Welcome to the PlaceIQ Social Distance Tracker. 

Today’s issue will be focused on Black Friday. Going into Thanksgiving week, the shopping holiday was a hot topic of discussion amongst our teams and clients. Would stores be madhouses? Would they be responsibly attended? Or would they be entirely vacant? 

While of course we’re hoping our retail partners are successful during these challenging times, we also hope the country can avoid a worsening surge throughout December and shop safely. Reaching customers with messaging that highlights retailers’ safety precautions and different channels for interaction – like curbside and BOPI – has been a big focus for us and our partners this year. 

Looking over the initial data, it would appear retailers and customers may have found a healthy balance: traffic continues to trend upwards but this year’s Black Friday traffic was down over 25%. Read on to see the data on high and low performing categories, brands, and regions. We’ll be covering these trends in a webinar next week, so if you have any questions about what you’re seeing here, please register and join the discussion next Thursday

We are gratified to see our analyses being included in various reports, since it is our goal to contribute to the #dataforgood effort. If you choose to re-use one of our analysis, all we ask is that you attribute the analysis or content to PlaceIQ. Thank you!

Black Friday? More Like Gray November

Over the past few years, retailers have been slowly creeping up the start dates of their Black Friday sales earlier and earlier. Doorbusters first moved from 6am on Friday to midnight on Thursday, before encroaching on Thanksgiving itself. Retailers fought for pole position, playing a game of chicken to see who could open first without clashing with Thanksgiving commitments.

This year the game changed…but the prize was the same. Retailers still jockeyed to be a shopper’s first stop, but rather than stretch out sales over Thanksgiving week, they held events throughout all of November. As we saw last week, retailers hit 6-month highs on November Saturdays:

CHART: November Saturdays show 6-month highs

Because of COVID, neither retailers nor consumers wanted to pack stores to the gills. To meet demand, stores kicked off sales early and spread them out over a month. In 2020, instead of a single Black Friday we had several gray weekends. Take a look at November visits to Big Box retailers:

CHART: Daily Foot Traffic to Big Box Retailers

Foot traffic still spiked on Black Friday but it was a shadow of it’s usual self. However, the preceding two Saturdays matched normal 2019 traffic levels, an impressive achievement in our strange times.

You can also see how cautious retailers were the week of Thanksgiving. No one wanted to be the bad example on cable news: Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and other Black Friday stalwarts who’ve spent the last decade shifting their sales closer and closer to Thanksgiving dinner were closed all of Thanksgiving

Looking at the data by category, a few themes start to emerge:

CHART: Highest Traffic Index and Lowest Traffic Index by category

* Grocery and Pharmacy not included

A testament to our new normal, at-home activities continue to do well. Traffic to home improvement stores remains above its 2019 levels and Black Friday was no exception. And, it seems families keep picking up art supplies to keep the kids busy. 

Notice, these top categories are not the usual Black Friday fare. Traffic was more evenly spread across categories this year, which results in unusual players ranking high since they’re being compared to their 2019 figures. 

The flip side of that coin is that malls, electronics retailers, and clothing stores — the usual Black Friday destinations — posted very low indices.

CHART: Highest Traffic Index and Lowest Traffic Index by brand

* Grocery and Pharmacy not included

Breaking down the brands, we can confirm the same story. Best Buy, who usually dominates our Black Friday index, was down nearly 50% this year. Meanwhile, Dollar General continues to crush it.

Let’s put that Best Buy figure into perspective.

CHART: Best Buy Foot Traffic

Continuing the theme, Best Buy had a stellar November. For the first three weeks, Best Buy’s foot traffic was 98% of 2019 levels. Spreading sales throughout the month was a great strategy for them. Yes, Black Friday traffic was down 45% this year, but their strong November softened the blow and kept them at 82% of 2019 traffic levels for all of November. The other brands on the lowest traffic list didn’t fare as well. On average, they achieved only 60% of their 2019 November traffic. 

As always, traffic varied significantly by region. While we usually like to break figures down by county, for the sake of clarity let’s take a look by state:

CHART: Highest Traffic Index and Lowest Traffic Index by state

New Mexico took the most drastic measures of any state during this current surge, issuing restrictions limiting retail capacity to 25% of usual thresholds and closing non-essential businesses. Not surprisingly, this put a dent in foot traffic (while putting a dent in cases, thankfully.) Otherwise, these are the usual suspects. States which have trended lower continue to do so and visa-versa. 

On the whole, Black Friday went as well as it could have, given the circumstances. Stores avoided potential superspreader events by spreading sales out across November, which achieved the highest retail traffic in months. Traffic continues to trend upward, just not as dramatically as usual. And, we all got a quiet (albeit smaller) Thanksgiving.

Holiday shopping remains in effect – and the need for brands to stay on top of and strategize for these trends in a new way is clear. We’ll be discussing new metrics to monitor these changes in a webinar next week. Please join us and bring your questions!

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