A survey of holiday sales projections point to a 4.4 percent sales increase this year.

A special kind of holiday season has arrived.

One likely to yield healthy sales gains — roughly 4 percent — but as promotional as ever, filled with uncertainty over how profits play out, greater mobile shopping, retailers enticing consumers to buy limited supplies of the hottest items, and Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals occurring well before and after the actual days.

This holiday season is the shortest since 2013, with only 26 shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas and six fewer days than last year. That has motivated retailers to unleash holiday promotions as far ahead as Halloween in some cases. The late Hanukkah this year — the first night is Dec. 22, whereas last year it was Dec. 2 — doesn’t help.

Among the big players promoting early is Amazon, which is largely expected to have a winning holiday season. Amazon last Friday began rolling out thousands of Black Friday deals and “deeper discounts” on an avalanche of  products daily, including toys, electronics, beauty, kitchen, home, Amazon devices and some fashion, such as 35 percent off Herschel backpacks and wallets, 50 percent off Oakley and Ray-Ban sunglasses, and 30 percent off Calvin Klein underwear. Bed Bath & Beyond had Keurig coffee brewers and pods reduced in price, among other items. And smaller players, too, like J. Crew, joined the promotional push around mid-November, offering “early access” to Parke blazers for $79.50, reduced from $198, and Polartec pullovers, for $54.50, from $138, among other discounts.

Promotional shifts this year are necessary to compensate for the shorter calendar. Macy’s, for example, launched a Black Friday preview last Thursday to “come out of the blocks stronger,” Macy’s chairman and chief executive officer Jeff Gennette told WWD, though he stressed that while the retailer is changing the timing and targeting of its promotions, the store will be no more promotional than a year ago.

Because of the six fewer shopping days this holiday, November overall becomes more important, Gennette said. All the extended promoting on and around Black Friday will siphon business out of the day itself. But it’s still big business. “The combination of opening at 5 [p.m.] on Thanksgiving and Black Friday is our biggest shopping period,” Gennette said. “Black Friday is still great, but it doesn’t guarantee a great Christmas.”

“Can’t help but wonder what will Black Friday bring this year as retailers bang away at early Black Friday offers,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry adviser at NPD, in a recent tweet. “Scoring the deal of the century can now be done well before Black Friday. So maybe more a social walk through a mall than a shopping trip full of frenzy.” Retailers were doling out holiday deals even before the Halloween candy was doled out, Cohen said.

In early November, Taylor Schreiner, principal analyst at Adobe Digital Insights, said, “Holiday shopping has begun in earnest with consumers pouring onto retailers’ web sites to find the early deals of the season. All signs point to strong sales growth this year, with consumers buying almost 50 percent more than last year just through their phones. And this may be one of the best years for consumers, to date, as promotional price discounts are much deeper than they were at this time last year — TV prices alone are down nearly 15 percent from October.”

“The tradition of Thanksgiving weekend holiday shopping has become a five-day event with consumers spending money in stores, supporting local small businesses, and online with their mobile devices and computers,” said NRF president and ceo Matthew Shay. “Even as people are starting to purchase gifts earlier in the season, consumers still enjoy finding good Thanksgiving deals and passing time shopping with family and friends over the long holiday weekend.”

Other emerging trends that are bound to be key factors for this season include pop-up stores, faster and free deliveries, and collaborations between designers and brands and retailers for exclusivity, to differentiate and reduce financial risk. Among the many retailers experimenting with pop-up stores this season are Tiffany & Co. in Los Angeles, lifestyle brand Goop in Chicago and the revived Toys ‘R’ Us toy retailer in Chicago and Atlanta, according to CBRE.

Resale, too, is seen as an important trend for holiday. An Accenture survey found that 48 percent of those who participated in the survey would buy  pre-owned apparel and accessories as gifts. The survey also found that 56 percent would accept pre-owned merchandise as gifts this season.

How consumers receive their gifts is also changing, with buy online, pickup in store, known as BOPIS, and third-party options becoming commonplace. Amazon package pickups and returns can be made at Kohl’s and a few other retailers. UPS has pickup locations at Michael’s craft stores, and FedEx packages can be picked up or returned at  Walgreens and Dollar General. When consumers avail themselves of these third-party services in-store, they are likely to spend some time inside the store browsing and shopping even if they didn’t expect to.

“Shoppers have more options than ever this season, whether in stores, online or, increasingly, a combination of the two,” said Anthony Buono, CBRE global president, retail. “The physical store remains the dominant venue for holiday shopping, especially as retailers improve the experience they offer customers with pop-up stores, on-site events, loyalty rewards and other incentives.”

There will be the usual diehard crowds lining up in the wee hours of the morning for Black Friday doorbusters, and the mad, last-minute rush in late December for gifts. But there’s no question the dynamics of holiday shopping are changing, making it increasingly challenging for retailers to plan while also providing new opportunities for some extra business.

At this point, the industry mood remains upbeat. “Shoppers have cause for uncertainty in the 2019 holiday season, including next year’s elections and ongoing trade negotiations. But the U.S. economy remains solid, the job market is strong, and retailers appear prepared,” said Meghann Martindale, CBRE global head of retail research. “Shoppers are benefiting as retailers strive to serve them where, when and how they want.”

“We’re locked and loaded with the right content, right marketing, right store environments. We are doing everything we can to execute for our customer. We are ready,” Macy’s Gennette said. “We have confidence in our holiday strategies. The Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and Bluemercury teams are aligned and committed to delivering a great experience for our customers in our stores, on our digital sites and through our mobile apps.”

Other retailers expected to fare well this season, based on trends this year, are Nike, Lululemon, Walmart, Target, TJX, Ross Stores, Best Buy and Lowe’s. While Macy’s, Kohl’s and J.C. Penney have been struggling this year, they nevertheless tend to be destinations for gifts during the holiday season. The industrial-strength price promoting helps.

ADOBE’S 2019 HOLIDAY PICKS

Most Searched Stores for Black Friday:

  1. Best Buy
  2. Walmart
  3. Amazon
  4. Target
  5. J.C. Penney
  6. Macy’s
  7. Costco
  8. Lowe’s
  9. GameStop
  10. Kohl’s

 

Most Searched Products for Black Friday:

  1. Nintendo Switch
  2. Sony PlayStation 4
  3. Apple Watch
  4. Airpods
  5. Sony PlayStation 4 Pro
  6. Xbox One X
  7. iPad Pro
  8. Macbook Pro
  9. iPhone XR
  10. Instant Pot

 

Most Searched Product Categories for Black Friday:

  1. Laptop
  2. Furniture
  3. Shoes
  4. Flights
  5. Toys
  6. Headphones
  7. Phones
  8. Clothes
  9. Microwave
  10. Camera

 

Most Searched Fashion/Beauty Brands:

  1. Sephora
  2. Victoria’s Secret
  3. Old Navy
  4. Lululemon
  5. Uniqlo
  6. H&M
  7. T.J. Maxx
  8. Zara
  9. Express
  10. Gap

 

Most Searched Store Sites for Cyber Monday:

  1. Amazon
  2. Walmart
  3. Best Buy
  4. Target
  5. Macy’s
  6. J.C. Penney
  7. GameStop
  8. Apple
  9. Kohl’s
  10. Home Depot

 

Most Searched Products for Cyber Monday:

  1. Sony PlayStation 4
  2. Nintendo Switch
  3. Airpods
  4. Apple Watch
  5. Xbox One X
  6. iPhone
  7. iPad
  8. Fitbit
  9. Sony PlayStation 4 Pro
  10. Macbook Pro
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