Try this experiment:
Go to the bank and take out some money - say, $600 billion or so. Then gather a collection of random strangers in an open room, with the money piled in neat rows in the middle. With your new friends lined up along the walls, give them a countdown, at the end of which they can sprint to the middle and grab as much cash as they can carry - gym class dodgeball style.
What you'll have is a re-creation of the holiday shopping season. In real life, it's thousands of businesses and retailers competing for their share of the $600 billion bounty. And while your room full of random people would likely devolve into a grotesque mélange of violence and gore, retailers resort to coupons and promotions instead of crudely fashioned prison shanks.
Once again Americans outdid themselves, spending 3.5% more on their loved ones (and themselves) from November through December 24, 2013. But this year was different than years past, in that three big waves of change came over retailers, resulting in what Reuters called "the most competitive holiday season" since 2008.
A stuttering economy and shrinking consumer confidence only reinforced a growing behavior: no one wants to pay full price for anything. In fact, according to Inmar, 45% of shoppers were holding out for 70% off deals. Since the in-store experience around the holidays can be a bit insane, people are quite content to shop around on their mobile devices and computers while waiting for the deep deals they expect.
In case you think the holidays end with Christmas, Mastercard projects the day after and the Saturday after Christmas as two of the busiest shopping days of the year. It's people's love for deals acting as the instigator, and retailers are more than happy to comply by marking down all of the goodies.
We've pointed out previously that the majority of US shoppers look for a deal before making a purchase. Reality has set in; deals are simply the norm now, and retailers have little option but to throw themselves at the feet of consumers and offer deeper discounts.
Friday should never bow down to Monday, but when it comes to holiday shopping, that's quickly becoming the case.
Black Friday saw a decline in year-over-year spending, despite two million more people participating. Competition between retailers took the shape of heavily discounted items and coupons, resulting in a net decline of about 2% in overall spending.
If you expand the numbers to include Thanksgiving day, when many retailers opened in the evening, they improve a bit: Combined spending on both days rose 2.3 percent to $12.3 billion, according to ShopperTrak.
Cyber Monday (Dec. 2) was the single largest online shopping day ever,with $1.7 billion spent. According to Comscore, 49% of those purchases were made from work computers (but not yours, right?!)
Not incidentally, Cyber Monday was cited as the "worst shopping day of the holiday season" for brick-and-mortar shops, according to Quartz.
The numbers don't lie: a lot of people are quite content to sleep in after turkey day, and let the deals come to them electronically on their couch or work desk.
The Mobile Wave
Lest you think the holiday was dominated by people on their computers, mobile had a significant jump.
Over 200 million people browsed Walmart's Black Friday offerings on their mobile devices, more than half of their pageviews. Daily Finance says that the number of purchases made via mobile tripled from last year.
One aspect that surely had an effect: the growing savvy of the shopper and the capabilities of the tools they use to find deals. We've pointed out the insane growth of mobile coupons before, and retailers are playing along.
Consumers Still Have The Wheel
All of these trends boil down to one simple point that we've discussed several times: consumers are in control. They want to save money conveniently, and retailers have little option but to play along. The groups that can provide consumers with what they're looking for stand to gain the most benefit in 2014 and beyond.