Bleak Friday

Get ready. The stories about Black Friday will start ramping up today. And by the time you awaken from a tryptophan induced haze on Friday morning,  you can expect your TV to be chock-a-block with shots of reporters standing outside Walmarts and Best Buys and Apple stores and within some big fancy mall opining on what it all means.

Spoiler alert: it means nothing. Absolutely nothing.

As the hype grows I thought I’d weigh in with a few facts.

Black Friday is not the biggest shopping day of the year. In recent history the Saturday before Christmas and the day after are the biggest. In fact, several other days right before Christmas will likely rival Black Friday’s sales volume this year.

It’s declining in importance. As online sales continue to grow, while brick & mortar sales are at best flat, the relative share of total holiday sales done in stores on Black Friday is decreasing. When you marry that with a trend toward early release of Black Friday deals, Thanksgiving Day store openings and growing terrorism fears, more and more Black Friday matters less and less.

Black Friday success (or failure) is mostly meaningless. Many folks have tried to determine the correlation between the industry–and individual retailer performance–on Black Friday and how the total holiday season will turn out. There is none. So move along. Nothing to see here.

For consumers, it’s mostly a con. Study after study shows that, with few exceptions–mostly the heavily promoted, limited quantity “door busters”–the savings just aren’t that good. In fact, prices tend to be better in December. With many retailers sitting on higher than anticipated inventory levels going into the holiday, I’d predict the best deals will come late in the season, including during the week after Christmas.

The customer experience is terrible. With over-flowing parking lots, teeming throngs, long checkout lines and, in some cases, a need to camp out hours before the doors open to have a chance of scoring an actual great deal, shopping on Black Friday is the ultimate  soul-crushing hassle. Apparently some people thrive on this sort of thing. I hope they get the help they need.

Now about Cyber Monday….



Hype-y Holidays: The Mythology of Black Friday and Cyber Monday

The media hype around “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” is already at a fevered pitch–and the din will only grow louder over the next few days. But can we get real for a moment?

To be sure, these are very large volume days. Black Friday sales will likely push $20 billion, and Cyber-Monday revenues are virtually (ha!) certain to be record-setting. But consider a few facts for a moment.

First, studies have shown that retailers’ performance on these two days has little or no correlation to their total holiday performance.

Second, the relative contribution of these two days to total holiday spending is small (for e-commerce players only about 4% of total holiday season sales are done on Cyber Monday). And given intense promotional activity, gross margins are skimpy at best, meaning the relative contribution to profits is even smaller.

Third, with quite a few brick and mortar retailers opening on Thanksgiving–and many online sites advancing “door buster” promotions to today and tomorrow–sales will get spread out a bit more than last year’s spending pattern.

Lastly, a lot can and will happen between Cyber Monday and Christmas.  A look at last year’s data from comScore strongly suggests that there are many large shopping days ahead.

 Top 10 Online Spending Days of 2010 Holiday Season
Date Spending $MM)
Monday, Nov. 29 (Cyber Monday) $1,028
Monday, Dec. 13 (Green Monday) $954
Monday, Dec. 6 $943
Friday, Dec. 17 (Free Shipping Day) $942
Thursday, Dec. 16 $930
Tuesday, Dec. 14 $913
Tuesday, Nov. 30 $911
Wednesday, Dec. 8 $901
Thursday, Dec. 9 $898
Tuesday, Dec. 7 $880

Stated simply and Yoda-like, two days do not a successful holiday season make.