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The Biggest Shopping Day of the Year ISN'T Black Friday (and other insights into holiday shopping)

Of all the holiday shopping days last year, which day lured the most shoppers into stores?

Written by Jeff Glueck on Nov 24, 2015 - Read time: 4 min - Read Later

If you thought it was Black Friday, you'd be wrong. According to Foursquare's foot traffic data, the biggest shopping day in physical stores in 2014 was the lesser known “Super Saturday," the Saturday before Christmas.

As the 2015 holiday shopping season is about to kick off, we wanted to take a look at what trends from last year might predict business trends for this season.

chart showing the biggest shopping days in 2014

To do this, we can analyze Foursquare's data on where people are going in the real world. Millions of people share their location explicitly through check-ins on Swarm, and we get even more implicit data through our Pilgrim technology, which senses whenever our Foursquare or Swarm users have stopped at one of 65 million global locations. Pilgrim helps us to understand the world so that we are able to serve our users more specific recommendations for places they might enjoy based on their preferences. Foursquare's enterprise Place Insights tool interprets this set of location data in aggregate so we can understand large cultural and societal trends.

In 2013, Black Friday was the biggest shopping day of the year. But in 2014, Super Saturday upset the rankings and took the win. And when we use Place Insights to look more deeply at last year's seasonal trends, even more interesting insights emerge.

day parting chart of holiday foot traffic in 2014

In the chart above, we show visit growth (as a percentage compared to a usual Sunday in November) for retailers on every weekend of holiday shopping in 2014 and 2013. In 2014, shoppers were more actively visiting stores later in the season than earlier in the season. According to this data, Black Friday is becoming less significant as a percentage of the whole holiday shopping season.

In terms of visits to physical (brick-and-mortar) stores, people last year were no longer frontloading shopping as much as before. Consumers were more backloading, increasing last-minute shopping in the week leading up to Christmas. (Next week, we'll report back on the data from this year to see if the trend continues, and who won and lost the battle to lure shoppers in the door.) While we don't have first-party insight on how much people are shopping online, we are guessing that increased online shopping is taking share from offline shopping in the earlier part of the season.

We also looked at the types of stores that people go to throughout the season, and saw differences between where people shop on Black Friday versus later in the holiday season.

Black Friday vs Christmas foot traffic chart in 2014

  • On Black Friday, electronics stores see the biggest surge in traffic. On average, electronics stores on Black Friday brought in 159% of normal traffic. (We used the first Sunday in November as the baseline.) The category as a whole does well, but Best Buy did especially well for the category, with foot traffic at 400% of a normal day.
  • The biggest winners on the weekend before Christmas are toy and gaming stores. This category gets 183% of regular traffic on the Saturday just before Christmas (as people rush to buy last-minute gifts). Toys “R" Us outperforms the category with 344%, a huge surge. Procrastinators with a lot of gifts to cross off their lists head to these one-stop-shop emporiums with time running out.
  • The category that gets the most uneven traffic is home improvement stores. Home improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowe's get 154% of normal traffic on Black Friday, but it drops down considerably to 102% on the weekend before Christmas (essentially a regular early November shopping day, nothing like the toy stores).
  • Specialty stores fare better in the beginning of the season, whereas department stores and big box stores attract more visitors later in the holiday season. We assume that this is because as people rush to complete their shopping lists and run out of time, they are going to “one stop shop" stores where they can cross more off their list.

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While Black Friday deals abound, this data shows that it's important for retailers to think about winning not just Black Friday, but the whole extended “Black November" and throughout the season. It may make sense to diversify promotions and save some blockbuster deals to compete later with the growing late-season December surge.

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Connect: To learn more about our insights or to get in touch with the Foursquare Place Insights team, feel free to email partners@foursquare.com.

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The Biggest Shopping Day of the Year ISN'T Black Friday (and other insights into holiday shopping)

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