Holiday Shopper Report – 2020 Edition

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The holidays are upon us and I think I am not alone in feeling like a little extra cheer is in order this year. Thanksgiving and the day after, known as Black Friday when retailers traditionally go from the red to black for the year, traditionally kicks off the holiday shopping season. Like most things this year, the holiday shopping season is looking a little different.

For starters, the shopping season began early.  Retailers have been playing to consumers for weeks, luring them in with early sales. Remember the piece Mike Frazier wrote about earlier in the year and the high you can get from shopping? Seems that many needed a pick-me-up prior to Turkey Day. Early shoppers were splurging on themselves, not wanting to wait for Ol’ Saint Nick. I know quite a few who could not resist pre-Thanksgiving sales for large-screen televisions – conveniently delivered to their doorstep. Even a very traditional shopper, like me, got sucked into deep discounts last week on winter coats for the kids.

But the main event comes Thanksgiving weekend. Like many, it was a quiet Thursday, and on my way to pick up a takeout turkey feast, I stopped to collect newspapers with the colorful deal circulars. I always get 2 newspapers, the local and the SF Chronicle. I was surprised that neither Target nor Walmart had ads in these papers this year. I was not surprised that all the ads were pushing online deals. Most traditional big-box retailers were closed this year on Thanksgiving Day – a stark contrast to years past where many have opened mid-day with long lines of anxious customers. I drove past the mall and all was quiet – just a few people walking their dogs. I was curious, what about Best Buy – notorious for people to camp out front overnight to be first in line – I swung by and found the lot also empty. Everyone was home for Thanksgiving this year. But that doesn’t mean that they did not set aside some time for shopping.

At home, I scoured the ads and also reviewed my email inbox, which was exploding with messages of Black Friday deals. $15 winter coats for kids and $6 pajamas and 50% off select toys, oh my! Sheets for $29 and kitchen appliances for $8! I began filling out my Christmas shopping list quickly. I also began noticing themes, like comfort and self-care. Slippers, cozy sweaters and athleisure wear seem more popular than ever as work from home continues and nowhere in sight were fancy party dresses or high heels. At home spa items, fitness trackers, and for those who miss getting in-person massages, at home precision massage devices were on sale at multiple locations. And of course, the biggest trend of 2020 also made some sales – masks. Carters and OshKosh had face masks for $1 and $2 at their doorbuster sale with limited quantities. Like I said, things are a little different this year.

So what people were shopping for was different and also how people were shopping was different. The shift to online shopping has accelerated at a rapid pace in 2020 out of necessity. This holiday shopping season follows suit. Most retailers, big and small, are offering curbside pickup or delivery at a low fee or free if you spend a certain amount. Convenience and safety seem to go hand in hand with online shopping.

I mulled over my gift-giving list while I over-indulged in a Thanksgiving feast. After getting my fill, and then another piece of pie on top of that, I settled onto the couch with iPad in hand and began filling up my virtual carts. Macy’s had a few deals that required curbside or in-store pickup, but most retailers gave you the choice of store pickup or ship to home. With a few clicks of the keyboard, my night of shopping was complete!

Friday morning, I was once again bombarded with emails reminding me of all the great deals going on. I was tempted to get a set of matching pajamas for the whole family. Luckily for them, they were already sold out of our sizes. I was unable to resist a few deals on kitchen items like a colorful knife set for $12. Now I just have to figure out who I should gift it to! It has been a difficult year and giving feels really good this holiday season. At Macy’s, my 2 little helpers and I parked in the curbside spot and called to let them know the make and color of our car. Then we popped our trunk and waited a few minutes until a man delivered our order. It was pretty seamless. While I missed running around the store with my arms overflowing, I appreciated the ease of this transaction. Hard to believe, but I did not even go to the mall or a single physical store on Friday for the first time in over 15 years!

We were back at it Saturday, first thing. We supported Small Business in the 2020 way. I was totally impressed with how some small shops have adjusted to the Covid world and are making it work. One small favorite pet store of ours, Dogville in San Anselmo, called us back on Facetime so that our dynamic trio could virtually see all their goods and select treats and toys and even a dog collar for our furry family member.  A few hours later, we stopped by to pickup curbside. Gamescape on the main drag in San Rafael asked me what my budget was for the Pokémon card lovers in my life and curated a mix of cards and other items that I am sure my kids will love – a big bonus for me since I don’t know anything about Pokémon. Amphora – a great olive oil gift shop – allowed 1 customer in at a time to sample products, and had my gifts wrapped in individual bags without me even asking, waiting for me when I arrived at the doorway. My husband reported his music shop was busy, but not crazy like years past. That seems to be the trend.

Sunday, I was back online, squeezing in a few last deals. My personal trends this year have been on creature comforts and practical gifts. Like a foodie gift basket of things that someone may not splurge on themselves and new warm layers that are like socially distanced hugs to those outside our bubble. And slippers for the whole family – because those are the most worn footwear of 2020!

Early sales reports are in… Online spending increased 21.6% on Black Friday, surpassing $9 Billion. Shopify announced that its Black Friday sales were up 75% year-over-year, hitting $2.4 Billion from its independent and direct-to-consumer brands. Mobile sales on Black Friday were 67% compared to 33% of sales made on desktop. This was only slightly different from the 69% of total sales made on mobile devices and 31% on desktop last year. The top product categories globally during Black Friday were apparel and accessories with health and beauty and home and garden following. The average Black Friday cart price globally was $90.70, a healthy increase of 11% from last year. Traffic in physical stores around the country was down 52% from last year. Curbside pickup kept the stores busy though, with a 50% increase in usage from a year ago.

Today is Cyber Monday, a name given back in the 1990s when people would have to wait to get back to the office to make online purchases after Thanksgiving. It’s been less of a thing with the advancement of mobile devices and ubiquitous access to the web. But it’s still a thing. Record sales are expected again, with as much as $12.7 Billion estimated to transact by day’s end. A magic shopping window has developed, between 7 p.m. PT to 11 p.m. PT. It is being referred to as the “Golden Hours of Retail”. This is when consumers are expected to scramble for last-minute purchases before online specials expire. Over $3 Billion is expected to be spent tonight during this window.

The American Consumer accounts for approximately 70% of US GDP. So far, Americans seem to have opened their wallets again this year, despite the pandemic. It’s a good sign for a sustainable recovery. We will be watching with great interest. You know we will!

Meredith (and my little helpers…)

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