Couch-Shopping or Mall-Hopping? Tales of Black Friday & Cyber Monday 2017

Cathy Traugot, Content Marketing Editor

Cathy Traugot, Content Marketing Editor

It’s official. Quite a few of us would prefer to spend Black Friday shopping from our couches.

Multichannel Merchant’s detailed article reports a record $5.03 billion was spent online this Black Friday, up 16.9% from $4.3 billion in 2016. Cyber Monday then stole the crown for largest online shopping day with $6.59 billion. So along with parking our rears on the couch on Black Friday, we’re apparently getting nothing done at work on Monday either.

The uptick in online shopping wasn’t unexpected. National Retail Federation surveyed consumers early in the fall and found that 59% of shoppers planned to shop online this year, the first time that online was the most popular choice. In their release on Tuesday, the online shopping numbers turned out even higher: More than 70% of consumers surveyed shopped online only or both online and in-store.

And that survey was bolstered by Shoppertrak reports that showed combined Thanksgiving/Black Friday visits dropped 1.6%. Bronto Senior Commerce Marketing Analyst Greg Zakowicz said he believes Thanksgiving Day openings, coupled with the option to buy a doorbuster online, have diluted the tendency to camp out at a retailer’s doorstep. “People are likely feeling less motivated to wake up at 3 a.m. They shop online or venture out when it’s convenient to them. There’s no fear of missing out.’’ But judging by the traffic jam at the expressway exit for the outlet mall near his house, “People still love to shop in person to get a bargain.’’

Retailers with physical locations were likely well-prepared for a potential drop-off in foot traffic. Retail experts said many brick-and-mortar heavy retailers made inventory adjustments to reflect the move toward online shopping.

Meanwhile, the online shopping trend showed just one trajectory: up.

Some interesting data gems:

  • The number of online purchasers on Thanksgiving increased 26%, with an average order value of $180, vs. $168 on Black Friday, according to Criteo, a company which offers personalized retargeting services.
  • Our phones spared us political arguments and boring relatives: According to Monetate, mobile page views were up 30% on Thanksgiving Day.
  • Black Friday saw a 3.5% year-over-year increase in shoppers and a 12.5% increase in the number of people purchasing. Criteo believes the greater increase in purchasers “indicates that people had done their shopping earlier in the month but were ready to click the buy button when deals became available on Black Friday.”
  • In 24 hours, consumers spent $2 billion through mobile devices – a new record.

November Really Was a Lovely Shade of Gray

Zakowicz has written extensively on the number of online deals being offered in November, and the amount of revenue that comes in before Black Friday. His term, Gray November, has gotten picked up in the retail media for good reason. Multichannel Merchant reported that between Nov. 1 and Nov. 24, $38.3 billion has been spent in online shopping, or approximately $1.6 billion per day, up 17.8% from last year. Criteo found that days in the first week of November showed ecommerce sales gains north of 50%.

Zakowicz meticulously charts his own shopping experiences and said he found himself buying most of his holiday items before Black Friday. Out of curiosity, he purposely carted some goods to see if he could get a better deal by waiting. Only one item declined in price (from Amazon), “and that wasn’t by much.’’

With the amount of online buying happening on Black Friday (and the lead up to that day), why was Cyber Monday so big? Its origins date to a time when not everyone had a computer and high-speed internet access at home. But that has since changed. According to Pew Research, 73% of US adults have home access to broadband services, and 77% have a smartphone. Adults over 65 are the least likely to have either and are more likely to be retired and away from workplace internet access.

But the shopping holiday endures. Fortune Magazine’s roundup is the best I’ve read on why – and how the sales are different on this day.

Another interesting trend is the spread of the Black Friday/Cyber Monday concept. Once a mostly US phenomenon, the shopping days have spread well beyond this country – even without a national holiday preceding it. I found themed sales in the UK and the Netherlands. And in Poland, marketing communications firm Redlink said Poles are getting 20% more email marketing messages this year for holiday kickoff period.

Striking a Good Balance

For my own holiday shopping, it was online (almost) all the way. I planted myself on the couch during a college basketball game and clicked away. Nearly 75% of my shopping for four family members was completed in one hour (along with a little self-gifting). An email actually influenced one major purchase. But I’m not a brick-and-mortar humbug. I purposely chose a free shipping BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store) deal because I want an excuse to visit that store during the holidays. I’ve got a trip to the mall on the calendar – and will be checking my emails to decide which retailers to visit.

And my GenXer kids surprised me with their offline shopping experiences. They mostly hate to shop at stores, but they love holiday shopping. They gather a big group and head out late on Thanksgiving Day. And they aren’t just window-shopping. My trend-conscious college-age son took advantage of deals to buy nearly $100 worth of basic clothing at that old mall standby, J.C. Penney.

Maybe there is life left for traditional retailers.