The trend that became real visible is that consumers are overwhelmingly using the web as a research tool to help them plan bricks-and-mortar shopping trips, especially when it comes to discount sales.
It is very dangerous to play around with something as important as the economy, which is why we were actually waiting for real data on the retail sales of Black Friday, exactly a week ago. And the first important data are in and they are balanced and quite revealing as far as shifts are concerned but not clear if the economy is really moving into a recovery zone. The trend that became real visible is that consumers are overwhelmingly using the web as a research tool to help them plan bricks-and-mortar shopping trips, especially when it comes to discount sales.
The data show online retail traffic was either flat or down, while search queries looking for weekend sales skyrocketed. And although web traffic supposedly stagnated, consumer spending online rose. Meanwhile, offline data paint a different story. Even as the number of consumers headed to stores jumped from the same Black Friday last year – they nonetheless chose to spend less. The seemingly divergent trends indicate consumers are increasingly using the web as a research tool to help them plan bricks-and-mortar shopping trips and make more thought-out online purchases.
Interestingly, one of the more popular Google searches over Thanksgiving was “Walmart Black Friday store map,” which may go a long way in explaining some of the numbers being reported. Consider the data:
- On Thanksgiving Day, the percentage of U.S. visits to the top 500 retail websites was down 15% compared to Thanksgiving Day 2008, according to Hitwise; on Friday that number dropped 9%. ComScore, meanwhile, reported flat Black Friday web traffic year over year. But the National Retail Federation reported weekend store traffic grew by 13%.
- But Thanksgiving e-commerce sales rose 10% year over year to $313 million, according to ComScore; Black Friday spending totaled $595 million, up 11% over 2008. Meanwhile, the National Retail Federation reported a drop in per-person in-store spending.
- Google searches for retail-related terms were up 49% this Black Friday weekend over the previous year. And searches for “Black Friday” on Thanksgiving and the day after were up 20% over last year; searches for “black Friday sales” on those same days were up 50%.
The most important reason given for the apparent decline in visits to the 500 largest retail websites was that many retailers released their Black Friday promotions much earlier this year, eliminating the need to wait until Thanksgiving Day or the day after to check for deals. Retailers such as Sears, Kmart and Kohl’s also began holding holiday or Black Friday-themed sales earlier in the month.
On Black Friday People Search the Internet for:
- “Twilight gifts” were up 50% on Black Friday weekend over the prior weekend.
- “Twilight”-related queries were 20% higher than 2008’s hottest Black Friday queries, which were around “Hannah Montana” and “High School Musical.”
- Searches for e-readers increased 40% on Black Friday weekend from the weekend prior.
- Searches for smartphones were up 30% over the previous weekend.
- Engagement-ring searches were up 20% year over year.
- Searches for Snuggie were up 30% year over year.
Google had another important explanation.
While it noticed a huge spike in “Black Friday”-related searches — up more than 20% — the search giant noticed another trend: lots of searches geared toward offline shopping. Searches for “printable coupons,” for example, were up 50% year over year, leading the company to speculate that people were researching online but buying at stores.
“People are increasingly using the internet to do their research before going to the store”
Chris O’Neill, retail industry director at Google
“People are increasingly using the internet to do their research before going to the store, but what we’ve seen with Cyber Monday [the Monday after the holiday weekend] and this past weekend is people taking it further — they’re being very specific about which deals they’re looking for,” said Chris O’Neill, retail industry director at Google.” He added: “They’re even planning out their in-store visits. You’re seeing a lot of searches that manifest themselves in-store.”
Overall tempered expectations. ‚Ä®Roughly 195 million consumers shopped in stores and online over the Black Friday weekend, up from 172 million last year, according to the National Retail Federation. But, according to the NRF, average spending dropped to $343.31 per person from $372.57 a year ago.
Waiting for discounts
Industry watchers point out that while consumers may be shopping again, they are being careful about what they spend on, leaving the bulk of early holiday sales to be driven by sales promotions. “Shoppers proved this weekend that they were willing to open their wallets for a bargain, heading out to take advantage of great deals on less expensive items like toys, small appliances and winter clothes,” said Tracy Mullin, president-CEO of the National Retail Federation. “While retailers are encouraged by the number of Americans who shopped over Black Friday weekend, they know they have their work cut out for them to keep people coming back through Christmas.”
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People are searching more and doing more soul searching also. They are learning to seperate needs from wants. As more and more people understand that needs over shadow wants then we will continue to see a somewhat flat economy. Big ticket, luxury items are rapidly falling by the wayside.