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?

Pat Hong By Pat Hong from Linkdex. Join the discussion » 0 comments

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 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 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.

Pat Hong

Written by Pat Hong

Editor at Linkdex/Inked, Linkdex

Pat covers the SEO industry, digital marketing trends, and anything and everything around Linkdex. He also authors Linkdex's data analysis and reports, analysing the state of search in various industries.

Inked is published by Linkdex, the SEO platform of choice for professional marketers.

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