To Black Friday or not to Black Friday? That is the question of late. But, lord, oh lord, is there so much more that will make or break this year’s holiday selling season than some silly day in late November.
If recent events are any indication, Black Friday will never be the same, and this year will be unlike anything the U.S. market has ever seen and, god willing, unlike anything it will ever see again.
Five big changes are on the horizon over the next few months:
#1 — Halloween will be a candy-coated shell of its former self
The best costume this Halloween season? Halloween itself, for it won’t look like it has in the past.
This year Halloween will resemble an orange circus peanut at the bottom of a pillowcase. Sure, it’s there, it’s candy, but it just ain’t a Snickers bar.
Halloween has a number of things going against it.
Unlike Back-to-School shopping, which has a long selling season and no real start or end date, Halloween is a finite day and time. While Back-to-School started off slowly and may just now be starting to rebound as families settle into new routines, these same phenomena are unlikely to happen with Halloween. Parents won’t have time to get “acclimated” (my quotes) to public health direction or to push out their own Halloween decision-making.
Unlike school, Halloween can also not be simulated online. Ok, yes, maybe the occasional virtual trick or treating or Halloween party can still occur online, but all this activity is still a far cry from millions of youngsters going door-to-door dressed as everything from ninja turtles to Star Wars characters and millions of singles going out to the bars dressed up as sexy fill-in-the-blank twists on Tiger King.
Translation — less costumes parties and less trick or treating means less costume sales and less candy sales.
And, home decorating won’t make up the difference, either. According to statistics from the National Retail Federation shared with USA Today in 2018, Halloween decorating makes up less than 30% of all Halloween spending.
So, it is time to face the facts. Halloween is DOA already.
#2 — Turkeys are made for stuffing
The opposite can be said for Thanksgiving. Good ol’ Turkey Day is going to be off the chain.
People are stuck inside with their closest friends and families, food sales are already off the charts as more people are dining in vs. eating out, a second virus wave is looming, and, oh yeah, lest one forget, the NFL football season has also kicked off with furious abandon. The one gosh darn entertainment event that America still has going for it, the NFL, goes with Thanksgiving like onions go with green beans.
This year’s Thanksgiving feasts will be like a G-rated version of a Caligula movie. They will be veritable gorge fests, with people gathered around the TV, eating more and for longer periods of time than ever before, and grocers will reap the unbridled benefits of America’s collective cooped up, innocuous gluttony.
After all, what else are people supposed to do — go shopping in stores for gifts and clothes?
#3 — Online shopping will move up and Amazon
There’s truth in every joke, especially that last one, because people aren’t going to shop in stores this holiday season like they once did, or ever again for that matter.
Many retailers have already announced plans to close on Thanksgiving Day and to move up their selling seasons online. Places like Walmart, Target, Best Buy
Whether ideas like 10/10 take hold and whether discretionary spending also moves forward to coincide with such efforts are both still open questions, but, no matter the case, retailers have a massive amount of volume they will need to pull forward given the end of November party cancellations. In-store sales on Thanksgiving and on Black Friday are huge, so trying to sell through this same amount of volume online through October and November, in many ways, is like pulling a fully made ship through a glass bottle.
It is a damn near impossibility, and one made all the more impossible by the fact that Amazon just announced that it, too, will hold its own first-ever holiday season Prime Day on 10/13 and 10/14. Not to be outdone, Target
All of which means goodbye 10/10 (because no one likely cares anymore) and good luck mid-tier retailers trying to plan store payrolls at metered traffic capacities for the rest of the season, along with online deal days to compensate for whatever impact this unforeseen variance on pulled forward demand will have on them.
In the end, Amazon will do what it always does — take massive share by giving people what they want at great prices — while the rest of retail will be forced to compensate for Amazon’s preemptive Death Star-like, planet destroying blast with more sales and more promotions to clear through their inventory through the balance of the season.
An October Prime Day is a move retailers should have seen coming. But, sadly, it took a virus to wake them up to the idea of earlier holiday promotions. Too bad Amazon was just one step in front of the entire industry again and just waiting for the right moment to strike and to place the event forever in the industry’s annual comp sales base.
#4 — In-store shopping will move back by way of BOPIS and curbside pickup
As much as Amazon will dominate October through December, the last four days leading up to Christmas will still be the purview of physical stores, at least for the chosen few.
At some point, ordering goods online in time for Christmas, usually around the 20th or 21st of December, becomes a logistical impossibility. But, this year, people can’t go into stores as usual to complete their last minute shopping.
As a result, order pickup will explode at retailers or at least amongst the omnichannel capable ones. Places like Target, Walmart, Home Depot, and Best Buy will reap the rewards of the years of omnichannel investment they have made into things like buy online, pickup in-store and curbside pickup, while other retailers, especially mall-based retailers, will be left like Dax Shepard and Seth Green in some movie about going down a river without a paddle.
Similar to the points above surrounding Thanksgiving, trips for Christmas gifts and groceries will congeal around the one-stop shops, like Target and Walmart, or easily-accessible strip malls, while traditional malls will be left hamstrung by safety capacity constraints and digital front-end interfaces that couldn’t coordinate order pickups across a full-range of mall purveyors if Santa Claus himself was in charge of their supply chains.
No, instead, just like they have throughout the pandemic, and especially during the early days, people will go with the retailers that they trust to help them get more done with less.
#5 — Department stores and speciality apparel retailers will hit their breaking points
Play out the above, and it is easy to see — apparel retailers are in a tough spot. While standalone boxes have spent the past few years fortifying their omnichannel capabilities, specialty apparel retailers and department stores have been saddled with mall infrastructures that hang around their necks like albatrosses atop an Ancient Mariner.
There are no occasions for which to dress, there are no work meetings to attend, and there are still no stimulus checks in the mail, but, more importantly, there is also just no way for mall-based retailers to move through the required volume online when their stores are either closed, at diminished capacity, or not architected to the omnichannel needs of today’s consumers.
One can count on less than two hands the number of e-commerce apparel pure plays that have survived over the years, and that is because stores are still the most efficient and cost effective way to move through apparel during the holidays. With COVID-19 forcing everyone to compete online for apparel share, prices will get more competitive, shipping costs will increase, and apparel retailers won’t have last-minute store rushes this year on which to fall back.
The retailers that bought inventory commensurate to last year will end up overbought and lose in the end, while the smart ones, the ones who bought their lines with an eye towards digital contribution and who invested far less than in years past, may be the ones able enough to ride out the storm.
But, no matter what, it is going to be a tough season for them all, and the first signs of 50% off category and site-wide sales early in the season will be the tell-tale signs of even more bankruptcy insanity to come.