While the quaint notion of the romantic shopper waiting until Christmas Eve to find the perfect gift may be alive and well in holiday movies, in reality, today’s holiday consumer is a lot more organized. As the holiday shopping period has progressively reached back earlier into November, the National Retail Federation’s Thanksgiving Weekend Survey, conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, recorded more than 151 million people who claimed they shopped either in stores and/or online over Thanksgiving weekend. “Holiday shopping started well in advance of Thanksgiving this year, but there’s no question that people were still incredibly eager to get their hands on the deals that retailers were offering,” says Prosper’s Principal Analyst, Pam Goodfellow, noting that apparel, electronics and toys were among the top performing products. And that was a trend reflected in a highly successful holiday sales period for Barnes & Noble College bookstores as well.
“Black Friday and Cyber Monday have really changed,” agrees Barnes & Noble College’s Director of Consumer Marketing, Tamara Vostok. “Consumers used to focus on those specific days to get the best deals possible for holiday gifts, but with retailers looking to boost sales, consumers can now indulge in savings for weeks at a time,” she says. While the sales period may have been prolonged by a whole week before Thanksgiving and extended a week after Cyber Monday, the appetite consumers have for special discounts, promotions and sales opportunities hasn’t waned.
As a campus retailer, many of Barnes & Noble College’s bookstores are closed for Thanksgiving in accordance with the academic calendar, but Cyber Monday has become a popular shopping day for its customers. “For the past two or three years we’ve been able to turn Cyber Monday into a really exciting event,” Vostok says, citing this year’s highly successful 30 percent off Champion apparel promotion, including free shipping. This and other sales resulted in a 34 percent increase over last year’s Cyber Monday sales. “Our customers shopped the Champion sale, but also purchased items in other categories as well, like holiday ornaments and tech accessories,” she notes.
If the shopping season is changing, so too is the method shoppers are using to shop. Like many retailers, Barnes & Noble College uses email as a key channel to reach its holiday shoppers and direct them to the website. “Overall mobile traffic and mobile conversions are increasing, which is why you must provide a great mobile experience,” Vostok maintains. “We’re focused on ensuring that whether our customers prefer a desktop, laptop, tablet or a smart phone, they’re going to be able to easily find and purchase the items they want — despite the size of their screen.”
Recently, the company totally re-launched their mobile site for the crucial Fall Rush period, and that ease of access translated not just for convenient textbook sales, but also to general merchandise as well. The demographic Barnes & Noble College represents has also been a factor in the success of pre-holiday sales. “Millennials have changed the game when it comes to Thanksgiving weekend shopping, making sure they were out early and often over the entire weekend in order to tackle their gift lists as well as their self-gifting lists,” says Prosper’s Goodfellow.
The NRF research also illustrated that adults under 35 were significantly more likely to have shopped over the Thanksgiving weekend. “We recognize the Thanksgiving weekend shopping experience is much different than it used to be as just as many people want that unique, exclusive online deal as they do that in-store promotion,” says NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “It is clear that the age-old holiday tradition of heading out to stores with family and friends is now equally matched in the new tradition of looking online for holiday savings opportunities.”
The influence young adult shoppers have on the holiday market is something Vostok particularly appreciates, and she is keen to include their opinions for the designs of the company’s holiday promotions. “We always go out to our students and ask their opinions and preferences on promotions — they’re really the ones who are driving and selecting the offer — and they appreciate what we can offer as a retailer; high quality official collegiate wear, free shipping, and great prices.”
As their campus retailer, Vostok points to the advantage of the two-way communication Barnes & Noble College enjoys with their student customers. “We’re marketing to an extremely receptive audience who are engaged with us not just at the holidays, but all year round,” she says. And in the crowded marketplace of holiday retail, Vostok attributes their successful holiday sales to exactly that sense of differentiation. “We’re always listening to our customer,” she says, “and we’re always aiming to deliver exactly what they want.”