Black Friday & Cyber Week: 5 Takeaways From Consumer Behavior For Retail Brands

What can we learn from the way consumers spent over the Thanksgiving weekend?

Consumer Goods

As marketers collect their thoughts, and revenues, from a busy period of consumer spending across "Cyber Week," data and analysis on the way consumers have been spending their November paychecks has revealed four key takeaways for retailers to consider in 2015 and beyond.

Black Friday has always represented something slightly bizarre from a marketing perspective. After all, consumers who manage to pick up a heavily discounted TV might be happy with their purchase, but does it really inspire loyalty to the brand they purchased it from? Does it mean they are more likely to shop there for the coming year? It’s hard to find evidence proving the event makes a real difference.

That’s not to say the Thanksgiving weekend deals and discounts aren’t a crucial period for any retailer. It signals the time of year consumers minds turn to purchasing goods or presents, some of whom may have even been holding out for the sales to make necessary home upgrades.

Retailers need to be at the top of their game in winning their loyalty, engagement, and business. However, of all the things Black Friday does represent, a great customer experience is not one of them.

On the weekend with the greatest potential of all over the calendar year, should crowded stores, inaccessible websites, and limited deals (that reward few and leave others wanting) be the status quo?

While retailers may feel they have to fight for the reputation of being the best value retailer (or perhaps they want to instill a sense of excitement and impulsiveness ahead of the winter shopping period) evolving consumer behavior may prompt retail brands to re-evaluate their “Cyber Week” marketing strategies – the period of time leading up to Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and the week of Cyber Monday.

Takeaway 1: Mobile Consumers Purchased In Record Numbers

Data from an IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark has revealed that mobile devices served as the single most important resource for consumers in browsing products online. On Thanksgiving day, mobile accounted for an incredible 52.1 percent of all online traffic, and sales completed on mobile devices were up 14.3 percent on 2013 figures.

As Jay Henderson, Director, IBM Smarter Commerce explained:

“Mobile has become the new Thanksgiving tradition as consumers find the best deals with their fingers as well as their feet. We saw retailers harness the power of data to engage shoppers, identifying the unique preferences of their customers while quickly capitalizing on online, mobile or in-store trends as they emerged.”

Mobile statistics were equally strong over the Black Friday weekend, as consumers used their smartphones to both to check prices and seek information in-store and transact via their mobiles themselves:

According to IBM:

  • Mobile sales on Thanksgiving Day numbered 29 percent of all total sales.
  • Online sales on Black Friday were up 9.5 percent (YoY), with mobile sales accounting for a quarter of all online purchases.
  • Online sales on Cyber Monday were up 8.5 Percent (YoY), with mobile sales accounting for 27.6 percent of all online purchases.
  • Mobile traffic on Cyber Monday accounted for 41.2 percent of all online traffic, up 30.1 percent (YoY). This was predominantly on smartphones which drove 28.5 percent of traffic, with tablets making up 12.5 percent.
  • Tablets however, had the highest conversion rate among mobile devices, winning 12.9 percent of online sales compared to 9.1 percent for smartphones. Tablet users also measured a higher averaged sale price, at $121.49 per order compared to $99.61 for smartphone users, an overall difference of 22 percent.

Adobe have reported that large retailers saw the biggest gains as a result of increased mobile traffic, with brands such as Walmart and Target receiving record mobile traffic. Walmart in particular measured spectacular mobile figures with a reported 70 percent of traffic over Thanksgiving weekend from mobile devices.

With such a clear trend indicating that mobile devices have become the most important means for users to browse for deals, brands should take it as a clear sign that delivering an exceptional mobile experience should be of the utmost importance for next year’s Cyber Week sales.

Takeaway 2: Consumer Spending Once Again Shattered Records

As many as 140 million unique U.S. shoppers were looking to pick up a bargain last weekend, and this was reflected in another year of record breaking spending:

  • According to Adobe, Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday set new sales records with $1.33 billion (25 percent growth YoY) and $2.4 billion (24 percent YoY), respectively.
  • Another Adobe statistic revealed that the top 25 retailers of the Adobe Digital Index, each generated $30 million or more on Cyber Monday, contributing to an overall online sales increase of 25 percent capturing nearly $1.8 billion in sales revenues.
  • Smaller retailers, those generating $2 million or less, grew by 5 percent. Consumers saw the highest discounts of 23 percent in the early morning hours and more than half (54 percent) of online sales came in outside of normal working hours.
  • ComScore had slightly more conservative, but no less convincing figures indicating that Thanksgiving sales revenues posted a 32 percent gain (YoY), up to $1.01 billion – surpassing the billion dollar mark for the first time.
  • Black Friday numbers were similarly high, jumping 26 percent (YoY) to $1.5 billion. Cyber Monday measured an incredible $2.038 billion in desktop online spending, up 17 percent (YoY), representing the heaviest online spending day in history and the only day ever to surpass $2 billion in sales, according to comScore.
  • The five-day period from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday, had an overall total of $6.6 billion in online buying from desktop computers, up 24 percent compared to 2013 figures for the same period, comScore reported.

ComScore chairman emeritus Gian Fulgoni offered the following insights on consumer spending:

“Any notion that Cyber Monday is declining in importance is really unfounded, as it continues to post new historical highs and reflects the ongoing strength of online this holiday season. Varying reports have also indicated weakness in the consumer economy due to flagging brick-and-mortar sales over the holiday weekend, but what we may really be seeing is an accelerating shift to online buying as mobile phones spur increased showrooming activity. The data we’re seeing suggest it may be more a change in shopping behavior than a lack of consumer demand.”

Takeaway 3: Email Marketing Gave Online Spending A Boost

A Custora blog post has revealed that email marketing and Google search were drivers of ecommerce success over the weekend.

  • On Black Friday email marketing was the primary channel driving consumer conversions, accounting for 27.3 percent of sales; organic search accounted for 18.9 percent of sales; and paid search accounted for 18.5 percent.
  • On Cyber Monday email marketing drove 23.9 percent of orders; organic search accounted for 18.8 percent of sales; and paid search for 16 percent.

Another study based on data from HookLogic revealed that conversion rates were up to 3.4x higher than usual on Cyber Monday.

The figures show that email marketing deserves recognition for its ability to drive conversions and sales. Email offers the ability to combine customer data and personalization that when combined with attractive deals of Cyber Week offers a powerful incentive for consumers to buy.

Takeaway 4: Will Black Friday Or Cyber Week Matter More To Consumers in 2015?

One of the emerging developments in the last few weeks has been the revelation that a number of brands had been rolling out pre-Black Friday discounts, in an attempt to get a head start on the competition. Walmart reportedly discounted 20,000 items in the week leading up to Black Friday weekend, and more than one media outlet has pointed the blame for a slight decline on in-store retail on the groceries and consumer goods giant.

Amazon adopted a similar strategy, with deals being offered a week before Black Friday, forcing competitors to move similarly or lose revenue. It shows a trend among retailers looking to gain a headstart on their competition, releasing early pre-Black Friday deals online, perhaps in the hope that consumers would pick up high value items early rather than face the lottery of elation or disappointment in the end of week rush.

A decline in sales for one concentrated day of discounts on Black Friday could also be indicative a wider trend in the way digital marketing is extending its influence over the entirety of consumer shopping habits, with retailers choosing to spread discounts over a whole week in order to maximise revenues from the end-of-November peak in consumer spending sentiment.

Consumers are beginning to realize that they can still get a great deal from the comfort of their own homes - without any of the queuing in the cold - and with statistics pointing towards such a strong sales period across Cyber-Week, it could mean that in-store Black Friday revenues in 2015 matter to retailers and ecommerce players than orchestrating a strong week of sales online.

Takeaway 5: European Consumers Have Embraced Black Friday

2014 is the year Black Friday truly hit Europe, especially the UK. Even though there were no national holidays in Europe, several UK retailers reported record-breaking weekends. John Lewis have purportedly made £179 million worth of sales in one week, a record for the partnership, with one source indicating that they were selling a tablet computer every second, and a flatscreen TV every minute.

Figures were similarly healthy for other UK ecommerce retailers: Online electricals retailer AO.com has reported the busiest trading week in it’s 14-year history; and Maplin Electronics said its online sales on Black Friday were up 70 percent compared with 2013 figures. Halfords, the bicycle and car retailer, reported 1.1 million visitors on Black Friday, double the traffic of 2013, and online retailer Very.co.uk said its sales were up a staggering 134 percent, making it the busiest trading day in the company’s history.

Key to UK success figures were online sales. John Lewis’ operations director Dino Rocos said:

“Our biggest achievement was delivering an operation which ran like clockwork. We picked and packed 87 percent more online parcels on Saturday than we did last year, and to have delivered successfully on customer expectation is a testament to the work of our partners both on Black Friday itself and in our forward-planning.

Our website coped well with exceptional demand whilst the atmosphere in our shops remained both seasonal and calm with customers enjoying extended opening hours and the great offers to be had.”

In fact, while there were scrambles over flat-screen TVs in UK retail stores, many of the big winners from last weekend were achieved through the merit of their online operations. Such was the demand for online discounts that most UK ecommerce sites (with the notable exception of John Lewis) were forced to enact a system of cyber queues which retailers had put in place in anticipation of the rush.

Final Takeaways

In both the U.S. and Europe now, the end-of-November weekend marks the moment consumers are looking to begin their holiday purchases. Consumers look to spend, hunt out the best deals, get good value for their purchase, and share tips and experiences. An element of Black Friday for many retailers has been in catering to a considerable spike in consumer demands which is what gives rise to the frantic headlines of overcrowded Black Friday stores.

However, the data from this year’s consumer spending indicates that a majority of consumers are looking to spend online, and in this sense, the best strategies for retailers in future should include helping consumers by providing value, offering online (rather than limited in-store) discounts, and looking out for the best interests of your consumers across the whole Cyber Week period.

Let us know your thoughts on how digital marketing will change the end of November shopping weekend shopping in future years. Leave a comment or tweet us @momentologyNews.

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