Masked shoppers and visitors walk down 5th Avenue and stop to look at the Saks 5th Avenue window displays for the Holiday season during the Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak in Manhattan,New York on Sunday, December 6, 2020. (Alex Menendez via AP)

Though lacking the hype and hysteric gift shopping of past years, Super Saturday 2020 came out OK.

Store traffic perked up over the weekend, even at enclosed malls where the pandemic has been decimating business. Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue was the busiest it’s been all month, and shoppers needing to do some late-in-the-season gift shopping took advantage of Super Saturday discounts, which seemed under control, often in the 30 percent range for full-price items, and 50 to 70 percent on clearance items.

Around the country, Lululemon, Bath & Body Works, Target, Walmart, Canada Goose, Uggs, Nike and other footwear chains, as well as Home Depot, Lowe’s, Best Buy, and other electronics and home stores were among the busiest retailers, according to retail observers. Apple stores were also busy, where they were open. Apple in the U.S. closed all its stores in California and Tennessee, where there have been severe virus spreads.

According to a Deloitte consumer study covering trends for this year, “Overall retail foot traffic is being buoyed by mass, grocery, home improvement and club retailers, which are all trending up since the onset of the pandemic; other retail sub-sectors are still experiencing foot traffic below pre-pandemic levels.”

Through Super Saturday weekend, the cold, clear weather sparked interest in outerwear and cold-weather accessories, which had been lagging due to the relatively warm and dry December up until the blizzard in the middle of last week.

“It was a perfectly decent Super Saturday,” said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, which tracks traffic at shopping centers around the country. “We had forecast a 5.5 percent increase for Super Saturday. It was possibly as high as 6.2 percent. That lags the 7 percent for the month overall to date, but it was still good.”

CGP last week indicated that with a 5.5 percent sales gain from last year, Super Saturday 2020 would generate a record $36.1 billion in sales. A 6 percent increase would put it at $36.5 billion.

“We saw much more traffic in enclosed malls. Outlet malls and lifestyle centers were very crowded. Strong A and B malls saw some solid traffic. Overall, footfall was still down but the conversion rate is up. A lot of retailers saw an increase in net transaction velocity,” Johnson observed.

On the downside, “apparel stores were weak, departments stores are getting better but still weak,” Johnson added. “This is a hardlines Christmas, versus softlines, whether it’s consumer electronics, or snow blowers which sold out at Home Depot and Lowe’s anywhere affected by the snow.” The West Coast, he said, has been getting “hit hard by all the different closures.”

Around the country, “Everybody was wearing masks,” Johnson said. “At some stores, we saw exterior lines 10 to 25 people deep,” as retailers made the effort to socially distance the shoppers and stagger the traffic flow.

Through December, there have been reports of brick-and-mortar traffic declining 40 to 50 percent, with cases of COVID-19 spiking around the country causing people to stay home and shop more online.

“We’re also seeing a decline in overall traffic, but we are able to make it up based on higher conversions and higher order value,” said Bill Brand, chief executive officer of Rue21, the apparel specialty retailer, and one of the few reporting some momentum this season. For Super Saturday weekend, “the engagement level with customers exceeded our expectations and plan,” Brand said.

Regarding the reports of 40 to 50 percent traffic declines, Brand said, “We are about half that. There used to be huge Black Fridays and huge Super Saturdays. There’s been a much more even, consistent pattern to business.”

“From our perspective, we found nothing that stood out,” said David Stefko, interim ceo and chief financial officer at Vince Holdings, when asked about traffic on Super Saturday. He cited “a lackluster performance in California” due to the spike in COVID-19 cases in the state forcing people to stay at home, though the Vince stores were opened for business. “We actually saw stronger traffic in the earlier part of the week,” Stefko told WWD.

Overall, the mood for retailing was mixed, brightening in the past few days with the beginning of COVID-19 vaccinations, and news that Congress was set to approve a second COVID-19 relief package. As Johnson pointed out, the gains retailers are seeing are coming from upper income families with more discretionary dollars to spend on material goods, since they’re not traveling, staying in hotels, going to shows and spending on other experiences outside the home. Still, on the darker side, the pandemic is spreading and millions remain out of work though the unemployment rate has been declining.

On Monday, Sensormatic Solutions released traffic data indicating that visits to physical stores on Super Saturday decreased by 39.1 percent compared to 2019. For the Friday, Saturday and Sunday weekend stretch, visits to physical stores decreased by 39.9 percent compared to 2019.

“Super Saturday weekend was perceived to be the beginning of a return to brick-and-mortar due to concerns over online shipping cut offs. However, as many states enforced stricter mandates due to COVID-19, recent extreme weather in the Northeast as well as many consumers’ reluctance to shop in-store when it’s busy, many consumers elected to stay home on Super Saturday this year,” said Brian Field, senior director of global retail consulting at Sensormatic Solutions. “With less than a week before Christmas Day, we still expect the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday leading up to Christmas Eve all to play prominent roles in our list of top busiest days.”

The average week year-over-year store traffic trend heading into the holiday season was negative 27.3 percent, Field added. For the holiday season overall, he sees traffic down 34 to 36 percent.

According to RetailMeNot, an online platform for coupons, cash backs and other promotional offers, discounts on Super Saturday were in line with last year at an average of 24 percent off. There were deeper discounts (compared to last year) available in a variety of sectors, including plane tickets, hotels, car rentals, toys, kids wear, activewear, computers, big-box electronics, home and garden.

Among RetailMeNot’s other insights into Super Saturday:

  • Overall promotional offerings skewed heavier online this year due to the pandemic. Eighty-seven percent of promotions on RetailMeNot were online-focused this year, versus 67 percent last year, as retailers moved in-store promotions online.
  • Retailers made it easy for consumers to get their purchases quickly. More than 60 percent more retailers promoted BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store) and curbside pickup in their offers, and 30 percent more retailers offered discounts for consumers who used these services.
  • To accommodate increased demand online, retailers offered more free shipping deals than last year: 34 percent more free shipping offers were available. A similar percentage of these offers required consumers to meet a minimum spend, but this year that minimum spend was $10 higher vs last year. Super Saturday wasn’t the blockbuster of past years due to the different pattern of shopping this holiday season. As Matthew Shay, president and ceo of the National Retail Federation, said last Friday, “Consumers have embraced an earlier start to the holiday season. They are spreading out their holiday shopping and taking advantage of sales and promotions from retailers in local communities and national brands.”
    According to a survey by the NRF and Prosper Insights of 8,092 adult consumers conducted Nov. 25 through Dec. 4, as of early December, 85 percent of holiday consumers had started shopping and they had completed 52 percent of their purchasing for the season.
    For those with at least half of their shopping left to complete, 37 percent were still deciding what to buy, 26 percent were waiting for family and friends to tell them what they wanted, and 23 percent were holding off for the best deal. Similar to last year, more than half (54 percent) of holiday shoppers plan to purchase their last gift during the week leading up to Christmas. Top gift purchases so far included clothing and accessories (45 percent), toys (29 percent), gift cards (28 percent), books and other media (27 percent) and electronics (23 percent). Just 21 percent of holiday shoppers plan to give a “gift of experience” this year, down from 25 percent in 2019 and the lowest since NRF first asked the question in 2015. “While traditionally a popular item, it’s clear that the pandemic has impacted ‘gifts of experience’ this year,” Prosper executive vice president of strategy Phil Rist said. “With continued uncertainty around gatherings and out-of-home activities, we saw the biggest decline in plans to gift an experience among those ages 35 to 44 but the under-25 cohort also saw a significant dip.”

The survey found that two-thirds (66 percent) of holiday shoppers will likely shop in the week immediately following Christmas, to take advantage of post-holiday sales and promotions (45 percent) and use gift cards (27 percent).

NRF, which defines the holiday season as Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, has predicted that sales will increase between 3.6 percent and 5.2 percent over 2019 to a total between $755.3 billion and $766.7 billion. Over the 2020 holiday season, NRF expects that online and other non-store sales, which are included in the total, will increase between 20 percent and 30 percent.

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