Grey is the New Black? Eight Takeaways on Holiday Shopping

Knee-jerker spoiler alert…

If you think that the key story and lesson of 2015 Holiday Shopping is increasing online sales…in all its iterations including mobile – go no further.

Clearly, that is true – but it’s obvious and it’s not a trend – it’s evolution. Frankly, we waste editorial space and commentary being wide-eyed about “off-site”/ “remote” selling. As people get more comfortable; as transacting becomes ever simpler; as returns (yes, returns) get easier; as security gets more secure…the number will naturally continue to grow. As it should. As it will:

Mobile shopping soared — mobile accounted for nearly 60% of all online traffic and 40% of all online sales.

And by the way, the savviest sellers view retail as one enterprise…much like the consumer is one enterprise. We all know about the pure e-tailers opening physical stores and the strictly place-based developing their digital chops…EVOLUTION…it’s about the consumer…the Primal Data Point…not about screens or algorithms…it’s about people and always will be.

If your site goes down like Neiman Marcus’ did or if workers are protesting and customers are fighting like at Walmart…there’s not much more to talk about…

Having said all that, let’s look at what was once Black Friday…which is proceeded now by Grey Thursday…followed by Small Business Saturday…and bookended by Cyber Monday.

As much as shopping channels are driven by evolution…shopping habits create trends and we all know that evolution is hastened by environmental trends.

Follow the links below to get a sense of just how we have conditioned consumers to expect discount sales.

As retailers of all kinds fought for consumer dollars, they started discounting earlier and earlier, creating an expectation amongst the buying public for discounts all year long.

According to most sources, nearly 40% of shoppers began buying holiday gifts before November to avoid lines – maybe – but also to ensure supply, particularly in a year of Star Wars demand. As for Cyber Monday, Amazon began discounting 10 days earlier.

Veterans of the Catalog Industry can report that these trends had already begun back in their day with an emphasis on late shopping as shipping became more predictable and ordering as late as two days before the holiday got you guaranteed delivery. And as channels evolve, the spread from before November to the day before continues to grow.

So Lesson #1?

We have given the consumer a drug called “deals.” We have addicted them to discounts, and as with all addictions the key question is, what happens when the dose no longer satisfies…when everything is discounted all the time, as margins go lower and lower, as shipping and other costs are given away? Investors beware!


So what was popular? What sold?

Popularity, as defined by Twitter Share of Voice, reveals no surprises or cyber wows…

Toys and home goods dominated 42% of SOV, with electronics leading the pack…Apple being the dominant mention…with Xbox and PS4 in the mix.

Victoria’s Secret was highly ranked, beating out most gadgets and gamer paraphernalia, and Amazon had the most massive retail brand SOV of all.

Actual sales followed Twitter fairly closely, with Samsung 4K TVs leading the pack (guess shoppers didn’t get the message that TV is dead), and again trailed by Apple, Xbox and Sony PS4.

Toys were obviously high velocity and the well-known brands dominated – Lego, Barbie and all things Star Wars.

Lesson #2?

You better have the goods that people want – no matter where or how they shop – and you better have the right price and service…a DUH retail lesson but one that I see sometimes getting lost in the Digibabble.


I always find it enlightening to compare average order values online and off and even to look at the various types of online ordering.

According to The 2015 International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) Thanksgiving/Black Friday Shopping Report,

80% of shoppers made a purchase at physical store; 32% of shoppers purchased online & picked up in store with 58% of those shoppers making additional purchases once at the store….On Black Friday specifically, 1 in 3 shoppers (32%) made a “click and collect” purchase: buying items via online retailers that have a physical store presence in order to pick up their items in store. More than half of shoppers (58%) made additional purchases when picking up an item that was bought online in store on Thanksgiving Day or Black Friday.

The average Thanksgiving and/or Black Friday shopper spent $557 on those two days, divided as follows:

$245 in physical stores
$120 with online-only retailers
$110 online via retailers with a physical presence, for items shipping to their home
$82 online via retailers with a physical presence, for items to pick up in store

Lesson #3?

The serendipity of the human experience is still driving higher-order value in physical locations…common sense. I go…even to pick up my cyber-order and see something else…something new…something unexpected and not recommended by some soulless algorithm, and I buy it.

Ergo, the winners will learn to pay more attention to Primal Data – you – than to Big Data, which in essence actually limits the consumer experience as I enter the relationship “knowing” what you want. We need to make the online experience as much a discovery as the physical.

Secondly, the leverage between physical and cyber – using mobile to enhance the physical in new and powerful ways will create more powerful brand bonding between consumers and retailers.


REI was, in my book, one of the great innovators during the week, actually shutting down their stores. If you wanted to shop, you had to go digital. Only end-of-season sales results will tell but they had significant increase in online traffic. Other retailers experienced similar increases as GameStop, Staples, Nordstrom and PetSmart all closed on Thanksgiving Day and all had increased e-commerce activity.

On the other hand, Apple stores were crowded and selling out as Apple products were prime movers at Target and Best Buy as well…giving them their strongest holiday ever.

Lesson #4?

Have the goods and the means to sell and they will come…online and off…but learn to play them well. Apple had the most sought-after goods; they have the Genius Bar non-commodity products there…of course, the stores did well…let’s see where the season ends and how closing added to or detracted from overall sales.


And folks…please don’t lose sight of the incontrovertible fact that IT’S ALL ABOUT SALES — Black Friday shoppers are primarily price-conscious. They are 70% more likely to say price is a little more important than brand when shopping for electronics and media. They are 54% more likely to say price is a little more important than brand when shopping for clothing and accessories. They are 53% more likely to actively (very frequently or often) use their smartphone to research products they want to purchase. They are 47% more likely to be loyal to the brands they buy due to their value or price. They are 37% more likely to use coupons on non-grocery-related items every chance they get.

Lesson #5?

The equation is simple: Price+Brand / Mobile Activation = Loyal Sales.


As far as mobile is concerned, Matt Lawson, Google’s Director of Performance Ads Marketing, said it best:

Shopping will happen in moments, not marathons, this holiday season. Rather than relying on daylong trips to the mall or camping out overnight during Black Friday, shoppers will be turning to their mobile phones in hundreds of micro-moments, every day, all season long.

He continues:

54% of all holiday shoppers say that they plan to shop on their smartphones in spare moments throughout the day, like walking or commuting. These shorter mobile sessions that occur throughout the day are visible in the data: shoppers now spend 7% less time in each mobile session, yet smartphones’ share of online purchases has gone up 64% over the last year. The days of “look on mobile but buy on the laptop” are changing: 30% of all online shopping purchases now happen on mobile phones.

Lesson #6?

The sessions are shorter because the consumer knows what they want and they need ease of purchase because when they are walking or commuting, it has to be quick and easy…yet, please don’t lose sight of the fact that the walker is often looking for a store…so make that easy, too!


Why should we care where and how consumers buy – so long as we can make them buy our brands or through our brands.

Consumer loyalty will not be won by thinking of them as cannibals…that I can guarantee.

Finally Lesson #7?

Let’s stop talking about cannibalization – it’s exactly the opposite – BUILD SALES THROUGH CONSUMER NEED – not some Digibabble vision of what it will be – particularly as they keep getting it so, so wrong.


I have included a source list below so that you can follow all the threads and come to your own conclusions.

I end as I began, with the notion that we are in a critical evolutionary moment and cannot allow it to be muddled by foolish Digibabble. Listen:

In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed. Charles Darwin

Final Lesson?

Collaboration means looking at all channels. Improvisation means trying new ways to win. Both have been reflected in the winners and losers I have referenced…and taken together will change the game.


And one final word, no matter what you think, with all this talk about cyber and drones…even Amazon has to buy trucks to compete….

What do you think?


Holiday Sales Beginning Earlier
U.S. News & World Report
The Economist
The Wall Street Journal

Winners and Losers

Popular Products

Online v Offline Shopping

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