Industry / Retail

Survey: Black Friday Weekend Sales Show Consumer Confidence This Holiday


Consumers shopped enthusiastically during the Black Friday holiday weekend, exceeding the National Retail Federation’s expectations and maintaining the trade association’s prediction that 2021 will be a “record-setting” sales period.

Among the biggest trends the NRF reported Tuesday during its Black Friday weekend media call is that this all-important kickoff to the holiday shopping season is actually more like halftime. In other words, pandemic-experienced consumers were shopping for the holidays in late October and throughout November in anticipation of supply-chain issues and the need to spread out their in-store purchases.

Another key observation from NRF and its research partner, Prosper Insights & Analytics, is that consumers are going back into stores in higher numbers, another indication that shoppers are looking for deals as well as in-person customer service to complete their shopping lists.

The NRF survey found approximately 104.9 million shoppers visited stores, up from 92.3 million in 2020. The overall number of online shoppers decreased to a total of 127.8 million from 145.4 million last year.

NRF reported that Black Friday remained the most popular day for in-store shopping, with 66.5 million shoppers, followed by 51 million shoppers on Small Business Saturday. The importance of supporting local businesses remained top of mind for many consumers, with 71% indicating they were shopping specifically on Small Business Saturday.

Similar to recent years, Black Friday surpassed Cyber Monday in terms of total online shoppers, with 88 million shopping online the Friday after Thanksgiving compared with 77 million on Monday.

NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay also said the Washington, D.C., organization is keeping a close eye on pandemic-related developments, including new variants such as Omicron as well as vaccination rates across the United States—both serving as significant factors in consumer confidence in not only the economy but also the overall health of the nation.

“There’s no need to panic; I think we’re in a much better place than we were a year ago,” Shay says. “We remain confident that we will continue to have a very positive trajectory in the overall economy and specifically in the retail industry for the holiday season.”

Based on its weekend survey, NRF says nearly 180 million Americans shopped during the five-day holiday shopping period from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday. In total, 179.8 million unique shoppers made in-store and online purchases during the holiday weekend, exceeding NRF’s initial expectations by more than 21 million. The figure compares with 186.4 million shoppers in 2020 and is in line with the average of the last four years.

This idea of Black Friday weekend as the “halftime” of the shopping season is likely to continue into future years as well—mostly because this trend has already been well established over the past decade, Shay and other speakers said during the media call.

Shay and other speakers Tuesday seemed to advise retailers to continue to offer deals, discounts, and special events to pull consumers into stores. Online retailers should continue to offer free shipping—one of the most compelling reasons for consumers to shift their spending to e-commerce over the Black Friday weekend, officials noted.

“We expect a bright, successful, and joyous holiday season,” Shay says.

NRF defines the holiday season as Nov. 1 through Dec. 31 and has forecast that sales will grow between 8.5% and 10.5% over 2020 to between $843.4 billion and $859 billion. According to NRF’s annual survey released in October, consumers plan to spend $997.73 on gifts, holiday items, and other non-gift purchases for themselves and their families this year.

Thanksgiving weekend shoppers spent an average of $301.27 on holiday-related purchases such as gifts, decor, apparel, and toys. This is down slightly from $311.75 in 2020. As in previous years, most ($215.40) of that amount was spent directly on gifts.

Top gift purchases over the weekend included clothing and accessories (bought by 51% of those surveyed), toys (32%), gift cards/certificates (28%), books/music/movies/video games (27%), and electronics (24%).

The survey of 5,759 adult consumers was conducted Nov. 24–29 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.3 percentage points.

Top: Confident consumers were out in stores and looking for customer service as well as buying online during the Black Friday holiday weekend, the National Retail Federation said Tuesday in its wrap-up media call about this all-important part of the 2021 shopping season (photo: Getty Images).


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Karen Dybis

By: Karen Dybis

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