With each passing year, it seems like the twinkly lights, newspaper inserts and door busters galore start earlier and earlier. The 2014 holiday season will be no different. As stores pull out all the stops to offer holiday promotions as early as possible this upcoming season, consumers will continue to shift their shopping dollars to November.
When the clock strikes midnight on Halloween, it will kick off the official holiday shopping season, which is measured from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31. While this time frame stays steady each and every year, there are always nuances to the calendar that dictate consumer behavior.
For example, with Oct. 31 falling on a Friday this year, there will be four full shopping weekends in November before the busy shopping week of Thanksgiving even begins. As a result, it’s likely that November will continue to take a bigger bite out of the holiday retail sales pie.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the gap in sales between November and December has steadily narrowed over the past decade. In 2004, 60% of holiday sales took place in December and 40% occurred in November, while in 2013 those numbers shifted to 55.8% and 44.2%, respectively. While this may not seem like a significant shift upon first glance, moving the needle even a few percentage points in the scheme of hundreds of billions of dollars is impressive.
Of course, this season will feature perennial door buster Black Friday, but we’ll also see more stores try to take advantage of “Gray Thursday” — Thanksgiving Day promotions, adjusted hours and special bargains. These two days will likely blend even closer together this year, forming a powerful November double punch as we head into December.
While November will command more attention (and dollars) from shoppers than it has in the past, December will be no slouch. There are 28 days between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas this year, which is an average amount of days for the period between the two holidays.
In 2012, we saw the longest possible stretch during this time at 32 days, while 2013 clocked in at a much shorter 26. Interestingly enough, 2013’s season, while significantly shorter, recorded the highest recorded retail sales revenue; likely due to increased promotions and shopper anxiety.
Another calendar nuance this year may make some retailers more optimistic about a late season surge, and that’s the first day of Hanukkah, which will be begin on Tuesday, Dec. 16 and be celebrated through Dec. 24. This is significantly later than Hanukkah last year, which began on Thanksgiving Day, and could produce an even stronger late-season revenue boost for December.
Shopper behavior patterns, driven by the shifting promotional cycle and calendar nuances, will also play a part in retailers’ success this year. Many stores are encouraged by the resiliency of brick-and-mortar sales, which were up 2.7% during the 2013 holiday shopping season, according to ShopperTrak.
While online sales growth remains strong, it’s not overtaking physical retail sales. In fact, online sales have started to slow, and nearly 95% of all retail sales still take place in brick and mortar locations.
What this means for retailers as they gear up for their busiest time of year is that they must deliver increasingly personal and seamlessly integrated omnichannel experiences to create the best customer experience possible. Stores need to provide customers with unique, customized environments for maximum engagement. At the same time, stores’ online presence should be in sync with physical locations: for example, making it easy for shoppers to find online items in a store nearby.
To truly deliver the best customer experience needed across channels, retailers must also tear down the silos when it comes to measurement. For example, applying concepts from Internet metrics to in-store performance, such as customer dwell time and abandonment, can help retailers make smarter decisions to ultimately drive revenue. Brands with that type of strategic approach will win the day this holiday, and also throughout the year.
Bill Martin is the founder of ShopperTrak, a leading global provider of location-based analytics, offering insights into consumer behavior to improve profitability and effectiveness. ShopperTrak customers gain insights through the use of perimeter, interior and performance analytics to better understand their customers, enabling them to enhance the shopping experience to increase traffic, conversion and transaction size.