Santas crossing the street

Black Friday, move over; Onyx Friday reigns

target-christmas-trees

Forget about Black Friday. It’s toast.

At least in the day-after-Thanksgiving and busting-down-the-doors sense. It’s no longer the biggest shopping day of the year and the idea of focusing on one day of in-store shopping is as decrepit as the notion of single-channel shopping itself.

There is a new Black Friday (of course there is) and it’s not so much a day, but a state of mind. Consumers shop when they want, where they care to and on the devices they prefer to use. And naturally, retailers are responding.

Amazon started its Black Friday sales days ago. Walmart’s online Black Friday is up and running. Target’s, too. Santas in Florida, Arizona, and no doubt elsewhere, are already sitting in malls that have kicked off the now nearly-three-months-long holiday season.

And why not? A survey conducted for BloomReach by Survata shows that 42 percent of shoppers start their holiday shopping by Labor Day weekend. More than six in 10 say they’ll start by Black Friday at the latest. Adobe says nearly a third of consumers started their holiday shopping before November this year, an increase of 5 percent from last year.

But I’m a traditionalist and even if I rarely set foot in a store on Black Friday, I like having the milestone, the marker, that says the holiday shopping season has begun. And so, I’m declaring a new symbolic kickoff. Call it Onyx Friday, a multichannel, mega-start to holiday shopping. The day? November 11.

Yes, today.

It’s not an arbitrary choice. I have data. In fact, BloomReach data shows that Nov. 11 last year matched Thanksgiving and came within striking distance of Black Friday in online buying. And I have what’s known as thick data — or anecdotal evidence —  to back it up. Call the data/anecdotal evidence combo the sign of a tipping point: Nov. 11 is now a day of voluminous online shopping and holiday hullabaloo in malls that says, when it comes to holiday shopping, we’re all in.

Santas crossing a San Francisco street

First, consider the Santa invasions. A quick internet search finds that shopping centers in Sacramento, Calif., Novi, Michigan, and Concord, Calif., will kick off Santa-mania today. Yes, the jolly old elf will be taking his throne 11 days after Halloween to start the yule madness.

“Actually, it’s three or four days later than we normally open it,” says Kim Trupiano, marketing and partnership director of Sunvalley Shopping Center in Concord, Calif.

She says that the mall’s marketers wanted to wait to kick into the holiday spirit this year until the distraction of the presidential election had passed. But Nov. 11 made sense for other reasons, too.

“Friday not only happens to be a great day to kick things off, but it’s a federal holiday,” she says, referring to Veterans Day. “A lot of city offices are closed and the kids are out of school. And we wanted to stay away from the election because we know people are going to be so consumed by that.”

Associating no-holds-barred shopping with Veterans Day, a solemn day on which we honor our military veterans, is no doubt disconcerting for some. But Trupiano, whose husband is a Gulf War veteran, says the shopping center incorporates recognition for veterans into the day through discounts and the like.

“It’s a big family day. The kids are off. The parents may be off,” she says. “I think it’s going to be a win-win that day.”

It’s also a great day for many to kickoff online shopping, according to BloomReach data. Last year, we declared Veterans Day the new Black Friday based on data that showed that the day not only had a high number of online orders, but also a high number of shoppers intent on buying.

In fact, data from a subset of BloomReach customers indicated that the number of online purchases on Veterans Day last year was virtually the same as those on Thanksgiving Day, another day emerging as a heavy shopping day. And online orders on Veterans Day 2015 fell only 15 percent short of the number on Black Friday.

Nearly as important as the number of online orders was the way shoppers behaved on Veterans Day. Last year, my BloomReach colleagues and I designed a proxy for consumer intent. The idea was to see how focused shoppers were on actually buying on a given day, as opposed to browsing.

We looked at the ratio of the number of products viewed to the number of purchases. The thinking: The fewer products a shopper looked at before buying, the more focused that shopper was on buying an item on that particular shopping excursion.

browse-vs-buy-holiday

The red line in the graphic above represents the average number of products consumers looked at in November 2015 before placing an order — or converting, to use the industry term. The blue line represents the number of products viewed on a given day. Dips below the red line represent high-intent-to-buy days. Those above? Low-intent-to-buy.

You can see that Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11, is far and away the day with highest intent to buy.

As I said last year: It’s still a little early to declare this new Black Friday a trend based on data. And Nov. 11 also happens to be Singles Day, a huge shopping day in China. The effect on U.S. retailers is hard to discern.

All that aside, based on the data, plus anecdotal evidence, it’s hard to argue that the holiday shopping season is not creeping earlier and earlier.

No doubt, says Sunvalley’s Trupiano. And for a very good reason, she adds, thinking back to the early days of stores opening up on Thanksgiving Day.

“I think if we had gotten any sense that that first Thanksgiving opening was a bust, we might not have done it the next year,” she says. “The last thing you want to do is have all the lights on and have the center open, if people aren’t going to be here. It was so robust that first Thanksgiving. We were like, ‘I guess this was a good idea.’”

So, happy Onyx Friday.

Photos by Mike Cassidy

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