Reporters notebooks

Black Friday is here: The BloomReach Relevance Report

Hey, it’s Friday, black, blue, whatever. No matter the color you designate, take a minute to read the BloomReach Relevance Report — Black Friday edition.

The holiday horse race has begun

Black Friday sale sign

Yep. Just one month of shopping days until Christmas, which means one month of stories about how the holiday shopping season is going. In the world of retail and e-commerce, which are the same thing really, The four-or-so-week stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the Super Bowl, World Cup, World Series etc. rolled into one.

Unless it isn’t.

No question, the holiday shopping season is spreading out, starting earlier, maybe even going later, though that traditional date, Dec. 25, tends to put a hard stop on things. Shoppers, as we know, buy what they want, when they want to, using the device they want to — including their own two feet carrying them into a store.

It’s natural to want an answer right away: Is the holiday season going to be a good one for retailers or not? Are more people going to be shopping online than in years past? Is Amazon going to dominate?

And it’s natural — and part of their job, really — for journalists to pick up every scrap of early evidence and data to try to answer those questions. And so, what we know: Online shopping saw a big bump on Thanksgiving — up 13.6 percent in the last few hours of Thanksgiving (which are the first few hours of Black “Friday”), according to Adobe.

MarketWatch, which was among those reporting the Adobe statistics, also noted that the mobile portion of that $1.15-billion digital shopping spree, was a record $449 million, most of that spent via smartphone.

The general trends have been building, though the numbers are interesting. Thanksgiving emerged as a big shopping day last year, when BloomReach data indicated that the new holiday tradition was to pass the stuffing and the gravy and then whip out the smartphone for some quick shopping before the dishes were done.

And mobile, well, it’s a thing, perhaps you’ve heard.

The danger, of course, is reading too much into the early signs. Let’s face it, it’s pretty easy to find a big line of people on Thanksgiving, relieved to have fled political talk with relatives, waiting to bust the doors at their favorite retailer. The whole story, won’t be known until the season plays itself out.

Speaking of stories, did you ever wonder if the people quoted in those holiday shopping stories get upset that the gifts they’re getting for family members are splashed across readers’ screens? Kind of blows the surprise. Right, Carrie Spicer, of Candler, whose husband is getting a watch, according to USA Today?

Hope he likes it. If not, he better start dropping hints fast.

More than any other, this Black Friday shows changing shopping habits

shopping-apps-on-iphone

Like that “more than any other” headline? Yeah, we’ll pretty much be able to say that every year for years to come. Digital shopping has shaken up everything and as it continues to grow, it will continue to shake things up.

The New York Times will let you live vicariously, if you don’t actually like to go into crowded stores on Black Friday. The NYT has been gathering shopping stories that tell the tale of shopping in 2016.

The very first story reminds retailers of something they already know: There is no more online vs. in-store shopping. Consumers shop whenever they want and however they want to. Exhibit One: Walter Reinoso at Foot Locker. He ordered his new kicks online and then showed up at the store to pick them up.

Order online, pickup-in-store. It’s what some customers want and so retailers need to supply it. Customer experience has never been more important. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary.

We also like how the NYT threw in some shopping tips. There is one we take issue with, however.

“Decide whether you’re going to focus on buying online or offline because it’s difficult to do both,” the tip sheet says.

Whether it’s difficult or not, it’s how people shop. We offer Exhibit One, as Exhibit One. Shoppers bounce back and forth between online and in-store. In fact, they shop online while in the store. They don’t think about it as “online shopping” or “in-store shopping.” To consumers, it’s just shopping.

Trying to beat Amazon at its game is no way to win

Amazon boxes on hotel cart

While we’re taking issue… The Wall Street Journal has a perfectly good story about retailers gearing up and bearing down for Black Friday. OK, nothing is perfect.

The story starts by saying that retailers are offering hefty discounts in stores and earlier deals online to compete with Amazon, among others. And while that might be the case, it’s not the right strategy.

OK, we’re guessing most retailers know what they’re doing and the hefty discounts and earlier deals are not the only thing they’re doing. Just so happens we recently wrote a series that lays out a number of approaches retailers can take to thrive in the era of Amazon.

Because here’s the thing about offering deeper and deeper discounts to score a competitive advantage: Pretty soon, you can’t discount anymore. And, of course, as you discount, you also diminish your profit.

We talked to Deloitte retail expert Kasey Lobaugh recently about this very issue. Lobaugh has presented Deloitte’s work on digital disruption a number of times. His conclusion: The best way retailers can thrive amid rapidly growing competition is to provide a distinctive customer experience and distinctive inventory.

In his conversation with the BRRR, Lobaugh said Amazon is a big threat in three categories: faster, cheaper and easier. Retailers, then, need to look at what they offer through the lens of cost and benefit.

Is the cost of dealing with a particular retailer, for instance driving to location and physically walking into a store, worth the benefit that customer gets from the transaction?

“Those retailers that are winning are retailers that, at least for the time being, still have enough benefit to overcome the cost,” he said.

Maybe that’s offering a product that no one else sells. Or offering a better version of a product that some others sell. Or providing better service after the sale. Or better advice before the sale.

“If you built your whole model around commodity products,” he said, “it’s hard to think of whatever the answer is that makes the store more relevant again.”

Holiday shopping by the numbers

Colorful numbers

Remember how we said earlier that journalists will grab any scrap of information in order to report on the holiday shopping sweepstakes. Well, if you can’t beat them, join them. These are some pretty staggering numbers, provided by Adobe, and covering the holiday shopping season, which Adobe says starts Nov. 1.

Totaling online spending: $29.1 billion

Total online sales growth: 4.7 percent

Total number of days with online spending over $1 billion: 23

Thanksgiving Day online sales increase: 11.5 percent

Share of desktop sales: 60 percent

Smartphone share of sales:  27 percent

Tablet share of sales: 13 percent

Biggest price decrease: Tablets, 25.1 percent

Quote of the week

“This is the largest visual investment of the year, every year.” — Joshua Schulman, president of Bergdorf Goodman, to The New York Times, describing the New York store’s holiday windows, decorated with 7 million Swarovski crystals and dresses that can run five figures.

Photo of Black Friday sale sign, Amazon boxes and Reporter’s Notebook by Mike Cassidy. Photo of iPhone with apps by Jason Howie and numbers by Andy Maguire published under Creative Commons license.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.