ThanksgivingIn the dawning of the Thanksgiving tradition – which, for Americans, dates back to the 19th century – the holiday signified giving thanks for all that was had. Now, it’s as much about shopping (as eating) and giving thanks.

In what could be the first-ever $1 trillion holiday shopping season, retailers and consumers alike are taking advantage of an extended shopping spectacle leading up to and following Thanksgiving (if you want to check out the history of Black Friday, check out this piece).

What began as Cyber Monday and transitioned into #GivingTuesday has, over the last few years, exploded to include a week-long period of delicious deals and discounts.

During the Thanksgiving holiday time, the most popular day for online shopping was Cyber Monday (67.4 million shoppers), followed by Black Friday (65.2 million). But it’s also worth noting that as of the beginning of December, a fifth of shoppers haven’t even started their holiday shopping, which implies more spending is to come between now and Christmas.

Here’s how holiday shopping is changing, plus what we gleaned – and what our clients experienced – during the busiest time of year for retailers.

Thanksgiving Shopping: What Do The Statistics Say?

The time around Thanksgiving is the highest-grossing time of year for retailers. Between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, roughly 20% of all holiday shopping took place. Cyber Monday and Black Friday are consistently the two biggest shopping days of the year… and consumers didn’t deviate from that trend this year.

Thanksgiving weekend revenue
Source: Adobe Digital Insights

The National Retail Federation estimates a grand total of 165 million consumers who spent an average of $313.29 during the 2018 Thanksgiving holidays (down slightly from 2017) – but online sales remained up.

Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday set records

Thanksgiving Day sales usually aren’t exorbitant, but e-commerce sales in 2018 hit $3.7 billion, a marked 28% uptick from last year – making it the fastest-growing shopping date in history. About a third of all online sales were placed on mobile devices, and average order values were up 8% from last year.

Cyber Monday has been widely regarded as the biggest shopping day of the year across the e-commerce industry.

A record-breaking $6.6 billion was spent online on Cyber Monday 2017, an increase of nearly 17% from a year prior in 2016. And that figure was shattered this year as sales totaled at $7.9 billion – making it the single biggest shopping day in history.

twitter “#CyberMonday sales set a new record in 2018, w/ total revenues around $7.9B – making it the single biggest #onlineshopping day in history,” says @ARTimlin CLICK TO TWEET

Black Friday… another record-setting day

Online sales for Black Friday once again set a new record, breaking last year’s mark of about $5 billion. This year’s Black Friday e-commerce sales were up 24%, amassing $6.2 billion in total revenue.

An analysis of 10,500 promotions from 17 retailers running Black Friday sales found that retailers offered steep discounts of about 47.9% off, an improvement from 45.2% last year (TotalRetail via Numerator). It goes without saying that pretty much every retailer advertised their Black Friday deals across all viable channels.

It’s #Rawlings #BlackFriday sale! Sitewide Sale 30% Off! Don’t Wait! Shop and use CYBER30 at Checkout. (excludes select items) #TeamRawlings

— Rawlings Sports (@RawlingsSports) November 23, 2018

The funny part is that some of the best Black Friday deals weren’t even on Friday – competition is so incredibly fierce that, more and more, brands began to actually present Black Friday deals the week prior to Thanksgiving! This year, deals hit their peak the week before Thanksgiving. And, in a race to win Black Friday, Walmart, Macy’s, and Target even opened their doors Thanksgiving evening.

What about mobile?

Mobile is becoming more important than ever when it comes to holiday shopping. Data from Adobe suggests that mobile sales were up 19% this year, accounting for 54% of site visits.

Thanksgiving was the biggest “mobile” day where 40% of all online sales were made via mobile devices.

Consumer shopping behavior is changing rapidly, and the increasing partiality to online and especially mobile shopping during the holidays reflects a few important points:

  • Malls and physical stores appeal less and less – especially when flooded with extra amounts of foot traffic – for the modern consumer who values convenience, simplicity, and ease-of-purchase. Showrooming is common if consumers are in-store.
  • Retailers are making good progress toward omnichannel excellence and are making it easier for consumers to spend online or via mobile to avoid the hassle of going in-store
  • Channel explosion and digitization is making it easy to find exactly what you’re looking for – perhaps even more so than the brick-and-mortar location

Holiday Trends: E-Commerce vs. Offline

Thanksgiving and Black Friday are still the busiest in-store shopping days, but, data shows foot traffic is declining. This year, brick-and-mortar shopping dropped about 9% from 2017. Data shows that more than 89 million consumers shopped both online and at brick-and-mortar locations, which was an increase of about 40% from 2017. These people spent about $93 more than those that only used one channel.

Some big-name retailers like Walmart and Best Buy still encouraged shoppers to come into the store; but consumers still expect a high-quality online experience when and if they choose to take it online.

Overall, the trend is towards online shopping. U.S. holiday e-commerce sales have gone up at a steady pace over the last several years – increasing roughly 44% from 2014 to 2018:

Ecommerce Sales
Overall, e-commerce sales will go up 16.6% to $123.73 billion compared to last year. Online shopping represents 12.3% of all holiday retail sales this year.

How will spending be broken down? This holiday season, the average shopper will spend about $1k each. Of that, they will spend about $638 on gifts and another $215 on food, decorations, flowers, cards, and the like. AND, they’ll spend $155 to take advantage of seasonal deals and promotions, according to the NRF.

Brands vs. Amazon

Thanksgiving week and the days that followed also represented an implicit battle: retailers vs. Amazon. When it comes to a seamless online experience, competing with Amazon is a big challenge not only during the holidays but all the time. To overcome intensified affinity and growing propensity of consumers to gravitate toward online marketplaces including Amazon (and eBay or one of the dozens of other marketplaces), more retailers leveraged promotions, in-store only offers, and perks to win over shoppers.

To drive in-store traffic, Best Buy offered some of their most popular products exclusively in-store. Walmart did the same, but, regardless, more than ¾ of toys were still bought online.

How top brands fared around the holiday

Emarsys clients found overall improvement YoY during the end of November season.

→ Daily AOV was up. Nearly every day during Thanksgiving week and Cyber Week, consumers spent more than they did in 2017. On Black Friday, AOV was up about 7.6% from 2017, and AOV driven by email campaigns (for consumers of our client brands) was 8.9% higher than Black Friday 2017.

Customers average order value black Friday shopping

→ Engagement was up. Click rate of emails was also up from last year – on Cyber Monday, click rate was 12% higher than the year prior. Conversion rates were also up dramatically from the year prior – rising steeply on Black Friday (70% increase) and the Saturday (41% increase) following.

→ Average daily revenue was up. In the approximately two months leading up to (and including!) Cyber Week, daily revenue also increased and did so quite notably on Black Friday (pictured below).

Black Friday Revenue Chart

According to Cameron Halcomb, Customer Experience Consultant at Emarsys, the brands that had the most success during the end of November were the ones that were most creative and had that had an omnichannel presence. The brands that were unsuccessful mostly lacked effective segmentation. For example, brands that sent promotional emails touting discounts which were already used/applied by individuals obviously faced lackluster results on those campaigns.

Final Thoughts

For most retail brands, the period between Black Friday and Christmas typically represents 30-40% of all holiday sales. This year, Black Friday and Cyber Monday broke records… and that’s a trend that will likely continue.

eMarketer predicts that 2018 holiday e-commerce sales will go up more than 15%, so there’s a reason to remain optimistic if you didn’t get as much out of Thanksgiving sales as you’d hoped.

Holiday marketing far and away represents the most lucrative time of year for e-commerce and retail brands. How are you making adjustments to acquire and retain more customers during this critical time of year?

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