Welcome to the New Black Friday/Holiday Selling Season
Pandemic will reshape holiday selling landscape, as retailers consider new approaches.

Ahh, the pre-pandemic Black Friday, a vision of long lines of shoppers, jammed-to-the-rafters retail locations and a kind of madhouse atmosphere that had extended to include a good chunk of Thanksgiving Thursday.


The New Normal
During the past few years, the entire Thanksgiving week (the Monday before Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday) has become a deals marathon, with major players (Walmart, Amazon, Target, Best Buy, Kohl’s, JCPenney) trying to one-up each other by sending their actual Black Friday deals live early. Before that traditionally comes the steady march of “early” and “pre” Black Friday sales, during which retailers try to convince shoppers to purchase less-exciting items at less-exciting prices. This year, we expect both the actual Black Friday sales and the pre-Black Friday sales to arrive even earlier. We expect to see Black Friday deals starting up in October. In fact, Macy’s and Target have both already said this will be their timing. However, at least one of the big boys has announced they won’t have their physical location open on Thanksgiving this year. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has announced they will close their doors on Thanksgiving Day this year for the first time since the 1980s. The retailer has issued a statement that the move is a “gesture of thanks to associates who have had a ‘trying year’ serving customers as stores stayed open during the COVID-19 pandemic.” To that, we say bravo!
Well, we’ll surely see some of that in 2020, just not quite as much, as that appears to be the feeling from those that track this retail phenomenon every year. Thus, this might be a slightly more complicated Q4, due to the pandemic, than U.S. retailers are used to. With a COVID-fueled global recession on the horizon and inventory issues lingering, some adjustments to the usual plan may be in order this time around. Add to this the fact that Black Friday has actually become almost a week-long event with Thanksgiving Eve, Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday now a regular part of the mix, and it’s easy to see why many retailers are changing up their efforts year-to-year to stay on top of these new opportunities. Let’s take a look at what a few of the CE industry analysts are predicting as Black Friday and the Q4 holiday sell beckon.
NPD Sees ‘Historic’ Tech Sales
As consumers’ technology needs have been fueled by the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, NPD is expecting an historic holiday selling season for the category for 2020. Technology has played an even more crucial role than usual in keeping people connected, and sales have been up year over year since March, when COVID-19 restrictions began in the U.S. NPD data shows that in the months that followed, technology sales experienced double-digit year-over-year growth and this momentum is expected to continue into Q4.  In fact, according to NPD’s Future of Tech report, Q4 2020 will see historic growth of 18% compared to Q4 2019, which saw 4% growth compared to Q4 2018. The second quarter of 2020 saw healthy gains in categories associated with learning and working from home, as consumers across the U.S. outfitted their home offices with the equipment needed to maintain productivity. Gains in home entertainment categories were notable as well, as consumers looked for ways to fill time while at home for an extended period. High growth categories included: notebook computers (+45%), tablets (37%), monitors (+84%), printers (+59%), and keyboards and mice (62%).
Black Friday Lines Won’t Disappear
“Sales of items we need to get through the school or workday took priority in the first half of this year, but as we head into Q4 and the holidays we expect many of these ‘needs’ will have been satisfied and consumers will begin to purchase items they consider to be ‘wants’ or gifts for the holiday season, such as TVs and noise-cancelling headphones,” said Ben Arnold, executive director, industry analyst for The NPD Group. However, NPD adds that while the tech gear on consumers’ Q4 shopping lists may not be much different than the typical holiday season, the way they shop for those products may differ due to social distancing requirements. According to NPD Checkout data, in Q2, e-commerce represented 69% of consumer technology sales, up from 48% during the same time last year, and that number is expected to remain above 60% moving forward. Additionally, BOPUS (buy online and pick up in store) purchases accounted for approximately a quarter of online technology sales in Q2, as consumers shifted to new ways of purchasing accelerated by COVID-19. “Black Friday lines won’t disappear, but we expect lines of consumers waiting for store openings will be replaced by long queues of cars eagerly waiting for Buy Online, Pickup Curbside purchases to be placed in their vehicle,” said Stephen Baker, vice president, industry advisor for The NPD Group. “As we head into Q4 and into 2021, we’re forecasting technology sales will remain strong as the pandemic has renewed recognition of the critical value of technology in the modern lifestyle, sped-up product upgrade cycles and created larger installed bases that will benefit the industry moving forward.”
The outlook from eMarketer is predicting tepid overall consumer spending growth for the 2020 holiday season. They see overall growth rates softening amid signs of a weakening consumer economy, with total retail spending to increase 3.4% to $1.042 trillion. However, they see eCommerce growth accelerating slightly to 13.9%, reaching $156.69 billion.
As a comparison, the 2019 growth numbers were as follows:
Total retail spending was up 3.7% to $1.007 trillion, marking the first-ever trillion-dollar holiday selling season. Brick-and-mortar sales grew 2.4% to $869.40 billion, while ecommerce posted a more respectable growth rate of 13.2%, reaching $137.55 billion.
eMarketer: Less Robust Growth in 2020
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