After a lackluster Black Friday weekend at the mall, there is extra pressure on retailers to goose sales during the particularly brief and intense period before Christmas 2013.
Leading into the big Thanksgiving-Black Friday shopping weekend of 2013, in addition to rumors about discounts and speculation about which gadgets and toys would be hot sellers, there was a lot of talk about the calendar. Specifically, the discussion centered on how Thanksgiving is celebrated particularly late in November this year, meaning that there would be only four shopping weekends (not five as usual) between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Some have been worried that a shortened shopping season will translate into less overall spending by consumers. More likely, however, is that the quirks of the 2013 calendar mean that shopping efforts will simply be concentrated into fewer days. “Some years there are more or less shopping days, and sometime there are additional shopping Saturdays, but that doesn’t make much difference,” John Talbott, associate director of Indiana University’s Center for Education and Research in Retailing, explained to the Baltimore Sun. “The season is going to be what it’s going to be in terms of economic capacity.”
Erik Karson, a marketing professor at the Villanova University School of Business, agreed with that assessment in a recent phone interview. “Have you ever heard someone say they cut back on their spending because they had a little less time to go shopping one year?” he said. “That’s silly. People are going to spend what they’re going to spend. They’ll just do it quicker.”
While the calendar cannot be blamed (or credited) for retail sales totals being bad or good in a given year, the 2013 calendar seems to be impacting the retail scene in one key way: With fewer days for shopping, “every day counts a bit more for retailers,” said Karson. “If sales aren’t going well for few days, that’s a really big problem.”
In what’s been described as an especially desperate and competitive season for retailers, the shortened period between Black Friday and Christmas 2013 puts more pressure on stores than usual to produce sales each and every day. And now that it looks like consumers cut back on spending during the Black Friday weekend, retailers will feel even more under the gun to unload inventory and boost sales with Christmas just three scant weeks ahead.
For shoppers hunting for bargains, this scenario could be a bonanza. “There will be some panic sales,” Poonam Goyal, an analyst for Bloomberg Industries, predicted to Bloomberg News. “Retailers didn’t get what they wanted from Black Friday and they will need to make it up in the next three weeks.”
One of the most commonly used words to describe shoppers this season is “cautious.” Consumers are holding back on spending due to a wide range of factors, including stagnant wages, the lingering effects of the Great Recession and, more recently, the federal shutdown, and a general lack of confidence in the economy. Some shoppers are also getting wiser concerning the pricing strategies and marketing games played by retailers that entice them to buy impulsively in stores. One of the trends noted this year has been the rise of “webrooming,” in which shoppers research goods thoroughly online before heading to a store on an express mission to make the purchase—at exactly the price desired, without the possibility of being talked into buying something else by a store staffer.
In fact, retail analysts cited in the Bloomberg story note an increase in “mission shopping,” in which the consumer visits a store to buy one specific item and leaves without browsing—and without remotely entertaining the possibility of impulse buys. When this happens, it’s bad news for retailers, who rely on customers filling shopping carts with goods they hadn’t planned on buying.
Retailers don’t want to be left with tons of unsold merchandise when the holiday season ends, so when sales underwhelm at the start of the season, they typically resort to steep discounts to move goods. (Remember what happened last year to the Target-Neiman Marcus collection, which failed to generate interest with shoppers and wound up marked down by 70%?) Because the 2013 shopping season is shorter and more intense than usual, and because stores didn’t have gangbuster sales on the Black Friday weekend, retailers are likely to feel the panic setting in. For shoppers, this means that stores are apt to push discounts that are bigger and that appear earlier compared to most years.