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Not-So-Super Saturday Shoppers Played ‘Retail Chicken’

Super Saturday, the last Saturday before Christmas and one of the busiest shopping days of the year, landed on Dec. 17 this year and was a boon for a very small subset of retailers, Placer.ai found.

As in, a boon for a singular retailer of the 22 analyzed. (Hint: it doesn’t sell clothes or shoes.)

“Super Saturday, like Black Friday, still drove massive visit peaks for most chains and categories examined,” Ethan Chernofsky, vice president of marketing at Placer.ai, a foot traffic location analytics company, said. “Like many other retail holidays, while the relative peak may have declined, the overall importance is still massive.”

But was the turnout for Super Saturday as substantial as the National Retail Federation (NRFpredicted?

The Washington, D.C. trade group’s survey estimated that 180 million consumers reported plans to shop in stores, online, or through both channels on Dec. 17, which is more than a tenfold increase over what it saw last year. Of note, 72.2 million, said they planned to shop in store and online and 44.1 million indicated plans to shop only in stores.

 According to Placer.ai—which collected and analyzed data from hundreds of open-air lifestyle centers, indoor malls and outlet centers, big-box retailers, department stores, off-price retailers and specialty stores—most categories saw visits down compared to both 2021 and pre-pandemic 2019. Overall, most segments and individual retailers saw visits drop year-over-year and compared to Super Saturday 2019. But compared to the average of the past six Saturdays, foot traffic was mostly up, so shoppers are still hitting the stores just before Christmas.

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“The distance of Super Saturday to Christmas is important. There is even more time for shopping ahead of the holiday and ample evidence that the lack of major doorbuster deals limits the urgency on any specific day,” Chernofsky said. “In addition, as seen earlier in the holiday period, minor year-over-year declines could be offset by more significant visits. Whether it be because of larger basket sizes or extended discovery in an offline environment driving online sales, the magnitude of visits is clearly different than what it was a year ago, and especially compared to pre-pandemic.”

Nikki Baird, vice president of strategy at unified commerce solutions provider Aptos, agreed with Chernofsky. She further stated that shoppers are playing “retail chicken,” meaning they can see that retailers are saddled with an inventory glut and are holding out for last-minute discounts as brands blink and try to unload all that stuff—especially holiday-related products—while they still can.

“The season was stretched, so overall traffic [was] lower,” Baird said. “Also that 2021 is still not a typical year and while we were in an impending Covid surge, we also were still in a bounce-back to stores, so it’s a high bar to compare to. Comparing to the previous six Saturdays is interesting, because even though the season has been more spread out, it does show that consumer shopping is still pretty backloaded.”

The mall index, comprised of indoor malls, outdoor malls and open-air lifestyle centers, saw an overall decline year-over-year compared to 2021, with indoor malls down 4.6 percent, outlet malls down 2.6 percent and open-air lifestyle centers down 7.3 percent. It was worse than in 2019, with the three categories down 14.8 percent, 12.6 percent and 17.5 percent, respectively. However, compared to the previous six Saturdays average, all three categories were up: indoor malls saw 34.5 percent growth, outlet malls saw 33.2 percent growth and open-air lifestyle centers saw a 21.7 percent increase.

As for the industries index—comprised of groceries, discount and dollar stores, superstores, shopping centers, department stores, clothing, and recreational and sporting goods—it was a more mixed bag. Department stores were down 9 percent while clothing was down just 1.8 percent, with discount and dollar stores growing 1.1 percent year-over-year compared to 2021. Department stores were particularly hit hard compared to 2019, down 30.4 percent. Clothing was down 12.4 percent. But compared to six previous Saturdays average, department stores saw 48.5 growth and clothing saw 36.7 growth.

“The discount and dollar segment saw growth likely driven by the draw of their value orientation and wide product array ahead of the holiday,” Chernofsky said. “This category, alongside superstores, could also benefit from an extended pre-Christmas period after Super Saturday that should drive ongoing visits for those who need last-minute items ahead of the holiday.”

The big-box retailers index analyzed Costco Wholesale, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Sam’s Club, Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Lowe’s and Tractor Supply Co. Walmart saw a decline of 2.7 percent year-over-year and a 14.2 percent decline compared to 2019. But it saw 18.8 percent growth compared to the previous 6 Saturdays average. Target was down 1.5 percent year-over-year and down 8.5 percent compared to 2019, but up 34.3 percent compared to the last six Saturdays average.

The department stores index, consisting of Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Macy’s, Kohl’s and Dillard’s, saw more volatile discrepancies. Year-over-year, Nordstrom was down 9.4 percent and compared to 2019, was down 25 percent, with 33.9 percent growth compared to the previous six Saturdays average. Neiman Marcus was down 4.4 percent year-over-year and down 23.4 percent compared to 2019, with 39.5 percent growth compared to the last six Saturdays average. Macy’s was down 8 percent year-over-year and down 29.8 percent compared to 2019, but up 56.1 percent compared to the previous six Saturdays average. Kohl’s had the biggest downturn, down 17.4 percent year-over-year and down 35.7 percent compared to 2019, though it was up 42.8 percent compared to the previous six Saturdays ago. Dillard’s rounds out the category, down 12.2 percent year-over-year and down 25.8 percent compared to 2019 but was up 51.2 percent compared to the previous six Saturdays average.

The off-price retailers index considered T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, Ross Dress for Less, Burlington and Nordstrom Rack. T.J. Maxx was up 2.4 percent compared to year-over-year, though it was down 7.6 percent compared to 2019. It was up 42.6 percent compared to the previous six Saturdays average. Marshalls was also in the green, up 2.9 percent year-over-year but down 10.8 percent compared to 2019, and saw 44.6 percent growth compared to the previous six Saturdays average. Ross Dress for Less was up a mere 0.3 percent year-over-year, down 10.4 percent compared to 2019, and up 36.3 percent compared to the previous six Saturdays average. Burlington saw a downturn of 1.9 percent year-over-year and down 11.1 percent compared to 2019, though up 43.6 percent compared to the previous six Saturdays average. Nordstrom Rack took the biggest hit across the category, down 7.1 percent year-over-year and down 26.6 percent compared to 2019. It saw 23.9 percent growth compared to the previous six Saturdays average.

“Off-price retail leaders like T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, and Ross also saw visits up year over year, with others in the category either seeing similar growth or visits at nearly the same level as a year prior,” Chernofsky said. “This is very important for this sector, as it consistently sees stronger performance later in the holiday season than during the Black Friday wave.”

The final category, the specialty stores index, looked at Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Ulta Beauty and Apple stores.

Ulta Beauty, the big winner among all 22 nameplates, was the only brand that saw growth, up 7.4 percent year-over-year and up 2.7 percent compared to 2019, with 52 percent growth compared to the previous six Saturdays average. Dick’s Sporting Goods was down 3.2 percent year-over-year and down 15.6 percent compared to 2019, but saw the biggest growth compared to the previous six Saturdays average at 68.7 percent.

Of the 32 brands and categories tracked, only three—discount and dollar stores, BJ’s Wholesale Club and Ulta Beauty—showed growth compared to last year. And only Ulta and discount and dollar stores showed growth compared to 2019.

“This reflects some of the unevenness of demand shifts among consumers­—retailers just can’t move that fast to adjust their inventory to demand changes, and consumers have been all over the place; leisurewear versus occasionwear, spending for travel versus spending for back to the office,” Baird said. “Definitely given the bite of inflation, it’s not surprising that consumers are trading down. That’s hitting lower-income consumers pretty hard right now. And then when retailers have the inventory that consumers are looking for, they do very well. But it has not been an easy thing to predict.”

How retailers will fare for the season as a whole, Baird said, will be uneven. The top and bottom—luxury and discount—will fare well. Overall, she said that retailers will likely have too much inventory and will need to discount more than they’d like in January.

“Anytime numbers are lower than last year, that’s not a good thing. But this was going to be a tough year,” Sucharita Kodali, vice president and principal analyst of global market research company Forrester, said. “Retail stores had been flat for most of the year and consumers have been worried about inflation. Even Amazon wasn’t seeing great growth for most of the year. I wouldn’t say it was lower than expected but it is disappointing. Until the economy and consumer confidence recover, we probably won’t see a broad retail rebound.”