US Black Friday 2018: Holiday Shopping Season Off to a good start despite cold weather

The Coresight Research US team visited stores on Black Friday morning to gauge the crowds and the deals. Here are the top trends we observed:

  • Crowds turned out for bargains despite the temperature in the Northeast being the coldest in 20 years.
  • Traffic was highest at discount stores and outlets, but low at drugstores and dollar stores. Traffic was particularly high at Kohl’s, JCPenney and Walmart and also at Aerie and Under Armour.
  • Promotions ranged from 15%–80% but 30% was the sweet spot. There were also a number of 40%–50% off promotions.
  • Inventory levels generally ranged from good to well-stocked, with many retailers replenishing shelves throughout the day.
  • Retailers appeared to focus on assortment, inventory and pricing and put less emphasis on “retailtainment” and technology.
  • Overall, this Black Friday represents a good start to the long holiday shopping season, leading into the upcoming Cyber Monday, with coupons likely to drive continued store visits in the first two weeks of December.

The Coresight Research US team visited more than 60 stores across the US on Black Friday morning to gauge the crowds and the deals. The team evaluated stores based on the following criteria:

  • Store traffic
  • Promotion level
  • Inventory level
  • “Retailtainment” (in-store entertainment and engagement)
  • Technology use

This is what we found:




Apparel and Footwear

Adidas offered 40 % off the entire store, which was laid out like a gym, offering localized products such as NYC banners.

Guess? had normal to minimal foot traffic, much like Sketchers. There was nothing to note technology-wise, and, other than the 40 % off sale, nothing very interesting going on in the store. The sale was also advertised in Chinese in store.

Nike opened its first renovated flagship store last week, with all popular products available in the store. The Nike app starts sending push notifications when customers enter the store. One employee estimated traffic was a couple hundred thousand during the first few days. Customers can also use the app to schedule trying on the items in a fitting room.

North Face traffic was moderate, with 25% off on select styles and few other promotions. One employee commented that North Face plans to renovate the flagship store early next year and will feature more technology and highlights of the brand’s history.

Sketchers had average to minimal traffic. Discounts were also average and not offered across all items (other than buy one, get one 50 % off for shoes). The staff was friendly, and an associate said what we witnessed was as busy as it has been all day.


Ulta experienced a strong Black Friday with very heavy traffic from opening at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday through 2:00 a.m. Friday morning, opening again four hours later at 6:00 a.m. The parking lot was packed for the first 24 hours, slowing slightly around 6:00 p.m. on Friday. About 50 % of the items in the store had some kind of offer. The most popular items were mascara offered at USD 10 (normally priced up to USD 24), which sold out online and in many stores. Hair and skincare samplers were also popular. Service levels stayed strong despite the continued traffic with store employees keeping items well stocked and assisting customers find and select items.

Department Stores

Bloomingdales had heavy traffic in its Soho store in Manhattan, there were constant lines in front of each cashier. The store is trying to convert customers from online to offline: This year, it offered 10% off promotion for its entire beauty section – a promotion offered online only last year. Bloomingdales’ added kiosks next to its cashiers for customers to rate their shopping experience. Getting a jump start on Giving Tuesday, it worked with the Child Mind Institute to launch “the little bear with a big heart” campaign by selling the fund-raising bear dolls in-store.

The Bloomingdale’s outlet had heavy traffic, which was difficult to navigate in cramped spaces. Promotional signage was clear and present right upon entrance to the store. There were four cashiers on the main floor with a line five to ten customers deep. There was lots of inventory, but in some areas seemed limited with only one or two sizes of a style remaining next to other similar, fully stocked items. Some areas were a bit disorganized, but associates were doing their best to keep tidy and replenish merchandise in the face of heavy footfall. Promotions were plentiful and ranged from 25% to 70% off. There was a frozen yogurt bar and charging station on the second floor.

JCPenney was incredibly crowded, with a not as pleasant environment. Stock levels were always replenished and the technology used was notable compared to other retailers.While lines were still long, line-busting technology helped speed check out. Everyone was in great spirits and excited with their purchases in home, outerwear, cold weather accessories, footwear and women’s.

Kohl’s was definitely a winner in toys as a result of the changing retail landscape. In addition, home (both hard and soft), outerwear, sleepwear, cold weather accessories were all selling well. Kohl’s cash was calledout in signage throughout the stores ($15 coupon to be redeemed 11/24 through 12/5). There was also a coupon for an extra 15% off with various coupon codes so consumers definitely felt the spirit of Black Friday at Kohl’s. The doorbusters were easy to find online and throughout the store. Customers were shopping across multiple categories for themselves and for others (we saw people trying on clothing and footwear). The biggest challenge was the wait times in line: Kohl’s could definitely benefit from line-busting technology.

Lord & Taylor had good traffic due to final sales. Nearly everything in the store was on sale, including in the display showcase. Some photographs and paintings on the wall had already been sold. Though the store did not have rug and fur departments, rugs were still selling at high prices even after a discount. The store was also selling other HBC labels.

Michael Kors at Rockefeller Center was very busy at 1:00 p.m., but with no line at the checkout. Promotions included 40% off selected bags and an additional 25 % merchandise already marked down. The shop showcased lean apparel inventories and handbags.

Nordstrom store traffic was heaviest in the women’s shoe department, where a sales associate was on a microphone calling out customer numbers in queue. The store offered promotions of up to 25% off selected merchandise throughout the store. Inventory levels appeared moderate for designer labels (such as Ted Baker, Vince and Nordstrom private label) while categories such as sleepwear appeared to be well stocked. Nordstrom offered a custom gift-wrapping station, and its buy-online-pickup-in-store station was staffed with two employees. There was a large sign outside for curbside pickup.

Nordstrom Rack traffic was moderately dense with a long line of 10+ shoppers and the approximate wait time was 10–15 minutes. Promotions covered 50% of the store with extra 30% discounts on red-tag clearance items. Consumers could also find items that were up to 50%–70% off on high-end clothing. Few people were trying on clothes in the fitting rooms.

Traffic was light at the Nordstrom Men’s Store with limited promotional signage, especially in the front near the entrances. Most promotions and signage were toward the back of various departments. The inventory was good except for some sale items. Technology was also put to use with self-return kiosks and phone charging stations. Most notable was the omnichannel operation, which operated similarly to an Amazon locker in some respects.

The Saks Fifth Avenue flagship had very heavy traffic at noon. Store access was limited with construction on the ground floor. Traffic was on the other nine floors. Saks offered 30%–60% off on selected merchandise throughout store. Also a $75 bounceback coupon on selected $150+ purchases, valid December 3–9. Sales associates said Saturday’s gift cards would be based on amount spent. The store looked busy and center aisles were full of racks of clothing 40% to 60% off. Chanel and Louis Vuitton Handbags were very busy on the ground floor—although there were no bargains.

The T.J. Maxx store was ready for Christmas and the Holiday season—although the shop appeared to make no extra effort for Black Friday.

The Tommy Hilfiger flagship had very heavy traffic at 11:00 a.m. but slowed within 20 minutes. Lines at checkout were about five deep. The shop offered 30% off purchases of $150 or more, no exclusions, so iconic products such as puffer jackets, shearling and faux shearling were all on sale.

Zara on Fifth Avenue had hundreds of people in store, and it was in a state of disarray and looked messy due to shoppers handling all the merchandise—sales associates could not fold and rehang fast enough. The Black Friday promotion was a one-day 30% off.


The Amazon 4-Star store attracts customers by creating a customized holiday shopping vibe. They added two tables in the middle of the store displaying “Holiday Deal” products and “Most Wished For” products. Staff was also distributing holiday deal flyers at the front door to address this themed promotion. The store had a kiosk at the door for customers to rate their shopping experience.

Electronics Retail

Best Buy traffic was moderately dense with a long line of 12+ shoppers and the approximate wait time was 15 minutes. Promotions covered 100 % of the store with bins at the entrance containing goods marked down up to 45 %. The rest of the store offered discounts of 20%–30% off. Employees commented there were no great deals and they expected a lot of people to order online. There was a full aisle for toys.

Food, Drug and Mass—Discount Stores

Dollar Tree had normal traffic, a lot of seasonal goods up at the front of the store. Store had items knocked off shelves, boxes stacked all over the place.

Five Below had staff stationed at the front door to welcome customers. The store had a small sale rack as well as three self-check-out machines to speed the process.

Primark saw heavy traffic. Shelves were constantly restocked with many associates on the floor. The  USD 2 flats (shoes) were big sellers.

Food, Drug and Mass—Drug Stores

CVS offered no special promotions for Black Friday. Employees had not put discount tags on items as of 9:30 a.m. The product assortment was focused on holiday products.

Walgreens had low traffic, offering no special Black Friday promotions. Closer to the registers, there were some 50 %-off discounted items. Staffing was skeletal and light at registers.

Food, Drug and Mass—Mass Merchandisers

Target’s doorbusters were well marked and customers were very focused on toys and electronics. The store was well covered and associates were in aisles to answer questions and keep customers moving through the store. TVs, toys, soft and hard home, sleepwear, and cold weather accessories appeared to be top items.

Walmart doorbusters were well marked and it was easy to find everything on our list. Sales associates were exceptionally friendly and helpful. The store was well decorated, inventory levels were high, items were disappearing quickly but employees were quickly replenishing. Lines were incredibly long, but well organized. This is a store that could benefit from line-busting technology.

Food, Drug and Mass—Warehouse Clubs

BJ’s Wholesale Club traffic was a little lighter than a typical Friday and the checkout lines were relatively short. Deals focused on electronics and some toys. That said, deals were not better than one could easily get elsewhere. One employee noted they were very busy earlier in the day helping people with picking up their orders from, as significantly more customers bought online this year.

Costco traffic was heavy, but from what employees said it was no different than a normal day for them. Deals on electronics were similar to others, but with significantly higher traffic than BJs. The store had many more employees helping customers, especially in electronics.

Home and Home Improvement

Home Depot had solid traffic, employees were stationed up front welcoming customers, offering breakfast snacks, cookies and coffee. Aisles were packed with some Black Friday special items. Promoted Items were presented closer to the checkout points. Many people were buying holiday items and employees helped move them through checkout. There was no mobile checkout.

Homegoods (like T.J. Maxx, a TJX brand) traffic was very light as well. The store was geared towards the holidays, and also had a toy section that took up four aisles—very unusual for Homegoods.

Lowe’s traffic was light, no different than a normal weekday. Black Friday deals mostly focused on tools and seasonal Christmas items were prominently displayed, stacked in the front aisle, main side aisle and middle aisle. Doorbusters weren’t easily spotted in the aisles but they were flagged as hot deals on some signage. There was plenty of inventory and they were pushing Craftsman tools everywhere in the store (vs. Kobalt in the past and Rigid for Home Depot). Employees didn’t think they had any good deals and the store traffic reflected it.

West Elm traffic was steady with four cashiers and one to two customers at each register. Promotions and signage were high near entrance and around the store with 15 %–50 % off. Inventory also seemed good. The technology consisted of a station where staff helped customers order online and ship to store or home. There was also a design center where a customer can schedule a one-hour one-on-one appointment with a design specialist to customize home furniture according to room measurements, styles, modular furniture, fabric, etc.

Williams-Sonoma had pretty good traffic, with a giant, chocolate gingerbread house drawing attention from both outside and inside the store. There were many browsers and four cashiers with one to two people at each register. The store had a lot of promotional signage at the entrance (and on both sides of at the store entrance, all the way to the back of the store). Discounts ranged from 20% off to 60 % off. There was a design studio with a couple of computer stations, as well as with fabrics and ideas.


Coach House at 53rd and Fifth Avenue in New York had moderate traffic. Thee seemed to be about 100 people in the store, with the ground floor and men’s very busy and a group huddled around the personalization bar. Black Friday sales were 30%–50% off handbags, accessories, shoes and ready-to-wear (RTW). Handbag inventory was adequate; RTW inventory was lean with one of each size, creating a luxe-lite feel. Comfortable seating with coffee table books to browse. Good service and elegant dressing rooms. Headsets used to communicate with all store staff and retrieve inventory. Extensive use of mobile checkouts with many tablets in use.

The Coach Outlet store visited was very large. Merchandise was evenly displayed for both men and women. Sales associates on the floor were extremely helpful by providing total purchase price before checking out, which could encourage people to spend more. Gift boxes in all sizes were provided upon request.

The Polo Ralph Lauren Outlet store visited featured heavy on denim display. The home collection was light. However the store did have Manta throw blankets, which sold out quickly. The children’s section was heavy in inventory, all sizes and fun apparel were available for both girls and boys. The check-out time was 20 minutes.

Tiffany’s participated only minimally in Black Friday, choosing pricing integrity over holiday sales. Its staff, as one might expect, were incredibly helpful and generous with their time. They used iPads to check inventory and had an area to engrave items.

Specialty Retail

Aerie store traffic was extremely high, with moms and teenage girls filling the store. Sales associates provided traffic control signs showing “End of Line” for the dressing room and the checkout. Aerie offered a free blanket with a $75 purchase, 40% off the Aerie Collection, sweatshirts for $25, PJ pants for $20 and all underwear 10 for $35. The store was well-staffed with staff on walkie talkies. The store greeter was wearing the plaid Aerie blanket and highlighting promotions as customers entered. Customers gravitated towards the undergarment section more than the rest of the store.

American Eagle, which owns Aerie, also stationed a sales associate wrapped in a plaid American Eagle promotional blanket to greet customers at the front door. The blanket was available with a USD 75 purchase, and all items in the store were 40 % off. Checkout lines were long, three cashiers with customers waiting approximately 15 deep. Many customers purchased flannels, hoodies and joggers. The women’s department was very popular, as Aerie is connected to American Eagle, and also teeming with teens. There was a large flat screen TV displaying images of teens wearing AEO clothing and holiday music playing.

Ann Taylor offered 50 % off everything in the store and experienced a steady level of moderate to heavy traffic throughout the day. The store was well staffed with employees constantly tidying up and re-stocking the many dresses and sweaters on display. The sale started Wednesday evening and runs through Sunday night. Deals were identical in-store or online.

Anthropologie appeared to have normal Saturday-afternoon traffic. There were limited in-store promotions. However, sales associates were plentiful with many engaging with customers leveraging tablets, phones and headsets to quickly get information and answer questions.

Athleta gave customers a “Zen Den” to ease the stress of Black Friday shopping. With 20% off purchases all weekend, the store saw heavy traffic. Discreet in-store signs promoted the top selling items and the high sales associate ratio gave customers a more engaging sales experience.

Banana Republic traffic was very light, particularly compared to this same store last year. The store expanded its men’s selection, compared to women’s, and offered more professional/work wear for men and women than casual wear. The store focused on blazers, dresses, coats, skirts and partywear. Comfortable, casual clothes were not to be found! The store offered 50% off everything in the store. There were fewer than five customers in line and fewer than 10 in the store.

Burlington traffic was very light, with only a handful of customers in the store. Plenty of inventory and signs pointing to a toy section upon entry. The few customers there were focused on coats.

Club Monaco traffic was moderately slow with a small line of three shoppers and the approximate wait time was 3–5 minutes. Promotions couldn’t compete with other stores because of the percentage discounts after spending up to a certain amount—USD 150 for 25 % off, USD 250 for 30 % off or USD 450 for 35 %. Most stores in the Soho area had markdowns of 25 % or 35 % off the entire store.

Dick’s Sporting Goods saw heavy Back Friday traffic. Among popular items were sweatshirts and branded clothing. The standard promotion in store was 25 % with Reebok branded wear discounted 40 %. The inventory and replenishment of shelves was strong. We saw lines for in-store pickup of online purchases for the first time.

Free People (an Urban Outfitters Brand) was quite busy, filled with primarily younger women. Denim and shoes were the bigger sellers. Sales of 25 % and 50 % were throughout the store, and shelves and racks remained well replenished with stock.

H&M traffic was moderate, with the store offering 30 % off in store and online. The store was very large, and included merchandise for men, women, children, and accessories, with products displayed in no discernable trend. There were shoppers of every demographic and age range, with approximately 10 customers waiting in line to checkout. Sales associates were difficult to identify.

Kate Spade at Rockefeller Centre was very busy—it was difficult to manoeuver through the shop. The check-out line was more than 10 long but moved quickly. The store offered 30% off most of the store, except desk accessories. Engaged, friendly and knowledgeable sales staff were able to handle multiple clients simultaneously.

Lululemon traffic was moderate, with a cyclist in the store’s window enticing consumers to enter the store. (Some shoppers even were taking selfies in the window). The Lululemon store was well-staffed, with sales associates wearing all black athletic clothing, topped by a baseball hat with a lemon on it so customers could easily find assistance. The store offered two promotional racks of clothing which were all “final sales” (items could not be returned).

Massimo Dutti (Inditex) was moderately busy across three floors at 10:00 a.m., with an estimated 75 people in the store and a queue of five at the main-floor checkout. The shop offered 30 % off all merchandise will the exception of new collections (less than 5 % of instore merchandise). Inventory levels were clean, there was comfortable seating and good service.

Old Navy was quite busy. There were promotion signs galore and some items were lower than 50% off. The only innovative technology was a stationary price scanner where the customer can scan an item’s bar code and get price information.

Ross Stores did not actively participate in Black Friday and had no specific promotions for the day. Traffic was very light with few people throughout the store and no wait at the checkout. Additional tables were added in the entrance with seasonal items for the holidays. In addition, a seasonal “Toy Shop” was placed near the entrance to complement the normal toys section toward the back of the store. However, neither section offered any special promotions for holiday weekend.

Uniqlo traffic was moderately dense with a long line of more than 15 shoppers and an approximate wait time of 20 minutes. Promotions covered 75 % of the store, and most items were 20 %–30 % off. There were occasional significant mark-downs which contributed to the amount of traffic at the store.

White House Black Market (a Chico’s brand) started its Black Friday promotions early on Friday, November 16 and had heavier traffic early in the week, so crowds were lower than expected on Black Friday itself. This year’s promotion of 40% off the entire purchase was identical to its 2017 Black Friday offer. The store was very well staffed with employees keeping everything well stocked and very attentive to customers.