The shortened holiday shopping calendar between Black Friday and Christmas this year resulted in promotions that started earlier in November, and lasted longer than in past years.

While extended sales may crimp margins for many retailers, especially in the “softlines” (apparel, linens, etc.), according to Cowen analysts, there will still be some holiday winners. Target Corp., Best Buy Co., Walmart Inc. and Lululemon Athletica Inc. were widely mentioned by Wall Street analysts as early leaders.

“A positive ‘perfect storm’ of retail growth drivers,” including job growth, rising wages, benign gas prices, “healthy household balance sheets,” and the “wealth effect” stemming from the S&P 500’s gain of 24 per cent this year, led to four-day Black Friday weekend sales growth of 5.4 per cent, to a record US$69 billion, according to Customer Growth Partners (CGP). In addition, to Walmart and Target, CPG also mentioned Inc. and Costco Wholesale Corp. as faring well.

Meanwhile, the popularity of online shopping continued over the holiday weekend (and ahead of CyberMonday), as the channel continues to take “incremental share” of shoppers’ dollars (KeyBanc). Adobe Analytics reported Black Friday online sales of US$7.4 billion, up 19.6 per cent  from 2018’s level, while ShopperTrak data showed a three per cent decline in Thanksgiving/Black Friday store traffic (stronger Thanksgiving, weaker Black Friday.)

Increased online purchasing may be another headwind to margins as “retailers absorb more shipping costs,” Bloomberg Intelligence’s Poonam Goyal wrote. Traffic and promotional levels versus last year received mixed reviews from analysts, according to reports.

Coveted categories during this weekend’s shopping spree included electronics, cold-weather apparel and toys. “Checks throughout Black Friday weekend point to improved demand vs prior quarters in toys,” Jefferies analyst Stephanie Wissink wrote. Her team observed well-stocked stores.

Here’s more of what analysts said about Black Friday week:

B. Riley FBR, Susan Anderson

“Thanksgiving/Black Friday week was robust both online and in store for retailers offering compelling doorbusters to drive traffic into the store.”

Stores with compelling fashion offerings saw “significant” Thanksgiving/Black Friday traffic: American Eagle/Aerie, Urban Outfitters, Hollister and L Brands’ Bath & Body Works/Victoria’s Secret/Pink.

B. Riley’s store checks showed outerwear and cold-weather apparel were popular in areas with cold temperatures. “Fashion apparel (such as Sherpa hoodies) was another key item again this year,” she said.

Key winners and losers:

  • Winners of B. Riley’s “bag check” survey (survey of most bags seen throughout the mall): American Eagle’s AE and Aeri brands, L Brands’ Victoria’s Secret/Pink and Bath & Body Works, and Abercrombie & Fitch’s Hollister banner
  • Traffic winners included Lululemon, Urban Outfitter’s UO stores, both American Eagle banners, all three L Brands’ concepts, Hollister and Foot Locker
  • Best promotional control: Children’s Place, Carter’s and Chico’s appeared to have “flattish promos” versus last year; Express and Abercrombie & Fitch had flattish levels of promotions, but the days the promotions were being offered increased versus 2018

Deutsche Bank, Paul Trussell

Trussell and team performed channel checks in the New York City, Chicago, Wilmington, Delaware, King of Prussia, Penn., Washington, DC, and Jacksonville, Fla. areas. They observed a “slower in-store start to Holiday shopping than in prior years,” which was confirmed by ShopperTrak’s report of a 3% decline in traffic over the two-day period, including Thursday up 2.3% and Black Friday down -6.2 per cent.

“As in previous years, we believe shoppers were focused on televisions, electronics including Apple products, small appliances, and soft home, in addition to athletic apparel, footwear, and beauty,” the analyst wrote in a note.

Based on the firm’s checks, outperformers included Lululemon, Walmart, Bath & Body Works, Nordstrom, Macy’s, Vans, American Eagle, Aerie, Hollister, and Urban Outfitters. Results were more mixed at Target, Kohl’s, Five Below, Old Navy, Gap, Express, Victoria’s Secret, Foot Locker, Abercrombie, Coach, Michael Kors, Carter’s and The Children’s Place. The team observed “weaker trends overall” at Anthropologie, DSW, Chico’s, White House Black Market, J.Jill, and Burlington.

Telsey Advisory Group

“Once again, Black Friday started well-ahead of Thanksgiving and extended beyond it,” the firm wrote in a note, pointing out that Walmart launched its holiday period on Nov. 1. Traffic this year appeared softer than previous Black Friday weekends.

Off-price and outlets “garnered high levels of traffic on Black Friday,” including Burlington, Home Sense, Home Goods, TJ Maxx and Marshalls. The discounters were winners as well, including Walmart and Target.

Department stores overall were a bit more subdued in contrast to last year, but one Macy’s visited by the Telsey team “had lines at every register beginning at 8:00am and growing throughout the morning on Black Friday eventually reaching 20-25 people.” Telsey also observed a “disproportionate number of Macy’s bags” carried by customers walking through the mall. Handbags brands Michael Kors and Kate Spade were more promotional than last year, while Coach remained the same, Telsey said.

“Similar to last year, consumer electronics saw the strongest customer interest on Thanksgiving and Black Friday Weekend.” Best Buy was a winner, with strong traffic, well-stocked product and clear merchandise presentations.

Based on Telsey checks, the analysts believe the Black Friday weekend outperformers were: Best Buy, Bath and Body Works, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Lululemon, Nike, Target, and Walmart.

KeyBanc, Consumer Team

“Overall traffic was mixed across our space. Walmart and Target had strong traffic and both retailers had a solid lineup of store-only promos. Amazon sold out of Fire TV sticks and had a strong lineup of promos (particularly AMZN devices).” Best Buy continues to gain share and “drove healthy traffic.” Bed Bath & Beyond benefited from strong Thanksgiving Day traffic, “with many changes in the store vs last year.”

Softline retailer trends were “more mixed:” Lululemon, Pink, Urban Outfitters, and Nordstrom had strong traffic, but Gap, Old Navy, and Victoria’s Secret saw more tepid patterns.

“An accessory promo and home trial is helping trends at Peloton.” KeyBanc boosted its price target to a Street-high $45 per share from $32.