Black Friday Shopping Trends: Shopper Visits Stronger than Anticipated

by Bill McCarthy on 11-26-16

Shopper visits, busiest hours, and retail activity patterns remain consistent

This year, in keeping with the Black Friday shopping  trends of the past few years, ShopperTrak anticipated that shopper visits would, once again, be down several percentage points YOY on Black Friday and Thanksgiving night. However, the preliminary Black Friday traffic results that came rolling in this morning indicated that this would not be the case.

When looking at the combined period of Thanksgiving night and Black Friday — which we dub “extended Black Friday,” due to the number of retailers who began opening their doors before midnight a few years ago — we now see that 2016 shopper visits were only down by 1% YOY.

This minor decline is not nearly as severe as our data from previous years led us to believe the decrease would be, which could indicate that future extended Black Fridays will also see minor traffic fluctuations, thereby creating additional instances of this new Black Friday shopping trend.

The larger traffic decreases that we’ve seen in past years are often chalked up to not only the increasing prevalence of online shopping, but the misleading practice of compartmentalizing traffic on Black Friday and Thanksgiving night, especially when shopper visits on Thanksgiving night were up YOY, as they were in 2015. Separating shopper visits on Black Friday and Thanksgiving night and reporting that “Black Friday visits are down” fails to acknowledge that, just a few years ago, retailers began opening their stores earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving night.

When looking at this year’s traffic on Black Friday and Thanksgiving night in isolation, we found that, unlike in 2015, shopper visits on Thanksgiving night were down slightly YOY. 2016 Black Friday (12:00 AM -11:59 PM) traffic levels, on the other hand, remained flat YOY, indicating that there was no statistically relevant increase or decrease in traffic levels, when compared to 2015.

black friday shopping trends graph1

This shift, however, makes sense when you consider that, this year, many retailers effectively encouraged customers to shop on Black Friday by opting to remain closed on Thanksgiving night.

Given the strong performance of Black Friday shopper visits, we remain confident in predicting that Black Friday will be, once again, the busiest shopping day of the year. Further, the flattening of the decline in Black Friday traffic supports the idea that consumers have found a happy medium between purchasing online and in the store on Black Friday, which continues to be a day that brings in maximum opportunity for brick-and-mortar retailers.

Another notable insight from this morning’s traffic data is that we can now claim that, for the fourth year running, the busiest shopping hour of Thanksgiving weekend is 3-4 PM on Black Friday. As has been noted in previous Black Friday shopping trends, the second busiest hour goes to 2-3 PM, followed by 4-5 PM, all also on Black Friday.

black friday shopping trends graph-2

When analyzing your own Black Friday data, or looking at ShopperTrak’s results in aggregate, it’s important to keep the temperature of the general retail climate in mind. Though this year saw a minimal, if any, decrease in traffic, you should remember that the proliferation of digital devices – e.g., WiFi-enabled mobile phones, in particular – has led to the emergence of a pervasive omnichannel shopping experience. It’s up you, as individual retailers, to investigate precisely how digital activity affects your in-store traffic levels.

With 8 out of ShopperTrak’s 10 busiest holiday shopping days still remaining – including Super Saturday on Dec. 17th – make sure that you take time during the first week of December to analyze performance and scheduling efforts, so that you can make adjustments that will enable your team to excel throughout the remainder of the season.

For more information on our Black Friday traffic results, check out the recent press release here.


Read more posts by Bill McCarthy

Bill McCarthy is the General Manager of the Americas, in which he oversees regional efforts pertaining to the Traffic Insights business unit.