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Online holiday shopping hits record, in-store traffic down

A customer shops at Millers Housewares & Hardware

A customer shops at Millers Housewares & Hardware in Lynbrook on Small Business Saturday on Nov. 30, 2019. Credit: Danielle Silverman

The traditional in-store chaos of Black Friday continues to subside as bargain seekers opt to do their holiday shopping different days and ways, including from the comfort of their living rooms.

In-store traffic on Black Friday fell 2.1% compared to the same day last year, while in-store sales fell 1.6%, according to preliminary data from RetailNext, a San Jose-based retail analytics company. 

Not only did more consumers take advantage of stores being open on Thanksgiving, but they also shopped online in record numbers over the past few days and that is expected to continue on Cyber Monday, retail experts said.

“By a lot of the stores opening on Thanksgiving Day, it made Black Friday more blasé in terms of excitement and the thrill of the shoppers,” said retail expert Burt Flickinger III, who founded Manhattan-based Strategic Resource Group and has studied Long Island retail.

One firm, ShopperTrak, reported an even bigger decline than RetailNext did in Black Friday’s in-store foot traffic, with a preliminary estimate of a 6.2% drop, but found that Thanksgiving's in-store foot traffic was up 2.3%.

Still, in-store retail in general was an improvement over last year’s.

“For brick-and-mortar stores, it was about a B-,” Flickinger said.

The official kickoff of the holiday shopping season — the five-day period that includes Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday — is expected to be an indicator of how strongly retail will perform over the entire season.

But with the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas being six days shorter than it was last year, concerned retailers began rolling out promotions weeks ago.

That needs to be taken into consideration when discussing Black Friday’s performance, said Marshal Cohen, a retail industry expert at the NPD Group, a market research firm based in Port Washington.

“Black Friday showed up this year. However, it was clearly different. It needs to be measured differently, as well,” Cohen said.

Data on Small Business Saturday’s in-store sales were not available Sunday, but Cohen did predict that the numbers would reveal a sales decline for that day.

“Those early promotions took their toll on what normally is a huge Saturday of shopping,” he said.

The story online was a different one — a record-breaking one.

Online shopping on Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Small Business Saturday hit new highs.

Online spending on Thanksgiving totaled $4.2 billion, which was a 14.5% increase over sales that day last year and the first time that online sales on the holiday exceeded $4 billion, according to Adobe Analytics, a division of San Jose, California-based software company Adobe Inc.

Black Friday’s online sales hit a record $7.4 billion, the second biggest shopping day online ever, while online sales on Small Business Saturday hit a new high of $3.6 billion, an 18% increase over the day last year.

For Small Business Saturday, local chambers of commerce and other organizations create events on community’s main streets that include visits from Santa, storefront decorating contests, prize giveaways, carolers, Christmas tree lightings and live entertainment.

The campaign was launched in 2010 by American Express, which provides the organizers with free merchandise, such as reusable tote bags, signage and banners to support the efforts.

Small Business Saturday continues to be the top sales day of the year for Out of the Blue, a 7-year-old women’s accessories boutique in Sayville, owner Tara Farrell said. 

“Huge. It’s pretty much the kickoff for the holiday season every year,” said Farrell, who said that Sayville’s organized Small Business Saturday events, including a parade and Shop Small Winter Wonderland, helped.

Steven Muñoz owns a gourmet food gift shop in Patchogue called Amazing Olive, while his parents own a sister store in Port Jefferson.

The shops did well on Saturday, but Muñoz expects the Port Jefferson store’s sales to be higher next weekend during Port Jefferson’s 24th annual Charles Dickens Festival, which will include live entertainment, a gingerbread house contest and other activities.

Amazing Olive’s e-commerce business is playing a bigger role in its holiday sales annually, Muñoz said.

The shop’s Cyber Monday sales, which started Sunday and will run until Dec. 9, are offering 10% off merchandise and free shipping on purchases that total at least $50.

“Every year, [our e-commerce] has been going up about 25% in sales, being that, you know, more people are giving us their email addresses to get notified for sales,” Muñoz said.

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