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Holiday Spending Jumped 16 Percent Over Thanksgiving Weekend, NRF Says

Holiday shoppers turned out in full force over the five-day Thanksgiving weekend and got retail’s biggest season off to a strong start, NRF said Tuesday.

From Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday, 189.6 million shoppers visited stores and websites to commence seasonal shopping, a 14.3 percent increase over 2018’s turnout, said NRF, which worked with Prosper Analytics and Insights to survey 6,746 adult consumers.

And not only did more consumers get in on the traditional kickoff to holiday shopping, but data also shows their average spending increased as well, climbing 16 percent from last year to reach roughly $362. That figure includes purchases like décor and food in addition to gifts, the retail trade organization noted.

Spurred on perhaps by early retail promotions, a larger number of consumers told NRF they commenced their holiday shopping over the long weekend, up to 86 percent from 77 percent last year, which president and CEO Matthew Shay, speaking on a media call, attributed to the “much discussed” compressed calendar that has merchants scrambling to land every sale they can in the six-days-shorter time span.

“They’re also closer to the finish line in terms of completing their shopping lists,” Shay said, noting that consumers said they managed to buy just more than half (52 percent) of the gifts on their lists over the weekend, up from 44 percent in the same 2018 timeframe.

Department stores emerged as the most popular shopping destination, attracting 50 percent of all survey takers. But Shay clarified that retailers self-report their categories, and that more discount merchants are likely included under the “department store” umbrella. A similar figure, 49 percent, shopped e-commerce, and apparel stores attracted 36 percent of consumers.

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Apparel continued its reign as the top holiday gift, with 58 percent of consumers claiming to have purchased clothing, more than toys (33 percent) or electronics (31 percent). And millennials in the 25-to-34 age range were even more likely (62 percent) to purchase apparel, NRF said.

Consumers’ willingness to shop early and check more names off their lists could lead to a distinct lull in shopping until the last weekend before Christmas—and aggressive retail promotions seemed to have persuaded shoppers to spend. “Only 39 percent of the shoppers we surveyed indicated that they believe deals were going to get substantially better as we got nearer to Christmas,” Shay explained.

From brick-and-mortar to click and collect, shopping was strong across channels. Though more people shopping on a website than in a store—142 million versus 124 million—75 million opted for the “really seamless” experience of shopping in both channels, Shay noted, crediting retail investments in inventory management, pricing and promotions for creating attractive channel-agnostic experiences.

NRF observed a “substantial jump” in the numbers of under-25 consumers (87 percent, up front 69 percent)) and men (73 percent, up from 65 percent) shopping over the weekend, Shay said of the demographics typically prone to procrastination.

Confirming what companies like Adobe and Salesforce have previously reported, the survey indicated that 75 percent of all consumers used their mobile phone to shop over the weekend.

And despite continuing concerns about the impact of tariffs on prices at retail, Shay said there’s little evidence to support the notion that the trade war is dampening the shopper’s appetite to spend.

“Consumers have the ability to bifurcate their attitude, which is knowing they’ve got a concern about [tariffs], and their actions and activities, which is they’re still out shopping in a very confident way,” Shay said.

Salesforce data released early Tuesday reinforces the strength of digital shopping over the $31-billion Cyber Week, which concluded on Cyber Monday. The CRM software firm said retailers employed sophisticated tools including artificial intelligence as well as enticing mobile and social campaigns to attract shoppers and drive that 15 percent bump in digital revenue.

Similar to NRF’s findings, Salesforce said mobile emerged as the “MVP” of the Cyber Week shopping period, driving 73 percent of digital traffic, 7 percent higher than last year.

“With a shorter holiday season, the pressure was on brands and retailers this Cyber Week,” Rob Garf, vice president of strategy and insights for retail and consumer goods, Salesforce, said.

Retail winners, he added, were those that erased the “friction between inspiration and purchase with artificial intelligence, click and collect and improved mobile usability” to attract shoppers who prioritize personalization, convenience and speed.

To keep the shopping momentum going, retailers can’t miss out on the opportunity to lure shoppers back for more. According to data from email marketing and personalization firm Bluecore, more than half (54 percent) of Black Friday’s digital purchases came from first-time buyers, and 22 percent are expected to return for a repeat purchase within 108 days. Companies selling shoes online attracted the most new customers, with 68 percent of consumers shopping a footwear merchant for the first time.

What’s more, average order values in the apparel, beauty and jewelry verticals rose between 5 percent and 20 percent, the company said, and traffic to footwear e-commerce sites registered a rare Black Friday increase relative to a regular calendar day. Visits ticked up 260 percent, versus a 240 percent boost on Black Friday 2018, Bluecore said. Year-over-year traffic was down across most categories, including apparel.

As customer acquisition costs spiral, “shopping holidays like Black Friday, where we’re seeing an average of 54 percent of purchases from new customers, are critical to next year’s growth,” Bluecore CEO Fayez Mohamood said.

“Even more important than first-time buyer numbers is the number of new shoppers that become repeat buyers over time,” Mohamood added. “Brands can influence second-time purchases by engaging these new customers immediately with relevant digital communications. Those that do can expect to see nearly a quarter (22 percent) of new customers become repeat shoppers in 2020—in response to lesser or no discounts.”