It’s become as big a part of the Thanksgiving tradition as roast turkey and the Macy’s Parade, but when it comes to Black Friday, exactly how significant is e-commerce as a sales driver? It’s a big question and not an easy one to answer. Traditionally, Black Friday is a bricks and mortar event, the beginning of the Christmas shopping season and the time for retail stores to lure in consumers with bargains. The advent of digital has changed things though, with Cyber Monday being added to what’s become a Black Friday Weekend, and social media turning the whole thing into a British event too. Google Trends shows just how deeply entrenched in global digital life this formerly American moment has become.
It’s easy to believe that the rise of Black Friday online and, in particular, Cyber Monday is simply down to its prominence in our day-to-day lives; and to a degree that’s correct. Dig a little deeper though and there’s something more to it. When the phrase ‘Cyber Monday’ was first coined, it came off the back of research that suggested that 77% of online retailers were seeing a significant increase in sales on the Monday after Thanksgiving. In a 2005 article, the New York Times captured why the phenomenon blossomed.
“The name Cyber Monday grew out of the observation that millions of otherwise productive working Americans, fresh off a Thanksgiving weekend of window shopping, were returning to high-speed Internet connections at work [on] Monday and buying what they liked.”
There was clearly more to digital than it simply being another sales channel. The internet was a fast, easy, and convenient way for consumers to not only buy, but shop around for things they might like to buy. Why traipse through your local shopping mall dragging bags and boxes behind you when you can simply window shop, head home, get online, and have someone bring the bags and boxes to you?
Ten Years On…
As digital has developed so too has that central benefit. Consumers don’t have to even go to a physical store any more; indeed, they no longer even need to leave their couch. Smartphones and tablets mean we can window shop while watching the news or investigate that exciting product we’ve just seen an advert for without making any more effort than what it takes to pick up our device. This ease of use has not only been seen in Cyber Monday, but Black Friday itself, making this one-time exclusively bricks and mortar event a digital event too.
Adobe Marketing Cloud has broken down the US sales data from 2012 to 2014, and found just how much online and smartphones contribute to the overall sales picture. In 2012, Black Friday contributed $1.39bn worth of sales and Cyber Monday $1.98bn. Jump forward to 2014, and those figures are $1.09bn and $2.29bn respectively. The story is the same on mobile devices, though the increases are smaller. In 2013, mobile contributed 24% of traffic to retail sites on Black Friday and 16% on Cyber Monday. These figures jumped to 25% and 18% respectively in 2014.
In the UK, sales jumped as well. The total amount spent (online and offline) rose by 4.3% when comparing November 2014 to the same month in 2013, and online sales increased by 12.9%. The biggest driver was mobile traffic, with mobiles accounting for 47.3% of all online traffic on Black Friday 2014, a leap of 35.5% on 2013. Cyber Monday saw consumers spending less per order, but there were a greater number of sales, which rose by 29.31% on 2013. Online, and Mobile in particular, had firmly established itself as the go-to arena for consumers to do a wide-range of shopping, not just the big ticket items like electronics.
What Happened This Year?
2015 saw Black Friday and Cyber Monday trends continue. Adobe reported that online sales in the US during Black Friday climbed 14% up to $2.74bn, with mobile devices accounting for 37% of these sales, up by 29% from 2014. Mobile even contributed a huge number of visits (both those that ended with a sale and those that didn’t): all in all, 57% of visits to an e-commerce site came from a mobile device. In the UK, there was a similar story, with online spend jumping by 36% on last year to £1.1 billion. This marked the biggest day of UK online spending ever, and the first time spending has surpassed £1bn in a single day.
Despite a repeat of the protests and shopper brawls that have marred previous Black Fridays, one of the big winners from the weekend was Walmart. Taking advantage of the consumer’s omni channel shopping habits, the US retail giant set up its offline and online offerings to allow consumers to take advantage of the best of both worlds, a decision that paid dividends. “We’ve said this Black Friday would be the most integrated between Walmart stores and Walmart.com – and we delivered,” said the chain’s Chief Merchandising Officer, Steve Bratspies. “Tens of millions of customers visited our digital and physical aisles to pick up video games and systems, televisions, movies and toys, many of the top items sold both on Walmart.com and in stores. And, they prepped beforehand – more than 25 million customers accessed store maps and the circular through our online and mobile tools for Black Friday.”
In the UK, Amazon was the clear winner, with the retail giant selling in excess of 7.4 million items. Indeed, it didn’t even take the whole day for Black Friday to become Amazon’s best ever day; with an average of around 86 items being sold per second, the company surpassed its previous best at 9.10pm. While it’s still unknown how many sales were made on mobile vs. desktop, it’s clear that Amazon targeted mobile consumers as it created deals that were only open to mobile consumers.
What Can We Learn?
Walmart’s example highlights, ten years on, that the New York Times’ explanation for the very invention of Cyber Monday still rings true. The concept that consumers are using both online and offline to their best advantage, to scope out deals, find the best offers, and ultimately make things easier for themselves when doing their shopping is as true in 2015 as it was 10 Thanksgivings ago back in 2005. Technology changes, but shoppers’ desire to streamline their lives doesn’t.
And the rules we learn from Black Friday aren’t just true for this manic period alone. Make life easier for your shoppers, appeal as much as possible to them directly, and give them every opportunity to choose you, and you’ll be in a good place to capture sales and boost revenue whatever the year. If the last few years have proven anything, it’s that this long-standing favourite over one of the most old-fashioned and traditional days in the US calendar is now well and truly a modern phenomenon.