Traditionally, Black Friday retail sales in the U.S., falling on the public day off that is the day after Thanksgiving, has been a bellweather for the holiday shopping season. But this year, retailers have been trying to preempt Black Friday in order to get a jump on holiday sales.
Target tried to literally move Christmas to July with its summertime "Bonus Black Friday" and "Summer Cyber Week" sales. Meanwhile, Amazon said it would turn Black Friday into a whole week of special deals beginning on Monday, November 19, the week of Thanksgiving. Walmart, on the other hand, may have something to fear, as employees threatened to blacken the chain's holiday sales with a possible Black Friday strike.
The good news for retailers is that consumers are apparently ready to shop. The majority of U.S. consumers, 51 percent, have already made their holiday shopping plans this year and will make purchases with money they have set aside specifically for the holidays, according to the just-released Accenture Holiday Shopping Survey.
While interest in Black Friday shopping showed a decline in the last three years of the Accenture survey, this year it bounced back, with 53 percent of consumers planning to shop on Black Friday. In fact, 52 percent of consumers said they would be willing to shop online on Thanksgiving Day if retailers offer discounts.
In terms of spending, the Accenture survey reflects what could be an increasingly optimistic outlook. Our of the 63 percent of consumers who expect to spend the same on their holiday shopping this year, the survey indicates a more positive outlook than last year. Fewer consumers have concerns about the economy (23 percent this year, compared to 30 percent in 2011). Consumers are expected to spend an average of $582 on holiday shopping this season; half (52 percent) expect to increase their spending by $250 or more.
Accenture says a continuing factor in shopping this holiday season will be a phenomenon known as "showrooming," when consumers visit retail stores to check out items of interest but then purchase them online instead of in the stores.
"Consumers don't just want to shop online," said Chris Donnelly, managing director of Accenture's Retail practice, "they want a simple and seamless shopping experience that offers them convenience and value. As recent announcements have shown, some traditional retailers are starting to tackle showrooming head-on this holiday season with tactics such as price matching against their online competitors but they must also strengthen their customer service and product availability in order to really fight back." One example is Walmart's recent move to abandon selling Amazon's Kindle in its stores as the retail chain increasingly faces direct competition from Amazon.
While consumers have put away cash for the holidays, they are still very motivated by discounts and promotions — 82 percent of shoppers cited them as important, and 78 percent say that at least half of their holiday shopping purchases will be discounted items, according to Accenture. Three quarters of shoppers (75 percent) said they will be buying gifts at discount retailers, even as online-only retailers continue to gain in popularity (44 percent this year, compared to 41 percent in 2011).
Not surprisingly, tablet and smartphone shopping is on the rise. This year, 25 percent of consumers intent to use these devices to buy holiday gifts, compared to 17 percent in 2011. The top reason cited? Unfortunately for traditional retailers, it's to compare prices while in a store.