Drug stores were among the beneficiaries of the strong start to this year's holiday shopping season.

holiday shopping, holiday shopping season, Black Friday, Black Friday weekend shoppers, National Retail Federation, NRF, BIGresearch, drug stores, holiday retail sales, Matthew Shay, Phil Rist, Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, Judy Sansone, Black Friday promotions, Russell Redman

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Holiday shopping: Strong start for drug stores

November 28th, 2011

NEW YORK – Drug stores were among the beneficiaries of the strong start to this year's holiday shopping season.

According to a National Retail Federation (NRF) survey conducted by BIGresearch, 14% of the more than 3,800 consumers polled — translating to a national sample of over 18.4 million people — shopped at drug stores over the Black Friday weekend (Nov. 24 to 26). That's up from 13.6% in 2010 and 13.4% in 2009.

The only other retailers showing Black Friday weekend shopper gains for all three years were supermarkets (23.8% of shoppers in 2011), online merchants (35.2% in 2011), apparel and accessories stores (24.6% in 2011) and craft/fabric stores (7.9% in 2011).

This year, more Black Friday weekend shoppers said they shopped at electronics stores (30.8% of shoppers) and specialty stores (15.1% of shoppers) than in 2010, when fewer consumers said they shopped at those outlets for the holiday retail sales kickoff.

Interestingly, fewer consumers said they shopped at discount stores and department stores, which were among the most aggressive promoters and advertisers of Black Friday weekend bargains.

According to the NRF poll, 37.5% of consumers reported shopping at discounters this past weekend, down from 40.3% in 2010 and 43.2% in 2009. And 48.7% said they shopped at department stores over the weekend, a decrease from 52% in 2010 and 49.4% in 2009.

This year, 14% of consumers polled by NRF/BIGresearch said they shopped at drug stores over Black Friday weekend, up from 13.6% in 2010 and 13.4% in 2009.

Also this year, fewer consumers said they shopped at outlet stores (6.5% of those polled) and catalog retailers (4.9%) during the Black Friday period, NRF found.

There was little doubt, however, that the heavy shopper activity over the Black Friday weekend struck a positive note for retailers as the holiday selling season officially got under way.

NRF reported that consumers spent a record $52.4 billion during the period, with the average holiday shopper spending $398.62 over the weekend, up from $365.34 last year. Overall, a record 226 million shoppers visited stores and websites over the Black Friday weekend, an increase from 212 million last year.

"Stuffed to the brim from their holiday meals and eager to shop, more consumers than ever turned out for retailers' Black Friday promotions, a promising sign for the economic recovery," NRF president and chief executive officer Matthew Shay said in a statement.

What's more, NRF noted, the number of Thanksgiving Day and early bird shoppers this year was the highest ever for the survey. Nearly a quarter (24.4%) of Black Friday shoppers were at the stores by midnight on Black Friday, either waiting for stores to open or visiting retailers who opened on Thanksgiving evening, according to the survey. That percentage was much higher than in the last two years, when 9.5% of shoppers polled said they were at the stores at midnight in 2010 and 3.3% said they did so in 2009.

"The appetite for these early openings is only getting stronger among holiday shoppers, and retailers did a great job providing Americans just what they wanted this weekend — the ability to shop on Black Friday without having to get out of bed before dawn," stated Phil Rist, executive vice president at BIGresearch. "Consumers are clearly demonstrating their desire to spend this holiday season, and shopping early and often seem to be their new mantra as they seek the best value for all their holiday purchases." 

The survey found that 28.7 million people shopped online and at stores on Thanksgiving Day, up from 22.2 million last year. More people than ever before also shopped online and in stores on Black Friday, as 86.3 million consumers shopped on Nov. 25 alone. Shoppers also checked out retailers' deals online, spending an average of $150.53, or 37.8% of their total weekend spending.

Among drug stores, the nation's largest chains — Walgreens, CVS/pharmacy and Rite Aid — made sure they were open and ready with special deals on Thanksgiving Day for Black Friday weekend shoppers looking to get an early start.

Walgreens had most of its stores open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, and over 1,600 locations were open 24 hours. The chain served up Thanksgiving Day bargains and three-day sales in such categories as toys, Christmas items, makeup, batteries, as-seen-on-TV products and gift cards. Also, the retailer gave away 1 million free Redbox DVD rentals on Nov. 24, and starting on Black Friday offered exclusive discounts to smartphone users via scannable coupons.

Heading into the Black Friday weekend, CVS noted that over 75% of Americans live within three miles of a CVS/pharmacy store and said that "shoppers will find visiting their local drug store a convenient alternative to running all over town to snag deep discounts on hot toys, electronics, beauty products and stocking stuffers."

To that end, the chain said members of the ExtraCare rewards program can earn $10 gift cards from a variety of retailers, including CVS, each week by spending $30 on specially marked items, including electronics, toys, holiday decor and as-seen-on-TV offerings. Black Friday deals were offered in such categories as toys, fragrances, cosmetics and household appliances.

"We're also offering CVS/pharmacy shoppers additional ways to save throughout the holiday season with new offers and promotions each week in our circular, through 'Christmas Central' on CVS.com and on Facebook and Twitter," according to Judy Sansone, senior vice president of merchandising and pricing for CVS/pharmacy.

CVS said all of its stores were open on Thanksgiving Day. Plans call for many CVS/pharmacy locations to have extended holiday hours throughout the season and for most 24-hour stores to be open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

On Thanksgiving Day, Rite Aid had nearly all of its stores open, and on Black Friday the chain said its stores were open for business at 7 a.m. Under its Three Days To Save promotion, Rite Aid offered members of its wellness+ loyalty program deals on such offerings as boxed holiday gift cards, wrapping paper, Christmas lights, small appliances, digital cameras, and iTower speakers that dock with iPhones and iPods.

The retailer, too, e-mailed "Black Friday Survival Guides" to wellness+ members and Rite Aid Facebook fans. The guides offered holiday shopping "survival tips" and special prices on products such as water, snacks, gel shoe inserts, energy drinks, headache relief remedies and neck pillows. 

"After an historic holiday weekend, retailers know the holiday season is far from over and will continue to look for ways to excite holiday shoppers and build on the momentum we've seen thus far," NRF's Shay commented.

In terms of purchases, Black Friday weekend shoppers stocked up on discretionary items this year, NRF pointed out. More than half (51.4%) of consumers polled said they bought apparel and accessories. Meanwhile, 39.4% purchased electronics, up from 36.7% last year. Shoppers also stocked up on home decor (21.3%), gift cards (23.1%), toys (32.6%) and jewelry (21.8%).

This year, for the first time, NRF also asked shoppers how they would use their smartphones and tablets during the Black Friday period. More than one-quarter (25.7%) of those with tablet devices said they did or will purchase items via their devices, and 37.4% will or have researched products and compared prices via their tablets. Overall, more than half (57.1%) said they have or will use their tablet devices to shop for gifts.

"Consumers are clearly demonstrating their desire to spend this holiday season, but are far from throwing caution to the wind when it comes to how much they will spend on gifts," added Rist of BIGresearch. "Retailers will have to stick to an aggressive holiday promotion schedule to keep consumers interested."