How Is The Holiday Season Going So Far? Black Friday Results And More

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Now that the dust has settled from Black Friday Weekend, it’s a good time to check in on how the holiday season is going. After Cyber Monday, this week and the next take a dip before the procrastinators start getting it into gear. So how are things going?

Economic Indicators

I thought that the news that the US economy grew by 5.2% in Q3 would be major news, but at least in the retail bubble I live in, it turned out to barely register. Depending on your outlook, the news is either great, that the economy continues to be resilient, or it’s bad news because it means the economy has not cooled enough to encourage the Fed to start cutting rates.

No one seemed to cover the GDP growth except Business Insider who highlighted a note from MacQuarrie Group. The note pulled forward gross domestic income (GDI) and looked at it in conjunction with GDP. GDI measures total compensation paid towards production vs. GDP measures the total value of the economy. Theoretically they should track, but right now income is lagging “if not in a recession.” MacQuarrie Group said this gap hasn’t been this big since the 2007-08 Great Recession.

The Conference Board updated the Consumer Confidence Index for November. The Present Situation index inched up, but the Expectations Index, which looks at the short term future, went up by a lot – from 72.7 in October to 77.8. Consumers saying their personal finances were “good” went up while those saying they were bad went down and confidence in future business conditions went up. The Conference Board reminded us that below 80 still typically signals a looming recession and that they expect a short, shallow recession in Q1 2024.

Fitch Ratings released their outlook for retail in 2024, and predicted YoY declines in the low single digits. They cited consumer spending headwinds and strong past comparables (which will make achieving growth in 2024 that much more difficult). They noted the headwinds were offset by continued strong employment and the easing of inflation and, my favorite part, that predicting anything post-pandemic is nearly impossible.

Around the world, it’s all over the place. The Economic Times reported that stores in India are getting bigger – reflecting growing strength in organized retail – and also that retail real estate has fully rebounded from pre-pandemic levels. The share of stores in India that are smaller than 2,000 square feet fell to 52% in the first half of 2023, vs. 61% the year before, with that growth captured by larger store formats. Mall operators say some retailers have increased the average store size by 30-40% while a few others have doubled it. Leasing activity in the first half of 2023 was more than the entirety of 2022. Anecdotally, I’m hearing from retailers who were once all-in on China, that India is the new China for retail growth and currently holds more interest, given concerns over China’s internal economy.

In the UK, inflation continues to slow. The Shop Price Index shows that prices were 4.3% higher in November so far, down from 5.2% increase in October YoY. Non-food inflation was lowest at 2.5% in Nov. vs. 3.4% in October. The British Retail Consortium has been pretty aggressive lately in pointing to the reset of business rates and the National Living Wage that will happen in the beginning of 2024, saying that very large expected increases for both will set back any inflation progress.

Black Friday Weekend Specifically

NRF reports a record number of shoppers over BF weekend, along with a breakdown of shopping trends by category.

UK Black Friday footfall was also up, 2% higher than 2022, but still down 12.6% vs 2019.

Grocery stores saw a bigger than average boost in store traffic on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I thought this was interesting because it also gave hints that consumers spent on Thanksgiving itself.

Store Brands has great coverage on RetailNext’s traffic tracking with some good stats.

But my favorite BF weekend set of stats came from FullStory, a provider of digital experience data and insights. I can’t remember when I first heard the term “rage click” – it was a long time ago – but it was one of those terms that instantly resonated because it so perfectly captured that moment when you hit the mouse button repeatedly even though you know the website or link you’re clicking on is doing absolutely nothing. Usually accompanied by shouting or groaning. Well, they measured rage clicks and other evidence of websites getting overwhelmed by traffic, and reported both for Cyber Monday and for Black Friday weekend overall, across over 100 retailers. Some key stats:

  • Online shopper frustration increased 24.7% on Cyber Monday 2023 compared to last year.
  • “Error messages” on Cyber Monday were up 1.7% over last year.
  • “Dead clicks” (where nothing happens when shoppers click or tap) were also up 1.9% YoY.
  • For the whole weekend, digital frustration (ie: Rage Clicks) increased 16.3% vs. the same period last year, “error messages” were up 3.7% YoY, and “dead clicks” increased 2.6% YoY.

Shoppers may have skipped the lines in stores when they could, but as more of them spent the weekend online, the chance that they found themselves caught in the digital equivalent only went up and up.

Retail and Retail Technology Research & Data

There was a lot of research and data published last week, but here are my top favorites.

The big news this week was that Amazon
AMZN
delivers more packages than UPS or FedEx
FDX
– only the USPS delivers more (and Amazon uses them too sometimes). But underneath the covers is a huge amount of waste. An annual study from Security.org, updated based on a consumer survey from October found that 17% of Americans report that they’ve had a package stolen. In the past year, thieves stole $8B worth of merchandise. 88% of adults are worried about the theft of online purchases. Fewer than 1-in-7 stolen packages are reported to the police. 44 million Americans saw porch pirates in the last 3 months. I wonder what Amazon will do about that?

Intuit
INTU
Credit Karma says over 25% of Americans are “doom spending” – spending money in order to feel less stressed about the economy. A bigger thing for Millennials (43%) and Z’s (35%) than older generations. It’s about the only explanation I’ve seen for why consumers have not pulled back on spending much more than they have. Millennials are on the record as hating credit, which was why they were more interested in Buy Now Pay Later, because they didn’t perceive it as “real debt”. Gen Z doesn’t share the same aversion, but they do seem to have a larger disdain for traditional capitalist trappings – which I could see getting bent into “why not spend it all, it’s not real money anyway”. We’ll see how that works out when the bills start coming due.

A Wharton study examined the relationship between Apple’s
AAPL
App Tracking Transparency and fraud complaints. The authors found that a 10% increase in the number of iOS users in a given zip code results in a 3.21% drop in financial fraud complaints from that location. The study also found that “the effects are concentrated in complaints related to lax data security and privacy.” My response to this was “Ouch.”

Mozilla has a Creep-O-Meter that tells you how much privacy and security is inherent in the products you buy. This is the first time this has come across my radar, but apparently it has been around for several years now. I feel like this is a public service announcement. Mozilla reports that more companies are encrypting data and taking on other improved data security measures (yay), but also collecting and/or sharing more data than ever (hmm), and even making it difficult if not impossible to use a product when it’s offline (mean). It also provides a handy dandy self-assessment – you can see which products you own or are considering buying that happen to be the worst offenders (yikes).

Retail Innovation

Amazon opened a “Second Chance” store in London. You can come in and repair things, and the store in general features returned items, repaired or refurbished items, etc.

Walmart
WMT
launched a shoppable video series starting on December 2 on Roku, TikTok, and YouTube. It’s billed as a “RomCommerce” that ties a holiday series called “Add to Heart” (aww) to shoppable elements. Everybody is obsessed with Retail Media Networks, but this, and even what LEGO is doing with Dreamzzz, is more like Retail invading Media Networks. I mean, almost back to Soap Opera level of collaboration / coordination.

IKEA opened a “Plan and Order Point” store in Southlake TX, a new format, the first one in the US. No cash & carry, the store is focused on having consumers work with experts to design and then arrange for pickup or home delivery. It also enables collecting online purchases sent to the location.

The Bottom Line

Consumers haven’t stopped – yet. And somewhere, somehow, they are continuing to justify heavy spend. I still lean towards revenue up, units down, and earnings flat or slightly down. But I will harken back to Fitch Ratings and their big shrug. This year is definitely one of the hardest to predict – and to understand.

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