What Black Friday Deals Say About the State of Retail

Black Friday weekend shopping deck

Author: Andria Cheng

November 22, 2017

According to a National Retail Federation survey conducted ahead of this year's Thanksgiving weekend, an estimated 164 million US consumers were planning to shop, or at least considering it, during the weekend. Some 115 million, or 70% of them, expected to do that on Friday, the traditional kickoff the holiday shopping season.

Of course, the big draw is the doorbuster deals unleashed on Black Friday (and increasingly  even on Thanksgiving day itself).

Those deals say a lot about the state of the retail industry as a whole—what retailers need to do to remain relevant, what consumers are spending on (and not spending on) and how the industry is going to evolve in the coming months.

Here's a selection of this year's offerings, and what they say about the industry:

The Amazon/Walmart Rivalry Is Only Getting Hotter: While retailers like Target, Best Buy and Macy’s, featured offers on Amazon's Echo line, Walmart only promoted Google Home, the smart speaker product from its new partner, Google. Meanwhile, a search for Google Home products on Amazon's Black Friday deals section only led to Echo offers.

Smart Everything: Yes, this year’s holiday deals speak of consumer demand (as well as retailer hopes) for wider adoption of smart home devices. Walmart had a section featuring “create a smart home” deals. Best Buy, which has called out smart home products as a key product focus, is perhaps the best example. Three of the company’s 50-page Black Friday deals flier featured smart home related devices including not only Amazon and Google’s respective voice assistants lineups, but also video doorbells, smart locks, wifi security camera, thermostats and even smart plugs.

The Newest Things: It used to be that Black Friday deals typically offered older-model gadgets. This year, many retailers stepped up with the latest models.  Even though the recently released iPhone X is practically nowhere to be found among major retailers’ fliers, retailers like Target and Best Buy are offering iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, both introduced in September, with giftcards or cash of $200 to $300 with contract activations in addition to other deals for prior-year models. Other notable deals featuring products unveiled this year include Nintendo Switch video game unit.

“Retailers are noticing consumers want hot new items,” said Sarah Hollenbeck, a shopping expert at deal tracking site BlackFriday.com, in an interview. Consumers “are shopping a lot smarter.”

The More Things Change... : In addition to new releases, doorbuster deals included plenty of familiar products like TVs, home appliances, clothes and toys. According to Hollenbeck, 60% of retailers’ doorbuster deals stay the same each year. It's a reminder that retailers must balance old and new consumer preferences.

Discount Limits: According to another deal site, BestBlackFriday.com, the average savings for some of the season’s hot items will probably top out around 35%. For instance, average savings tracked on the site for Sony Playstation 4: 26%; Microsoft Xbox One: 25%; Nintendo consoles: 34%; Apple iPhone 7 and 8: 22%; Amazon devices: 29%; Nintendo Wii U: 35%; Apple iPads: 30%; Apple MacBooks: 20%. Roku streaming players: 34%.