"Shopping season" exists. It's just not when you thought it was

10 months ago by Joshua Fruhlinger in Facts, Trends

And it's not necessarily right now, after the holidays.

Every single person has a shopping strategy. You probably know one or two experts on shopping particular industries. You're probably one yourself.

Take my friend Brian, for instance. He knows exactly how and when to shop for cheap plane tickets. He's on a plane virtually every weekend, Instagramming pictures of dinner in Seoul and breakfast in Tel Aviv. Or take my friend Jon (no, take him, please). He has every single Adidas.com discount code known to man, he applies them on top of sales, and always has a new pair of kicks to show off. As for me, well, I can tell you when to import winter coats from England. Because that's my thing, and I'm an expert, and I know the sales cycle.

So we took a dive into the Thinknum data to examine the ways retailers price their stock, and it turns out that discount cycles are very real. However, these cycles vary radically from vendor to vendor. One may use tight cycles to create urgency, while another is content to cycle based on season.

We focused on the retail industry's biggest discounters, at least from the past few months, because that gives the healtiest sample size with the most significant amplitude in cycles. We looked at data going back two years to see any cyclical, seasonal patterns. The results are interesting and, well, useful.

Take a look and, as Julius Caesar said, "caveat emptor."

The seasonal big-sale cycle: Nordstrom

Nordstrom, the mall giant of all fashion, does an exceptional job every holiday of two things:

  1. Cutting prices and
  2. Getting the word out that they're cutting prices (my mom always dragged me to Nordy's in the new year).

The data backs this up, too: a look back to the 2015 holiday season through last year shows that average discounts at Nordstrom peak in the post-Christmas New-Year season. They also cycle heavy discounts in early summer, probably to clear out stock for the Fall. Interesting side note: according to our data, Nordtrom is currently the most comprehensive discounter, discounting roughly 70% of all of the things they sell.

The churn and burn: Pottery Barn

If Nordstrom goes for big events in the summer and winter, Pottery Barn goes for the quick churn, creating sales excitement around brief discount periods to get people adding items to their shopping carts.

With messaging like "Mega Sale! Ends tonight!" it's clear that Pottery Barn aims to create a sense of urgency, and their discount graph reflects the strategy.

Interestingly, brand mates Williams Sonoma and West Elm don't appear to follow the same manic sales philosophy.

The new discounter: J. Crew

J. Crew has had a rough couple years after spending a long time at the apex of the retail fashion world. A recent near-bankruptcy and bond swaps along with personnel changes at the top have resulted in what appears to a pretty major shift in retail and e-commerce strategy, with new forays into deeper discounts and aggressive couponing.

The graph below tells that story well, with a pretty dramatic uptick in retail discounting in the latter half of 2017.

(Featured image By User:bobjgalindo - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Joshua Fruhlinger

Joshua has been writing about technology, lifestyle, and business for over 20 years. He's one of the original writers and editors for Engadget, and still writes a...

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