THE BLOG
12/16/2013 03:46 pm ET Updated Feb 15, 2014

The Changing Landscape of Holiday Sales

This week, holiday sales were a big topic of conversation with my NYU grad students. It's hard not to miss all the activity, online and off, so we just had to discuss it. Every class we cover "the week in marketing," so this week it was all about holiday sales.

First of all, we outlined a few new trends this year that are changing holiday shopping once again.

Black Friday Sales Were Down, Way Down

It actually turned out to be a pretty bleak Black Friday, if you measure brick and mortar sales on that day alone. Double digit declines. But that's because much of the sales either time-shifted to Thursday night or moved online for early Cyber Monday activity. We'll have to see the net impact in total sales as the season progresses.

Small Business Saturday Is Not Translating.

Sample size of one classroom here, but we're still not seeing this amazing concept actually execute at the local level. I went to several stores myself, none of which were participating in any coordinated effort with the movement or could even really articulate any kind of connection to this new retail "holiday" created in large part by American Express. I still LOVE the concept, but I'm not seeing it come through. I think it's having a hard time competing with the noise of the weekend, to be quite honest.

The Rise of the Mission Shopping.

Retailers and brands are NOT going to like this trend, but the industry saw a lot of shoppers running into stores to buy the one hot item and then running right back out. No impulse buying to go alone with the "door buster" and not as much "one for you, one for me" self-gifting that we've seen in the past. Stay tuned, we are likely to see "panic sales" come from retailers trying to make up the volume and the margins as a result.

Cyber Monday Goes Mobile.

This year turned out to be the tipping point for mobile shopping, as the industry saw a huge surge in shoppers browsing and, in some cases, buying items on their smartphones. Much more so than any prior year, resulting in record-breaking Cyber Monday sales. It's now a legit movement, causing some retailers to also move the date to include the entire week, giving birth to Cyber Week this year. Yikes, I'm exhausted from it all.

Aside from these trends, we discussed something as a class that is much bigger: the branding of these sales days. Each has a real branding component, partly created by marketing and party shaped by consumer behavior.

Black Friday: Although the name stems from being a retailer's first day of annual profits for the year, scenes of being trampled on the way to a flat screen now dominate perceptions... leaving the day reserved for big-ticket items and their once-in-a-lifetime deals. But only if you are willing to deal with it, which is a form of psychographic targeting.

Small Business Saturday: This is all about American pride and craftsmanship, with a lot of community support thrown in. It's the most underdeveloped of the three days, and deserves a better execution. My class felt strongly that Small Business Saturday has yet to see full fruition, but it will some day. It's the most authentic of the three days.

Cyber Monday: Likely to be gone in years to come, because it just shouldn't be reserved to one day. We are already starting to see signs of it as many online deals started Thanksgiving night in advance of Black Friday and then the Cyber Monday deals extended well beyond just the first day of the week. The day that was once created because it was the highest volume day for online sales from people's desktops at work is losing its relevance in a 24/7 mobile world.

Me? I just love the whole experience and where it leads to: spending time with family and friends shopping, preparing and then enjoying the holidays. It's the most wonderful time of the year.