Despite incredible deals, shoppers are not willing to brave the cold. In cities where the temperature was cooler than last year before 8 AM and after 8PM, Black Friday foot traffic was down compared to 2016 during those hours. Instead, shoppers waited for things to warm up before venturing out for a bargain.

December Shopping Strategy: To satisfy customers this holiday season, retailers should provide more deals and better service between 12:00 - 6:00 PM instead of prioritizing longer hours in the early morning and late at night.

Shopping patterns impacted by weather

Cities with the biggest shift

The biggest shifts away from early morning shopping were seen in Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, and Boston. In these markets, the early morning temperature was below freezing and considerably cooler than last year, resulting in a 2.5 - 2.7% relative decrease in foot traffic before 8 AM, compared to 2016.

The biggest shift in the US

Chicago saw the biggest shifts in shopping patterns away from early morning shopping to mid-afternoon shopping, which is attributed to the temperature rising from 30 degrees in the early morning to a pleasant 63 degrees in the afternoon.

Impact on warmer climates

In Atlanta, where the early morning temperatures were 41 degrees, relative foot traffic was down 1.3% before 8 am. In Northern California (San Francisco and Sacramento) a similar shift was seen for early morning temperatures that were in the mid 50s.

Cities with no change

In Miami, Orlando, and Tampa, where the daily temperature differential was less than 10 degrees, there were no changes in shopping patterns compared to 2016.

Going farther for the perfect gift

Consumers are expanding their shopping range on and offline, visiting 4% more physical stores in a single day than before. They are also going 7% farther than on an average weekend for the best deal. And online, new visitors accounted for about 38% of web traffic on Apparel sites and 36% for Department Store websites across the US.

Good news for December:  Shoppers are on the hunt for a bargain or unique gift and will shop outside of their comfort zone to find it. Retailers can still attract new shoppers for the remaining shopping days in December and should actively target consumers outside of their usual areas.

New Yorkers will continue to be among the least likely to travel beyond their normal weekend distance to cash in on holiday deals. New York will have the largest percentage increase in different types of stores visited. When they do travel, they will go furthest to Department Stores (+15%) and Apparel retailers (+13%).

Seattle residents will be far more likely to stray from their usual retailers to visit a new Apparel website this December. On average, 39% of Apparel website traffic will be from new visitors in the Seattle area — nearly 10% higher than new visitors for Department Store sites. Retailers targeting residents in Seattle must be prepared to connect these consumers with more targeted deals in 2017.

Insights Explored

Shoppers were hunting for bargains, visiting 4% more stores on Thanksgiving evening and Black Friday than they did in 2016.

  • New York saw the largest percent increase in the number of different types of stores visited (+8%)
  • Other notable increases were seen in San Francisco/Seattle/Boston (+6%), and Miami/Chicago/Washington/Los Angeles (+5%)

It’s not just about Cyber Monday for new visitors

Online shoppers were shopping earlier than Cyber Monday. Surprisingly, there was no major surge of new visitors to websites on Cyber Monday. Numbers of new visitors to Department Store and Apparel websites did not vary significantly from Black Friday to Cyber Monday. On these two days:

  • Department Stores: 36.7% of website visitors were new on Black Friday and 36.9% on Cyber Monday.
  • Apparel: 40.2% of website visitors were new on Black Friday and 40.3% Cyber Monday.

IBM predicts that on any given day in December a high percentage of website visitors will be infrequent (haven't been there in the past 6 months).

IBM predicts that in Apparel, the markets with the highest percent of infrequent visitors are likely to be Washington DC (43%), followed by San Francisco, Boston, Denver (40%), and Seattle (39%). This presents an ongoing opportunity for Apparel retailers to offer good deals to fresh audiences.

IBM expects that Orlando and Sacramento shoppers will be the least likely to visit new Apparel websites. In Orlando, 35% of website traffic will be from new visitors, and in Sacramento, 36% of website traffic will be from new visitors.

IBM expects that Seattle, Chicago, and Los Angeles shoppers will be the least likely to visit new Department Store websites. In Seattle, 29% of traffic will be from new visitors while in Chicago and Los Angeles it will be 33%.


Put insights into action

To successfully attract new customers this holiday season, online retailers should go beyond just offering great deals. They need to quickly connect customers to the items they want; deliver an incredible digital shopping experience; and fulfill orders in the time frame promised for the holiday.

Distance traveled

  • U.S. shoppers are predicted to travel 7% farther on big December shopping holidays such as Super Saturday than they do on typical December weekends.
  • Shoppers in Cleveland remained the overall leader across the US. On average across all categories Cleveland shoppers are willing to travel 15% farther than a typical weekend shopper.

While the national average is 7% farther, there are specific cities where residents are willing to go the extra distance for holiday shopping. Cleveland residents may travel farther on average (+15%) to grab great holiday deals, followed by Washington DC (+13%) and Atlanta (+13%).

IBM predicts Department Stores will be the big winner this December. Department Stores will lure Super Saturday bargain hunters outside of their typical shopping areas, with shoppers in the US willing to go an average of 11% farther.

The cities where shoppers are willing to travel the furthest for a Department Store? San Francisco shoppers will go an incredible 20% farther than on an average December weekend. Shoppers in Washington DC, Denver and Cleveland will go 18% farther respectively followed by Atlanta and New York at 15%.

Apparel, Home Furnishing and Mass Merchandise and club stores come in 2nd place with shoppers being willing to travel 7% farther than a typical weekend. Cleveland and Washington DC residents will drive furthest for at 17% over average followed by Atlanta at 16%. San Franciscans will drive furthest for home furnishings, at 20% and Minneapolis residents the farther for Mass Merchandise and Box stores at 15%.

Zeroing in on the best deal

  • Online Shoppers will be more focused than ever before: While shoppers are expanding their shopping range, they are more focused than ever before, spending the same or less time on online sites to find the items they want.  IBM predicts that throughout December, the average session lengths for shoppers on Department Store sites will be 6.6 minutes, down from 8.1 minutes in 2016.  For Apparel retailers the drop is less significant, from 6.8 minutes to 6.7 minutes. The amount of time spent online varies by region. Shoppers in warmer clients are predicted to spend more time online than those in cooler climates.  
  • December shopping strategy: Retailers should consider personalized offers to attract shoppers and keep them on their site longer looking at the content that matters the most to them.

Boston shoppers, on average, will spend 5.4 minutes on Department Store websites — that’s 1.2 minutes less than any other US city. Boston shoppers know what they want, so Department Store retailers have a shorter window to work with and must have extremely targeted campaigns to drive sales.

In Chicago, online shoppers are more likely to focus their shopping by visiting Apparel websites than Department Store websites. Only 33% of online Department Store shoppers are new visitors compared to 36% for Apparel websites.

All online shoppers in Cleveland expect to find the items they want more quickly than ever. Cleveland shoppers will spend 22 percent less time when they visit a retail site — going from 8.1 minutes on average in 2016 to 6.3 minutes on average in 2017 (22%).

Dallas shoppers spent the most time on a Department Store website — 8.4 minutes — on Thanksgiving Day, higher than the average of 6.6 minutes. Retailers should be prepared for new customers from Dallas to visit their sites on the final major shopping days of December such as Green Monday (12/11) and Free Shipping Friday (12/15). Retailers should also be prepared to present several offers since these consumers exhibit a willingness to spend time on these sites.

In Denver, 40% of traffic on Apparel sites will be from new visitors. For Department Stores, that number will be closer to 35%, proving that online shoppers in Denver were willing to visit more new websites for clothing.

Warmer climates and online shopping

IBM predicts that shoppers in traditionally warmer cities will spend an average of 7.3 minutes more time on Department Store sites. The cities where consumers will spend the most time on a Department Store website are Miami (7.5 minutes), Sacramento (7.4 minutes), Dallas (7.4 minutes), Houston (7.3 minutes) and Tampa, Orlando, and Atlanta all at 6.9 minutes.

  • IBM predicts that residents in traditionally warmer cities will spend an average 6.9 minutes more time online Apparel sites. The cities where consumers will spend the most time on an Apparel store website are Sacramento and Los Angeles (7 minutes), Tampa and Phoenix (6.9 minutes), and Miami (6.8 minutes). 

Online opportunity

Shoppers in traditionally warmer cities will likely be open to looking at additional deals as they are browsing online, creating a great opportunity for retailers to up-sell visitors on complementary items.

Cooler climates and online shopping

IBM predicts that in traditionally colder cities, shoppers will spend an average of 5.9 minutes online — a full minute less than their peers in warmer climates. Cities where consumers will spend the least time on a Department Store website are Boston (5.4 minutes), Philadelphia (5.8 minutes), Minneapolis (5.9 minutes), New York (6.2 minutes) and Cleveland (6.3 minutes).

The cities where consumers will spend the least time on an Apparel website are Boston (6.3 minutes), New York (6.4 minutes) and Chicago, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia (6.5 minutes for each).

Residents in traditionally cooler cities will spend less time online, making decisions to buy or move on faster than ever. Retailers will have a shorter window to work with these shoppers so campaigns and the digital shopping experience must be targeted and personalized.

How did our Predictions stack up:

Cleveland is the hot spot for Department Stores, with residents being willing to travel 13% farther than usual. The other cities where shoppers will travel farther than usual are Philadelphia, Boston, and Atlanta at 10%. 

Department stores come in 2nd place with shoppers being willing to travel 6% farther on Black Friday than on a typical weekend.

 San Francisco was the leader at 20% farther.

Surprise, Department Stores beat apparel! Shoppers traveled 11% farther on average, almost doubling our prediction.

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