Black Friday In-Store Still Relevant in 2023

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Even in the Internet Age, holiday in-store traffic isn't down; it’s just changing.

While retailers may be seeing less traffic on Black Friday weekend, total visitation isn’t declining — visitation patterns are just shifting. Compared to even just a few years ago, the increase in visitors during the Black Friday “lead up” period is increasing, while the spike for Black Friday week is decreasing.

In other words, people are spreading their visits across more weeks instead of concentrating it in a single week.

Is your business ready for the action? Read on to learn about:

  • Planning for Black Friday foot traffic, and how it’s changing over time
  • Designing the right promotions & incentives to get people in the store on Black Friday
  • Measuring and analyzing Black Friday performance

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Planning for Black Friday Traffic

Let’s say we’re a big box retail electronics store and we’re looking to use location data to guide our holiday - and specifically Black Friday - strategy. 

To plan for the season, we need to first know what level of foot traffic we can expect to our location so that we can be prepared operationally to serve those customers.

As retail and purchasing habits change, the key questions to answer become:

  • Is Black Friday still relevant in the digital age?
  • What can we expect for foot traffic to our location during that week?

For our big box location, our analysis of Unacast’s data suggests that the importance of Black Friday is changing. Comparing visitation count for the week of Black Friday to the prior 4 weeks’ average shows that there is less of a spike the week of Black Friday each successive year.

If the weekly average for the 4 weeks leading up Black Friday was 100 visitors, we’d expect 225 visitors the week of Black Friday in 2019, but only 117 in 2022.


However, this doesn’t mean that total visitation is down. An alternate explanation is that visitation patterns are shifting - people are spreading their visits across more weeks instead of concentrating it in a single week.

Looking at the total visitor count for the period at our store - the week of Black Friday plus the prior 4 weeks - visitation is down only about 5% between 2019-2022, far less than the prior graphic suggests.


This means that customers are spreading their shopping across a longer time period, not that shoppers are wholly abandoning brick-and-mortar shopping. Black Friday is still relevant, but the shopping season is now moving into early November instead of its traditional official kickoff with Black Friday.

What does that mean we can expect for Black Friday this year?

We can analyze past visitation patterns, incorporating recent trends, to answer that question.

Using data through Q3 2023, we can expect our location to have a baseline visitation level of ~9,200 average weekly visitors. In the weeks leading up to Black Friday, we’d expect weekly visitation count to increase by ~1,400, and then during the week of Black Friday visitation will increase by another ~3,800 visitors.


This shows that Black Friday - and the holiday period - still have relevance to increasing foot traffic to Brick and Mortar stores. 

However, compared to even just a couple years ago, the increase in visitors during the Lead Up period is increasing while the spike for Black Friday week is decreasing.

Translating this to the business, operationally we need to determine how the way we best serve customers changes with foot traffic levels that are 50% higher than benchmarks the week of Black Friday. How many more registers do we need open? Do we need to stock shelves more frequently?

Actions around staffing levels and inventory planning to manage this spike in demand - taken now ahead of the season - sets the business up for success to deliver to customers the experience they expect despite the chaotic surge that can come this time of year.

Designing the Right Promotions

We’ll now transition from visitor count to visitor profiles to understand who these visitors are that enter our location.

The location data at our store shows that we primarily serve upper and upper middle income families. Among our top 5 customer profiles, 3 profiles (Upper Suburban Diverse Families, Ultra Wealthy Families, and Wealthy Suburban Families) fit this category and represent 43% of shoppers.

With this information, we know that our target demographic is college educated, family oriented homeowners with above average income.

This suggests that we should focus on promotions for the whole family when thinking about how to incentivize shoppers to come to our location on Black Friday.

We could look to implement messaging and promotions like:

  • Spruce up your home with our top of the line smart home technology
  • Bundle up for the holidays with our tech bundles for the whole family
  • Connect the kids with our full suite of Apple products

Our discounts and promotional strategy needs to reflect the shopper in our store. Based on the customer profiles, we know that they’ll be shopping for a variety of ages and that the families largely have disposable income to spend.

Thus, our customer acquisition strategy can be targeted toward these groups, like the above examples of holiday messaging. 

The discounts we choose to highlight in promotional materials should be on products this segment will purchase, like high-end electronics, products for the home, and perhaps emerging child-friendly technology.

To get shoppers in the door, we need to speak their language. Customers expect discounting and promotions on Black Friday and customer profiles enable us to connect with the right segments with the right offerings to drive foot traffic to our locations.

Measuring Black Friday Performance

Let’s say we’ve made it through the holiday season, taken a breath, and we want to know how well we did at getting customers to our store.

We want to know two key points:

  1. How did the expected foot traffic compare to the actual foot traffic?
  2. What was the relationship between foot traffic and sales?

We documented earlier that we expected ~14,400 visitors to our store the week of Black Friday. We look at the data and find that our actual foot traffic during that week was just over 16,300.


Great! This is a point of validation that our strategies to attract customers worked.

Let’s also say we looked at sales figures for Black Friday week from last year to this year and found that they increased by 8% year-over-year.


Now we need to re-evaluate our foot traffic growth in the context of our sales growth. Foot traffic growth outpacing sales growth means that either:

  • Customers spent less per purchase
  • Fewer visitors made a purchase

This 5% gap is, in effect, forgone revenue. Assuming similar spend per visit between years, this lower sales growth is a result of lower conversion from visitor to customer.

The gap becomes a conversation point for the team. What might be the root cause behind the gap? 

Data guides teams toward the right questions. By looking at sales growth alone, we may consider this to be a successful Black Friday week. By layering in foot traffic growth, we now realize there was additional opportunity that we didn’t capture.

Location data adds another dimension to how we can analyze our performance at this location. We can continue to build on the success of the holiday season by identifying the potential reasons for “lost” purchases and proactively finding how the team can capture those opportunities heading into the next holiday season.

Conclusion

Shopper behavior is changing, particularly around the holidays. At some locations, the time surrounding Black Friday looks different than even just a couple years ago.

Location data keeps companies current on how shopper behavior is changing - and who those shoppers are - to constantly be evaluating the opportunities available to the business.

Data-driven retail strategies are necessary to keep a competitive advantage, and a combination of internal performance data and external third-party data gives the most complete information to form their strategies during the critical holiday period and beyond.

Unacast provides business teams with the user-friendly Unacast Insights platform to perform many of these analyses themselves while also providing data teams with the underlying data to drive further insights for their business.

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