The Word on Grey Thursday? Consumers Responded Big Time

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Shoppers line up outside a Target waiting for doorbuster deals when the store opened at 9 p.m. Thanksgiving.

Washington—Many major retailers upped the ante this Thanksgiving weekend by offering online specials earlier and expanding Black Friday hours, with dozens opening on Thanksgiving afternoon, prompting some retail analysts to call the national holiday “Grey Thursday.”

It was a gamble that paid off. According to a National Retail Federation (NRF) survey conducted by BIGinsight over the weekend, 35 million Americans visited retail stores and websites on Grey Thursday—up from 29 million last year. Moreover, traffic and spending online and in stores on Black Friday reached 89 million shoppers, up from 63 million in 2011. Moreover, 28.0% of weekend shoppers were at the stores by midnight on Black Friday, compared to 24.4% last year.

For the Black Friday weekend as a whole, a record 247 million shoppers** visited stores and websites over Black Friday weekend, up from 226 million last year. And in positive sign that consumers may feel better about the U.S. economy, the average holiday shopper spent $423 this weekend, up from $398 last year. Total spending reached an estimated $59.1 billion.

“To keep their customers excited about holiday shopping, retailers will continue to offer attractive promotions through December, and provide strong consumer value with low prices, enhanced mobile and online offerings, and unique product assortment,” said Matthew Shay, NRF president/ceo.

Weekend Shopping: Multiple Visits to Stores and Websites

The weekend shopping bonanza wasn’t limited to stores; consumers also spent more of their holiday budget online. According to the survey, the average person spent $172.42 online over the weekend, or approximately 40.7% of their total weekend spending, up from 37.8% last year.

NRF also asked shoppers which days they shopped online: more than a quarter (27.0%) said they shopped online on Thanksgiving Day, and nearly half (47.5%) on Black Friday.

“There’s no question that millions of people were drawn to retailers’ aggressive online promotions this weekend, making sure to research and compare prices days in advance to ensure they were getting the best deal they could,” said Pam Goodfellow, BIGinsight consumer insights director. “However, with shopper traffic increasing at department, discount, and clothing stores over the weekend, it’s clear that consumers still recognize Black Friday as one of the biggest shopping days of the year, as they have for decades.”

“Self Gifts” and Other Gifts: Apparel, Accessories Top Lists

Lured by deep discounts and practical spending habits, eight in 10 (79.6%) shoppers took advantage of retailers’ weekend promotions to buy non-gift items.

Over their weekend shopping trips, looking for both “self-gifts” and gifts for others, nearly six in 10 (57.7%) bought apparel and accessories, up from 51.4% last year. Gift buyers also bought toys (34.6%), books, CDs, DVDs, video games (39.8%), electronics (37.7%), and jewelry (15.2%). Nearly one-third (32.6%) of shoppers bought gift cards over the weekend, a nearly 10 percentage points increase from the 23.1% who did so last year.

Meanwhile, The NPD Group, Inc., a leading market research firm, reported on Friday that its in-store interviews with consumers found “self gifting definitely played a major role in sales.”

“Consumers were very strategic in getting the deals on items they wanted for themselves,” noted Marshal Cohen, chief industry analysts for NPD. “Last year 26% of consumers bought for themselves while buying for others during Black Friday weekend, making 2011 a record year. Not only may self-gifting approach 26%, it could even surpass it.”

According to the NPD’s findings, winning categories on Thursday and Friday included women’s shoes, fashion accessories, toys, sporting goods and select consumer electronics.

By retail channel, the NRF found more than half (53.5%) of shoppers visited department stores on Black Friday weekend, up from 48.7% last year. Additionally, consumers shopped at discount stores (39.4%), clothing stores (29.0%), electronics stores (33.0%), grocery stores (21.7%), and drug stores (12.7%). Consumers also took advantage of online deals, too: 43.8% of shoppers visited retailers’ websites, up from 35.2% last year.

What about the consumers who stayed home? The NPD Group found 42% said the major reason they stayed away was because stores were “too crowded.” “That’s a drop off of 10% from last year, which means people were willing to shop Black Friday. So the staggered hours and the Thursday opening worked for retailers in that regard.”

About the Survey

The survey, conducted Nov. 23 to 24 by BIGinsight for NRF, polled 4,005 consumers and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.6%.

* NRF’s definition of “Black Friday weekend” includes Thursday, Friday, Saturday and projected spending for Sunday.

** Estimated number of shoppers Thursday through Sunday includes individual consumers shopping on multiple days. The estimated number of unique consumers shopping in-store or online is 139.4 million adults shopping multiple days over the 4-day weekend.



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