The Holiday Shopping Sprint has just begun

This week’s note “From the Desk of Deborah Weinswig” (Coresight) looks at the coming shopping rush as consumers dash to buy gifts during the shortest-possible season between Black Friday and Christmas.

The numbers are in, marking a solid start to the truncated 2019 holiday shopping season. US e-commerce sales during Cyber Week hit USD 31 billion, up 15 % from the prior year, according to data from Salesforce.

The term “Cyber Week” is loosely defined and generally refers to the shopping period that includes Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, the following Sunday and Cyber Monday.

The importance of Black Friday and Cyber Monday has become more blurred every year, as Black Friday sales begin earlier in November, continue through Cyber Monday and even beyond. This year, with many large retailers such as Amazon, Best Buy, Target and Walmart began previewing or starting Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving or earlier in the week, and many Black Friday bargains continued through Cyber Monday and into the rest of the week.

Salesforce figures show how consumer online purchases have shifted timing this year. E-commerce sales grew 16 % on Thanksgiving Day, 14 % on Black Friday and 11 % on Cyber Monday. The size of these days helps put their growth rates into perspective: Thanksgiving has the lowest e-commerce sales of the three days, which means it can more easily grow quickly, and Cyber Monday is the largest, making it more difficult to post high growth rates. Still, the figures show US consumers are increasingly willing to shop on Thanksgiving Day.

With the solid increase in online sales, it’s no surprise consumers visit stores less often. Physical store traffic declined 4.2 % during the Thursday-Sunday period, and 2.1 % on Black Friday, likely owing to many deals being available online (even before the day). The early start to Black Friday and the blurring of the entire holiday weakens the need for consumers to show up at a store in person, making “doorbuster” deals less urgent.

With the Thanksgiving holiday now behind us and Black Friday deals tapering off, the sprint to complete holiday shopping in time has started. This year there are just 26 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which has implications for shoppers and retailers.

First, the number of shopping days represents the shortest possible span, so consumers have to concentrate holiday shopping within a smaller timeframe. Shoppers will likely turn to online shopping more heavily than usual with just three weekends before Christmas.

Second, the abbreviated shopping calendar also presents challenges for retailers and shippers. The last year with a similar calendar was 2013, when e-commerce was not nearly as big as it is today. We expect online sales this year will be double that of 2013, and retailers and shippers may face challenges meeting this demand. With Christmas falling on a weekday, the most recalcitrant procrastinators can still elect overnight shipping on Tuesday, December 24. For the rest of us, ground shipping deadlines are rapidly approaching, falling between December 13 and 16—the end of next week.

In 2013, execution issues and severe weather caused some shippers to miss the deadline, so many have since greatly increased capacity. UPS, for example, now delivers packages on Saturday and Sunday. FedEx’s split with Amazon earlier this year should also free up capacity for the holiday season.

Notwithstanding an outbreak of severe weather across the US, early results from the Thanksgiving weekend augur a solid holiday season. Although consumers visit stores less, they are making up for it online. Consumers can offset a shortened holiday shopping calendar and fast-approaching shipping deadlines with online shopping and express shipping.

For more information on Black Friday, see the Coresight Research report Holiday 2019: US Black Friday Sees Companies Promote More Heavily, Shoppers Continue to Migrate Online.