November 21, 2013, 1:06 PM

Black Friday gets more digital, but social lags during the holidays

New studies describe how online consumers will shop around Thanksgiving.

Lead Photo

There’s a new version of Black Friday shopping in town. And it’s online.

Black Friday this year won’t be limited to shoppers waiting in the cold for the local Best Buy to open its doors and then spreading holiday cheer by arm wrestling other caffeine-fueled parents for the last PlayStation 4. More shoppers are opting to skip that workout and instead head online to more comfortably do their Black Friday shopping, perhaps while tucking in to Thanksgiving leftovers, a new poll from finds.

The retailer’s recent poll of 809 U.S. shoppers reveals 75% plan to shop on Black Friday, or the day after Thanksgiving, and of those 57% plan to do it online. The results echo recent news from Nielsen Company that finds of those who plan to shop on Black Friday, 51% plan to at least do some of their shopping online. Nielsen also finds in it research derived from weekly surveys of 1,000 U.S. consumers that 46% of respondents plan to shop online on Cyber Monday, or the Monday day after Thanksgiving. That’s a smaller percentage than Overstock’s findings, which reveal that 66% of those polled plan to shop online on Cyber Monday. Consumers expect savings of up to 40% off during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday retail period, Overstock, No. 31 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide also finds.

When it comes to being open on Thanksgiving, consumer sentiment seems to be mixed. 74% of shoppers surveyed by Overstock say that retail stores should not be open on Thanksgiving Day. However, sales last year indicate that shoppers may have short memories. Last year's Thanksgiving Day sales increased by 55% from the previous year as more stores opened on the holiday and more consumers walked through the doors, according to Chicago research firm ShopperTrak.

Chains including Wal-Mart, Kmart, Target, Macy’s, Office Depot and Belk all will open on the holiday. They want to attract dollars from the some 33 million consumers that plan to shop online or in stores on Thanksgiving Day, according the National Retail Federation trade group.   Others chains such as Costco and Nordstrom have made public their plans to keep their doors closed on the holiday. Macy’s is No. 12 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, No. 4, Office Depot No. 7,  Belk No. 162 and Target No. 18. is part of Sears Holdings Corp. which is No. 6.

Shoppers strolling stores aisles over the holidays will likely use their smartphones as a shopping companion, suggests another survey of 725 consumers from Asurion. On Black Friday, online shoppers won’t just buy from their PCs. About half (49%) will use their smartphones to make purchases. Additionally, 58% of respondents to the survey described their smartphone as "very important" for Black Friday shopping and 46% said their smartphones will be a holiday shopping assistant in their gift buying. 35% of those surveyed said they'll use their smartphone to save money by finding discount codes and coupons. Asurion offers security and privacy services for consumers using mobile devices.

And there is another “S” word that shoppers will employ to help make purchasing decisions over the next several weeks—social. However, research from Yesmail Interactive, a unit of Infogroup, a provider of digital marketing technology and services, finds retailers might not be launching holiday social campaigns at the best times to maximize consumer participation. Its analysis of 50 major retailers finds day during Thanksgiving week last year that consumers looked for retailers’ Black Friday deals on social networks  most often on  the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. However, that day was the fourth-most popular day of Thanksgiving week for retailers to deploy Black Friday social campaigns in 2012, accounting for only 14% of brands’ Black Friday Facebook posts and tweets.

Yesmail analyzed nearly 450 Black Friday campaigns on Facebook and Twitter from last year to determine the best and worst days for consumer engagement with Black Friday deals. While the Tuesday before the holiday was the day consumers were most active, the day before Thanksgiving was the day consumers engaged the least on Facebook, and Thanksgiving Day itself was the most dead for Twitter.

Perhaps consumers were too busy dreaming up or recovering from epic feasts, or already on retailers’ sites buying gifts.

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