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Retail’s Busiest Days: Holiday 2023

Brian Field
Global Leader, Retail Consulting and Analytics, Sensormatic Solutions
Brian Field

Any retailer will tell you that succeeding during the holiday season hinges on two things: preparation and timing. Back-to-school gives way to Halloween and, before you know it, Thanksgiving and Black Friday are upon us, signaling the official start of the holiday season. The fourth quarter moves fast, so it pays to plan ahead. But doing so is sometimes easier said than done.

Historical in-store shopper traffic trend data can inform decisions and help shape retailers’ plans for staffing, merchandising, inventory, and more. Here’s what the holiday season is likely to bring and what that means for retailers…

The start of the holiday season has moved earlier over the past few years, with supply chain worries, the pandemic, and the economy all encouraging consumers to get ahead of gift-buying. That trend may change this year as historical data indicates that shoppers will do the bulk of their shopping later in the season. 

Sensormatic Solutions annually releases holiday retail traffic predictions—which are based on the brand’s retail traffic analytics solutions. There are expectations that all of the U.S. holiday season’s busiest traffic days will fall between Black Friday and New Year’s Eve. However, historical data also shows that Veterans’ Day—on a Saturday in 2023—may contribute to a modest boost in traffic before the season kicks off in earnest.

The timing of the holidays may also play a role in the shape of this year’s holiday rush. This year, for the first time since 2017, Christmas falls on a Monday, which could have implications on traffic for two of the biggest spending days of the season:  

  1. As is often true, Super Saturday—the last Saturday before Christmas—is expected to be a particularly busy day for in-person retail traffic. However, with the annual event falling just 48 hours before Christmas, retailers may need to tweak their labor and promotional planning. Comparing historical data for Dec. 23 with Super Saturday numbers from previous years may help guide more precise strategies to accommodate this unusual timing. 
  2. Traffic on Boxing Day—the day after Christmas—may slow this year as it falls on Tuesday. However, consumers may opt to take this day off and extend their holiday weekends, so well-publicized post-Christmas promotions could prove beneficial.

While concerns over price seem to be waning among consumers at large and are unlikely to affect retail traffic performance, retailers will still want to keep their eyes on the economy. A recent survey from Salsify revealed that 69% of global consumers are holding back on non-essential spending and 90% are adopting cost-saving measures. However, PwC found that consumers have a realistic view of the current economy. Shoppers expect increased prices to continue in the coming months and are already planning accordingly. 

Those two facts together mean that, while shoppers may approach holiday shopping with more discernment than they may have in the past, they aren’t planning to forego purchases. What they will be doing is waiting for the right price—or purchasing earlier than they may have if they see a promo that’s too good to pass up.

A recent Sensormatic Solutions survey found that 30% of shoppers now say that promotions are a crucial factor in their shopping choices. Retailers may want to keep this in mind when planning promotions and merchandising strategies to capture these shoppers.

Additionally, Sensormatic Solutions predicts U.S. in-store traffic will likely moderate slightly compared to 2022, with forecasts indicating a year-over-year drop of no more than 3.5%—results that are in line with 2023’s retail traffic performance to date. Overall, traffic this year has been down an average of 2% from last year.

Digging deeper

There’s a lot of pressure on retailers as they head into the final stretch of the calendar year, and the above can act as a rough guide to kick-off planning. However, retailers should keep in mind that today’s retail patterns are about more than just the calendar. Sensormatic Solutions models take national trends into account when developing predictions—but individual retailers’ experiences don’t always align with the status quo.

Factors like weather, local events, global trends, and even the community that a store location serves can all affect retailers’ holiday planning initiatives. That’s why it’s important that retailers look to their own digital ecosystems this holiday season to develop plans that are unique to their operations. 

Historical data related to sales, traffic, demographics, and more can give insight into what stores might expect. And that doesn’t just mean data from previous holiday seasons. Back-to-school and other high-volume periods can also help retailers devise more precise promotions, experience improvements, labor models, and more to capture holiday magic and pave the way to a happy new year.  

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