Holiday Sales Update #3- Clear Skies for Specialty Retail

We hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and that your holiday season is off to a great start.


We are happy to report that sales were strong over the holiday weekend for over 85% of our clients. This includes brands across categories, price points, and life stage. About half of you are reporting sales growth between 5-10% while the other half are reporting even stronger growth. Industry news sources are sharing the same message, except for a few store-closing reports for traditional retailers. Overall, ecommerce was strong, consumers still love stores, promotions continue, and Amazon is bigger than ever. 

Here are some of the key metrics from the all-important shopping weekend:

  • Q3 ecommerce revenue was up 15%. By contrast, Thanksgiving and Black Friday pulled in double the growth at plus 29% and 32% respectively, according to Salesforce. Comscore and Rakkuten Marketing are reporting slightly lower increases, but still north of 20%. Adobe is reporting Thanksgiving sales hit a record $2.9B while Black Friday topped $5B in sales. For perspective, Alibaba did $25B in one day for Singles Day.
  • On Black Friday, desktop computers accounted for only 49% of all ecommerce orders. Mobile pulled in 61% of all traffic and 46% of all orders; smartphones continue to dominate over tablets. Depending on the source, web traffic overall was up around 20% for the long weekend. 
  • From the NRF, average spending over the five days was $335.47, with 75% going toward gifts. (Some sources report that one third of holiday gift spending is complete by the end of Cyber Monday.) The biggest spenders were those ages 25-34.
  • On Black Friday and the following Saturday, more consumers shopped in retail than digital, but as expected, digital overtook physical retail on Sunday and Cyber Monday. (NRF) Overall, foot traffic in stores was down 4.5% on Friday (eMarketer). 
  • Amazon captured 45.1% of online purchases on Thanksgiving Day among the top 50 online US retailers, and 54.9% of online transactions on Black Friday. Walmart was second at 13.9% of online transactions on Thanksgiving Day and 8.8% on Black Friday. (Hitwise) 


According to SalesForce, the average % discount on Black Friday held steady (28% TY vs. 27% LY). Free shipping also remained steady at 85% of orders TY and 84% LY. Interestingly, luxury labels and retailers saw the greatest increases in discounts over the weekend (according to Edited which tracks real time data for retailers) with discounts averaging between 26% and 50%. Edited also noted that the average discount over the weekend in the apparel category specifically was 46%. While promotional activity remained steady YOY for most of you, we did notice an increase in the frequency of email sends per day, up to seven sends in one day by major brands. (We won’t call you out =/) Timing for Black Friday also pulled earlier, starting on the Sunday before Thanksgiving for many retailers with messaging like “Black Friday Starts Now.”


Last year we saw a staggering increase in direct mail and catalogs in November weeks 3 and 4 (75 and 78 pieces respectively) but this year we are seeing new records set with November week 3 as peak week (101 pieces in my mailbox) and another 84 pieces in week 4. This officially pushes the back half of November as the major in-home period as clients try to leverage the huge sales demand starting Thanksgiving week. Here are a few of the major trends:

  • Welcome to the new generation of catalogs. Some of the catalogs successfully targeting 30-40 something hip, affluent, urban men and women: Society 6, Shinola, United by Blue, Allbirds, Stance, Modcloth, Stitchfix, Cuyana, Amour Vert, Olukai, Everlane, Faherty, and Untuckit. Fewer pages, fewer items, more story-telling.
  • The last few weeks also saw a pickup in the amount of small format pieces vs. full trim size catalogs from brands like Boden, Tommy John, West Elm, Pottery Barn, JCrew, Charles Tyrwhitt, and Lucky Brand. As you know, we always recommend a mix of formats.
  • As expected, there was also a surge in food/gift catalogs this week. A special call-out to Mark & Graham and Uncommon Goods for their focused assortment of great gifts. Also noticeable were the regional food catalogs I received from Zingerman’s and Zabar’s. 


Here are a few call-outs this week from our Creative Services Director, Renee Barrentine:

  • Love the giant trim size (10.5 x 13) for American Girl. Includes stitch-in of gift tags for kids to write on.
  • Applause to Stance, an entire book of just socks that is truly a page turner due to energetic and powerful design, copy and photography.
  • Shout out to Shinola for an elegant, upscale catalog with strong brand story.
  • Applause to J.Crew for looking very different from week to week. Current book is 7.375 x 9.5; 68 pages vs last week’s 8 x 10 36 pages. Lots of multi-item laydown studio shots which makes the book very gift oriented and full of gift ideas but not overwhelmingly dense.