursday evening. Macy’s had small lines at all registers and customers were loading up on soft goods like socks and cashmere sweaters as well as handbags and $19.99 doorbuster women’s boots. We walked the length of the mall – the Apple store was bustling with over 25 employees festively dressed in red shirts helping customers load up on iPhones, iPads and accessories.

There was a theme at the mall – order online and pick up in-store. I noticed signs promoting this at many stores. This is one way that brick and mortar stores are able to compete with online retailers – they can put the product in shoppers’ hands quicker – many same day, when ordered online. Stores were also rewarding customers who came in person by granting free shipping and in-store pricing if sizes were not available in-store that day.

Nordstrom’s had elaborate holiday decorations as well as a gift hut that advertised gifts at various price points from $150 down. It was a popular zone, as were cosmetics, shoes and jewelry/accessories.

Hannah Anderson, a children’s retailer was advertising $25 pajamas and 40% off most items in the store – luckily we had already stocked up on $5 ones the night before, otherwise our bill would have been five times as much since their holiday prints were oh so cute that I could barely resist them.

Lululemon had no visible sale signs, but lots of shoppers. Interestingly, there was a line of 7 people at the fitting room, but no one in line at the registers. Williams Sonoma had lots of samples and sale items up to 40% off. Kitchen gadgets seemed like popular gifts based on the number of customers. The Amazon 4-star store is still under construction – but I look forward to checking it out soon. Stores with the least aggressive sales were definitely lightly traveled, including North Face. After four hours of shopping, we were wiped out and my little shoppers were ready to head home.

By 10:30am on Saturday morning, the rain was coming down pretty heavy, which literally dampened spirits for Small Business Saturday. Still, we braved downtown San Anselmo to visit our favorite local spots including Dogville, Amphora Nueva and Wild Minimalist. Then, of course, we went to visit daddy at Bananas at Large. Rain was definitely a deterrent for shops without dedicated parking and soggy shoppers were sparse at many stores. Shopkeepers were optimistic and after our dry weather and the high fire season, everyone was grateful to see precipitation.

Sunday was a day of rest from shopping; however, we did visit the mall to catch an afternoon showing of Frozen 2. This proved to be another popular holiday outing as the theater was packed and the movie was playing on multiple screens. The movie has been a monster success for Disney and broke the record to become the highest-grossing film ever for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. It was the perfect rainy day activity to cap off the holiday weekend!

Early reports on consumer spending from the weekend are validating that Black Friday was big and showing that the American Consumer is still in solid shape. Online sales rose nearly 20% to $7.4 Billion on Black Friday, marking the day’s largest revenue grab ever, according to Adobe Analytics, which tracks transactions at 80 of the top 100 US retailers. With more shopping done online, it makes sense as to why in-store traffic was a bit lighter this year.

Today is “Cyber Monday” which has evolved to be an online shopping holiday. The retail titans like Amazon, Walmart, Target and eBay should have lots of traffic, as Cyber Monday spending is expected to hit a record $9.4Billion, an 18.9% jump from a year ago. If you are like me, you have received about 100 “Cyber Monday” sale emails already this morning. Competition remains fierce on the retail battlefield. We will be monitoring and tracking how things pan out this holiday season.

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


Subscribe to Our Newsletter

And receive our free “Investing From A to Z” ebook.

Roads to Retirement Virtual Road Trip

A FREE 10-week email adventure as we journey together towards retirement readiness. Whether you’re just starting your engine or cruising into retirement, our experts are here to help you plan the perfect route.