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November 30, 2017

This Black Friday Sees Game Over For Most Retailers

By Shah Gilani, Wall Street Insights & Indictments

The incoming online shopping tide – scratch that, tsunami – that just swamped traditional bricks-and-mortar retailing has changed America’s shopping landscape forever.

Not only were online sales records broken on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but they were also broken on Thanksgiving Day. Meanwhile, bricks-and-mortar stores debated even opening on a “family-gathering” day.

While online sales numbers themselves are staggering, the story they tell about changing consumer habits might as well be the last nail in the coffin of left-behind retailers across the country.

Here’s what that means for the future of America’s already shaky traditional retailers…

This Past Weekend Made History

On Black Friday, in-store traffic fell 1.6%, according to ShopperTrak.

Those shoppers were online, spending 16.9% more this Black Friday than there did last year. Shopify said online sales revenue on Black Friday was more than $1 million per minute. Digital sales, in fact, have been growing at a double-digit rate throughout November.

Adobe, an analytics firm, announced that sales were $1 billion more on Friday than there was the same day a year ago. But still, Adobe expected Cyber Monday to be the biggest shopping day in U.S. history.

They were dead right. Cyber Monday, which got its name in 2005 when the National Retail Federation christened it, registered more than $6.6 billion in sales, notching an impressive 17% increase from last year’s one-day record.

The bad news for faltering retailers is that it’s not just about the swell of shopping on Thanksgiving Day, or how Black Friday gave way to online armies selling everything to everyone, or even about the attention Cyber Monday gets.

It’s about changing consumer habits. It’s about technology, and a smart way to shop for discounts, and convenience, and the third wave.

It’s even moving beyond desktop computers and tablets. Sure, Cyber Monday’s about online sales, but this year was more about mobile than anything else.

Cyber Monday move over… Meet Mobile Monday.

This year, Adobe says 47.4% of site visits originated from mobile devices, with smartphones accounting for 40% of those. 33% of revenue generated through mobile devices, 24.1% came through smartphones. Smartphone sales traffic was up 22.2% year over year.

The increasing use of smartphones only proves that consumers are increasingly tech-savvy, convenience-driven, and on-the-go buyers.

That’s not going to change. Don’t expect any U-turn in this trend that drives shoppers back to malls or bricks-and-mortar stores. The way we all used to shop has been irreversibly changed. Thanksgiving Day proved that families could not only gather together and enjoy a traditional holiday, but they can shop together. They can shop from their dining-room tables, waiting for their pie to come out of the oven if they want.

Bricks-and-mortar stores being closed on Thanksgiving Day are only going to drive more consumers online. Adobe reported a record $2.87 billion of sales on Turkey Thursday, up 18.3% from last year. Digital’s share of Thanksgiving holiday shopping is increasing every year and already dwarfs in-store sales.

What’s driving the online shopping trend (besides faster, cooler, lighter, overall better tablets and smartphones) are the discounts, the convenience, and the experience of online shopping.

Countdown to Bankruptcy

In an increasingly competitive retail landscape, discounting has become an almost everyday event. To fight big-box retailers and offshoots, retailers of all stripes have had to advertise discount events.

While some folks may still clip coupons, techies everywhere know how to search the web for discounts on anything they want to consider buying. Big data analytics track online clicks and searches and use that data to target individuals’ computers, tablets, and smartphones with discounted products they’re looking for, presenting them as if they can read your mind.

There’s no way traditional retailers can compete with digital marketing, advertising, and personalized consumer targeting. It’s impossible.

Then there’s the “convenience.” Whatever it means to you, there’s more of it online. Whether it’s the ability to place objects you’re interested in into a 3D-setting to see how they look in your living room, matching clothing items you search for with accessories, or simply offering free delivery (better yet, next-day delivery), convenience has never been so convenient.

That’s driving shoppers online.

The third wave of online shopping is about combining things like “aspirational interests with compelling content strategies to create emotional consumer experiences.” It’s about experiencing the uniqueness of the online shopping experience. And it’s going to be huge.

Amazon.Com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) knows all this. They’re at the forefront of most of all of it.

In fact, they’re so huge and so good at it, Amazon garnered 50% of all Black Friday transactions, 45% of all online checkouts on Thanksgiving Day, and according to Amobee, a marketing technology company, was responsible for 55% of all Cyber Monday digital content engagement.

Second to Amazon in online sales on Black Friday was (surprise!) Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT). But even Walmart’s super effort to get up to speed and drive online sales, which amounted to 8% of all online sales (a huge number), pales in comparison to Amazon’s 50% take of online business.

What’s telling in the Walmart story is how much effort and money (the $3.5 billion purchase of Jet.com, for example) the big box retailer had to put up to remain a competitor in the big game.

Other traditional retailers don’t have that kind of money. Too many of them have too much debt, too many empty stores, and shrinking footprints in the real world and cyberspace.

It won’t be long until those brand names that we’ve known for years declare bankruptcy and shutter their windows. 

Make no mistake about it, it’s a retailing battle to the death, and the nails are being hammered on.

Courtesy Shah Gilani, Wall Street Insights & Indictments (More by Shah here

The views and opinions expressed herein are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of EconMatters.

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