The number of people who shopped in stores — from Thanksgiving Day to Black Friday through Cyber Monday — rose this year, with roughly 104.9 million consumers visiting brick-and-mortar locations, up from 92.3 million in 2020, according to an annual survey released Tuesday by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics. By contrast, the overall number of online shoppers decreased to a total of 127.8 million, down from 145.4 million last year, the survey found. The number of online shoppers also dropped in 2018 from 2017, according to NRF, which started tracking that particular data set in 2017.
Despite the increase in retail foot traffic, according to NRF, the five-day holiday period drew fewer shoppers overall, in part because some Americans had started their gift-hunting earlier, even in October, for fear store shelves would be empty later on because of supply-chain bottlenecks and a dip in online sales. Even though some shoppers appeared to be tired of buying online this past weekend, the trade group still expects a record buying season, even with concerns about the new threat posed by omicron, the latest coronavirus variant.
The survey, an encouraging sign for retail property owners, came as real estate firm JLL reported the United States may need an additional 1 billion square feet of industrial space by 2025 to keep up with consumer buying demand, mainly fueled by e-commerce orders.
NRF said 179.8 million unique shoppers made in-store and online purchases Thanksgiving weekend, which exceeded its initial expectations by over 21 million but was less than the 186.4 million shoppers in 2020 and below the 189.6 million in 2019, before the pandemic. This year’s showing was in line with the average of the past four years, according to NRF.
“While Thanksgiving weekend and Black Friday in particular were once upon a time the kickoff to the holiday season, because of the pandemic a year ago and because of the change in consumer behavior this year due to things happening with the supply chain, people started [shopping] earlier,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said on a conference call with reporters. “Thanksgiving weekend and Black Friday are closer to halftime now than to kickoff.”
Dueling Holiday Data
The findings are in line with those of other data providers reporting that online sales were essentially flat or slightly down. For example, Adobe Analytics found that during Cyber Week — Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday — for the first time online sales hadn’t increased. They dipped 1.4%, to $33.9 billion, according to data from Adobe.
NRF didn’t release sales figures, but Mastercard SpendingPulse did. It found that U.S. retail sales during Thanksgiving weekend were up 14.1% year over year and rose 5.8% compared to 2019, excluding auto sales. In-store sales rebounded, increasing 16.5% year over year, while e-commerce sales saw sustained growth up nearly 5% for the weekend running Black Friday through Sunday, according to Mastercard.
NRF defines the holiday season as Nov. 1 through Dec. 31 and is standing by its forecast that sales will grow between 8.5% and 10.5% over 2020 to between $843.4 billion and $859 billion, with consumers spending nearly $1,000, according to Shay.
“We continue to expect a record holiday season,” he said.
Shay also talked about the new COVID-19 variant, omicron, saying there isn’t any data yet on how it might affect retail sales, but his group will monitor the situation. He added that the nation “is in a much better place than we were a year ago — 70% of Americans are fully vaccinated, 80% have one shot, and we continue to get more Americans vaccinated every day.”
As for the rise in brick-and-mortar shopping, “we all enjoy the tradition of doing things in person and many consumers enjoy that tradition of in-store shopping over the holiday weekend as the symbolic kickoff of the holiday season. … And of course it’s general fatigue. People are tired of doing things remotely and on-screen and doing things virtually and would like to be together,” Shay said.
Most Popular Shopping Day
Black Friday remained the most popular day for in-store shopping, with 66.5 million shoppers, followed by 51 million shoppers on Small Business Saturday, according to the NRF survey. Similar to recent years, Black Friday surpassed Cyber Monday in terms of total online shoppers, with 88 million shopping online the Friday after Thanksgiving compared with 77 million on Monday.
As retailers extended their deals and other offers into October and early November, 49% of shoppers said they took advantage of early holiday sales or promotions before Thanksgiving this year. Most weekend shoppers, or 82%, felt the deals were the same or better than last Thanksgiving, according to NRF.
The vast majority, or 84%, of holiday shoppers reported they have already started shopping and have completed more than half, or 52%, of their holiday purchases on average.
“Even though many consumers are starting their holiday shopping before Thanksgiving, a considerable portion of their purchases are still made over the course of the five-day weekend,” said Phil Rist, executive vice president of strategy at Prosper Insights & Analytics, in a statement.
Thanksgiving weekend shoppers spent an average of $301 on holiday-related purchases such as gifts, decor, apparel and toys, down slightly from $311 in 2020. As in previous years, most of that amount, $215, was spent directly on gifts.
Top gift purchases over the weekend included clothing and accessories, bought by 51% of those surveyed; toys, 32%; gift cards and certificates, 28%; books, music, movies and video games, 27%; and electronics, 24%.