10 of our favourite retail moves this Thanksgiving weekend

“It’s a marathon not a sprint,” said Matthew Shay, CEO of the National Retail Federation (NRF), this Thanksgiving weekend as retailers in the US (and elsewhere around the world) pushed out discounts, promotions and offers galore in a bid to drive shoppers into their stores and onto their websites.

He was referring of course to the fact that despite those efforts, US sales were down by 11% on last year, as reported by WGSN. By contrast, online sales during Black Friday did rise more than 20% year-on-year, offsetting a single digit decline in brick and mortar store spending, according to data from research firm ShopperTrak.

Part of that overall decline however comes because retailers began offering their deals earlier than ever in the run up to Thanksgiving (others are calling it Black November, or Black Friday Sprawl). Shay added: “A strengthening economy that changes consumers’ reliance on deep discounts, a highly competitive environment, early promotions and the ability to shop 24/7 online all contributed to the shift witnessed this weekend.”

The NRF still expects total holiday sales through the end of the year to rise 4.1%. “We expect retailers to continue to be extremely competitive as they chase after the $616 billion that is on the line this holiday season. Shoppers will continue to make retailers work for their gift budgets as they weigh price, value and convenience,” Shay added.

Here are 10 of the things that happened this weekend that particularly stood out to our team hitting both the stores and our laptops/tablets/smartphones…

1. Broader reductions

In the past, many retailers have offered discounts on select categories, but this season brands were offering sweeping reductions on their entire assortment. Target offered 40% off all clothes and 30% off shoes, for example, while Joe Fresh, Gap, and Old Navy offered 50% off of all full price items. Net-a-Porter also pushed up to 50% off select merchandise as part of its biannual sale, which led to “incredible demand” and huge site outages as a result. Best Buy, Topshop and John Lewis also suffered site crashes.

2. Timed and limited offers

In a further bid to incite shoppers to buy, retailers ran flash sales on specific items. JC Penney offered St. John’s sweaters for $9.99 (originally $34.95) for two hours in-store, smartly announcing when the flash sale started. Similarly, Macy’s had Morning, Afternoon, and Night specials that included 50% off a single item to BOGOs – signage in-store was quickly (and impressively) swapped in and out to support that fact. Gilt Group offered designer doorbusters at various times throughout the day that were only available on its app; and Amazon offered limited time lightning deals every 10 minutes, as well as offered 30 minutes of early access to its Prime members.

3. Mobile POS

In addition to convenience in terms of Click and Collect services, smart retailers such as Nordstrom Rack focused on ways to alleviate long lines via mobile point of sale systems. That’s not an entirely new strategy for retailers, but for Black Friday sales associates at Rack were placed at small stations throughout the store to ring up purchases. That’s a simple move, but one that makes it significantly easier for shoppers to impulse buy as they’re not deterred by waiting at the cash register.

4. Click and collect

Convenience really was top of mind for retailers looking to bridge that online/offline gap as stores including JC Penney, Gap, Walmart, Guess, Macy’s, Sears and more all offered Click and Collect or Reserve in Store services. Online marketplace Farfetch offered a ‘shop global, collect local’ service too, inviting its users to buy from any one of its boutiques online then go in to their most local store to collect it.

5. Personalised email notifications

Black Friday and Cyber Monday themed emails did of course flood all our inboxes, but the clever ones were tailored to exactly what we already said we were after. Lyst for instance continued to offer shoppers the ability to receive notifications when items they had followed came back in stock or were reduced in price. It also launched The Holiday Shop on Black Friday, a virtual pop-up area on the site showcasing offers and providing real-time stock and price updates. Yoox.com similarly pushed its Dream Box service where users can save items they like and then receive emails when pieces are close to selling out.

6. Strategic partnerships

We also noticed a growing number of retailers tapping into the shopping habits of their customer base and accordingly aligning themselves with like-minded brands to leverage sales. The Children’s Place partnered with TinyPrints (an online gift personalisation company) for example, offering customers $30 off custom holiday cards and ornaments when they spent more than $30 in-store. Premium denim company DL1961 meanwhile, gifted tokens redeemable at Le Pain for a hot beverage and pastry to promote its New York City pop-up shop this month – the addition aimed to prompt visitors to dwell longer in the retail space despite frigid temperatures. Additionally, Starbucks partnered with local Seattle artist and part-time Starbucks barista, Trista Syldoski-Tesch, to create The Dot Collection, featuring limited-edition holiday art prints.

7. Cause marketing

Cause marketing has been a top retail strategy too. Running from December 1-19, JCPenney’s straight-forward approach rounds-up purchases to the nearest dollar, donating the difference to the USO (United Service Organization) and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Retailers including Bloomingdales and Aveda’s charitable efforts meanwhile are product-driven, unveiling limited edition items such as the ‘char-it-a-bow bear’ and a holiday gift set, which donate a portion of proceeds to sponsored organisations. If nearly empty shelves in two Los Angeles store locations are a sign of strong holiday sales, Target + TOMS’ ‘One For One, For All’ collection is hitting the mark with consumers too. The collection (which features the signature shoe alongside knitwear and cotton basics) donates shoes, blankets and/or a meal to those in need.

8. Social media pushes

Needless to say, social media was top of mind in terms of a means to push the deals out to consumers otherwise, with the likes of Amazon, Best Buy, Samsung and Abercrombie just some of the ones we noticed buying up trending terms (like #blackfriday or #cybermonday) on Twitter. But it was Snapchat that got a lot of retail love otherwise, with the likes of Amazon, Sephora and Victoria’s Secret all providing peeks at the offers they had available. Amazon and Hollister jumped on board with Snapchat’s new ad format in fact, placing sponsored posts alongside user-generated content tied to Black Friday.

9. Remaining tech issues

Less of a ‘favourite’ of ours here, and more a gentle reminder to retailers: While the buzz around in-store technology shows no signs of abating this holiday season, effectiveness has so far left much to be desired. Macy’s in-store signage focused heavily on scan-and-save mobile discounts, yet many shoppers were unable to connect this weekend, receiving an error message after numerous attempts. Arguably, the most confusing in-store strategy however goes to Abercrombie, which despite a campaign urging customers to “Post it. Tag it. Like it.”, wouldn’t let potential shoppers actually then take said pictures in its stores – we witnessed several target market individuals being asked to put their phones away, while we too were told to stop.

10. UK consumers joined in

Deals also weren’t limited to the US this weekend. The UK particularly got in on the Black Friday act, with record-breaking results for online retailers, and stores also forecasting a 15% surge in sales, despite unruly crowds and some violence marring the day. Amazon UK had its busiest ever sales day, with the online retail giant saying it had “surpassed all expectations”; while department store John Lewis said between midnight and 6am Friday, traffic to its site was up 307% compared to last year. Wal-Mart-owned Asda said it had processed over 2m transactions in less than 24 hours, making it its busiest single trading day of the year so far too.

Reporting by Rachel Arthur, Andrea Bell, Aria Hughes, Bryn Taubensee

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