Whether you call it “Thanksgiving,” “Black Friday,” or “Cyber” weekend, the annual five-day Thursday-Monday shopping event is evolving this year. Despite the continued COVID-19 pandemic, shoppers still turned out at physical retailers, albeit in smaller numbers as a seismic shift to online shopping finally took place.
According to data provided by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Prosper Insights & Analytics as part of their annual Thanksgiving shopping survey, an estimated 186.4 million consumers shopped during the big holiday kick-off weekend. Among those surveyed, 32% said that they purchased toys during a weekend when the number of Black Friday shoppers online topped 100 million for the first time ever following earlier, season-long promotions from many retailers.
“As expected, consumers have embraced an earlier start to the holiday shopping season, but many were also prepared to embrace a long-standing tradition of turning out online and in stores over Thanksgiving weekend to make gift purchases for family and friends,” says NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Retailers have been planning for the season by ensuring that their stores are safe, their associates are trained, the inventory is stocked, and the online experience is seamless. Many things have changed since the onset of the pandemic, but the commitment by retailers to meet the consumer where, when, and how they shop at the prices they want to pay never changes.”
Digital-only shoppers increased 44% for the weekend as in-store shoppers declined. Physical retailers experienced a 37% drop in guests on Black Friday following a 55% decline on Thanksgiving day as many stores joined a growing movement to stay closed for the holiday. Seventy percent of consumers surveyed said they still feel safe shopping in stores this season thanks to social distancing and other COVID-19 precautions put in place by retailers.
While the U.S. toy industry is experiencing record growth this year, it’s interesting to note that NRF data for the holiday weekend reflects a trend of fewer consumers purchasing toys during the period year-over-year, perhaps due to earlier shopping or a tendency to wait for aggressive pricing and deals in December. This year’s 32% response from toy shoppers is back to 2015-16 levels, down from 33% last year, 34% in 2018, and 38% in 2017.
NRF defines the holiday season as running from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31. The organization notes that its data may differ from other organizations that use different methodology or define the holiday season as being longer, or include other retail outlets not tracked by the NRF.