The 2015 holiday shopping season is here and, more than ever, people are talking about all the shopping they're doing online.
But how are brick-and-mortars doing these days and what trends can we discern from the shopping season so far?
Brick-and-mortar retail from Thanksgiving to Nov. 29 yielded about $20.43 billion in total sales—an estimated 10.4 percent decrease compared to 2014
We took our Santa caps off for a moment and replaced them with thinking caps to find out. Here's what we learned.
Why bust a door?
ShopperTrak, which claims to be the leading tracker of shoppers and "consumer behavior insights and location-based analytics," estimated brick-and-mortar retail from Thanksgiving to Nov. 29 yielded about $20.43 billion in total sales—an estimated 10.4 percent decrease compared to 2014.
At the same time, the National Retail Federation reports that online sales increased during the same period. Other trends: Time magazine reports that "the epic Thanksgiving-Black Friday-Cyber Monday-shop-a-thon is over." While there's a trend now for stores not to be open on Thanksgiving (and getting kudos for closing their doors), Time notes other stores were open and featuring door buster deals at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving.
Sadly, as in years past, there were brawls as shoppers fought over the best deals. There were no such brawls online. (Although there's still plenty of competition.) We know people who set alarm clocks, so they wouldn't miss the online equivalent of door busters when they started early.
The 'dead cat bounce' of brick-and-mortars
We borrowed this term from the world of Wall Street. A "dead cat bounce" refers to a brief rally that occurs during a prolonged downturn. This is not to say that brick-and-mortar stores are dead, or even moribund. There's just no growth there, but there are still good reasons to go to brick-and-mortars.
For instance, Deb thinks she gets the best bargains by actually going to a Macy's store instead of visiting macys.com. That's because there she can quickly scan the racks to see what's on sale. Then she can actually look at the merchandise and feel it. She doesn't have to worry about how one manufacturer determined what constitutes a size 6 versus another. She can try both pieces of clothing on right then and there. You still can't do this sort of thing online, although we're getting closer all the time, it seems.
But the writing is on the wall. At the site deadmalls.com, you can get a feel for just how quickly malls are fading away.
Every day is special now
But how could Black Friday sales not be down when there are so many other special days to shop? And we're not just talking about Cyber Monday. Here are some of the other special shopping days that were part of the 2015 holiday shopping season. And this list is by no means exhaustive:
Gray Thursday: This is what Thanksgiving is called when some retailers decline to close their doors on the traditional holiday.
If your site is slower than it should be or your shipping isn't speedy enough, shoppers will move on without skipping a beat
Small Business Saturday: This was actually a holdover from last year for the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Green Tuesday: This is what Green America, a nonprofit group advocating "for a cleaner, greener world," has dubbed the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. On its website the organization explained "green shopping."
"Instead of buying [something] from a chain store that was made overseas, buy one from a local business or co-op. You might be interested in new and exciting dining experiences, so check out gift certificates for local, organic or environment-friendly restaurants that use local ingredients. "
Giving Tuesday: This is a day less about shopping as it is about giving back. The Giving Tuesday website characterized it as "a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, December 1, 2015, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give."
CAMO Thursday: We bet we stumped you with this one. A retailer of outdoor clothing and gear, Gander Mountain, is giving shoppers bargains on camouflage and related gear on every Thursday through December during these "Camo Thursdays." Have you missed some?
Magenta Saturday: Did we get you with this one, too? This was T-Mobile's event, which (rather obtusely) was coined for its pink/purple logo. Shoppers could scoop up the company's cellphones and tablets on this landmark holiday.
3 lessons you can learn
So what else can you surmise from 2015's holiday shopping season?
1. Price is important but so is expediency. It seemed to us that many people just wanted to get their shopping done and check it off their list. So if your site is slower than it should be or your shipping isn't speedy enough, shoppers will move on without skipping a beat.
Jack up your prices a tad if you can, and then offer free shipping
2. Free shipping matters. It's almost a given now that you have to offer this or at least the impression of it. (In some cases you get free shipping after spending $25, in others you need to open your wallet wider and spend $50, $75, or even more.) Consumers love it. So jack up your prices a tad if you can, and then offer free shipping!
3. Shoppers love niche shops. We have a friend who is expecting, and she doesn't shop at Amazon, for example, for many of the items she'll need soon.
"I follow a blog called Thrifty Littles and she did a post about [the] 50 best small-business Black Friday deals. That was helpful," she says. "I also hear about sites from magazines or [other] blogs, then I follow the stores on Instagram to hear about deals."
Other places she shops are Zulily, Harris & Harper and Lucy Darling.
Take a look at these niche sites and see if you can incorporate the language and attitude into your own store, when selling related items. Oh, and if you can piggyback off some of these new special shopping days, why not do so? Cyber Monday is a given. Green Tuesday sounds like a great idea, too. But you may want to wait a while, though, to see if CAMO Thursday catches on!