Winthrop University researchers say phenomenon of Black Friday has changed, as online sales skyrocket

Updated: Dec. 2, 2019 at 3:40 PM EST
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ROCK HILL, S.C. (WBTV) - Black Friday smashed online sales records, and Cyber Monday is expected to do the same. However, if you noticed fewer holiday shoppers out early on Black Friday waiting for stores to open, you were not alone.

Data tracking site Sensormatic reports shopping in stores was down more than 6 percent year-over-year.

That same report notes foot traffic did rise slightly on Thanksgiving by about 2 percent. But with Adobe Analytics projecting $29 billion in online sales over the holiday weekend, researchers at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina say they’re not concerned.

Instead, professors of marketing Cara Peters and Jane Thomas say we’re witnessing the change of the phenomenon.

“People are still doing it. People still want to shop,” said Peters. “They’re still looking for the bargains and the best products, but how they’re going about it as a slightly different phenomenon from what it used to be.”

Peters and Thomas say that’s because our ability to browse for deals online from anywhere has turned Black Friday into a multi-day event.

“It started out ‘the day,’” said Peters. “Then it expanded to sort of include Cyber Monday, and now it’s like a five-day [event], and then the sales begin to start at the beginning of the month. So the consumer knows there might even be deeper sales the longer they wait. So it has expanded the timeline where you no longer have to run out at 6 a.m. to get that television.”

Which helps to explain a lack of longer early lines on Black Friday. However, data shows it’s still the busiest shopping day of the year.

Why? Peters and Thomas say tradition.

“They’re going out there because it’s still part of a ritual,” said Thomas.

Thomas adds it was the same thing their research found 10 years ago when people were clipping coupons more than clicking a mouse. But Peters adds that ritual may have a new sequence of events which can include holiday shopping while preparing Thanksgiving dinner.

“The mother and the daughter may be sitting next to each other at the computer, one on the phone, one on their laptop and doing shopping and sharing and comparing,” said Peters.

Also trending up? Buying online and picking up in store. Data from shows 43 percent more consumers chose that route over the weekend than in 2018.

“It’s, ‘I know that if I have that item in my hand and that I’m not going to be disappointed as a gift-giver and they’re not going to be disappointed,’” said Thomas. “The retailer hopes that once you pick it up though that you come in and buy something else.”

It’s one of many ways Thomas says retailers are hoping to keep online shoppers coming back to stores.

“We’re shopping online because it’s so convenient. We’re shopping online because we feel safe in a world where we often feel unsafe. So brick-and-mortar stores are having to reinvent what the store experience is,” said Thomas. “Brick-and-mortar stores are still relevant it’s just identifying what’s important to the customer.”

Eight of the 10 busiest shopping days of the year are still ahead of us in this condensed shopping season. There’s just 22 days between Cyber Monday and Christmas.

Data from Adobe Analytics shows a large chunk of holiday shopping happened today and over the weekend. Online sales from Thanksgiving through Monday are expected to break $29 billion which is 20 percent of the total holiday season revenue.

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