Like Santa in his workshop, marketers spent months getting ready for this year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. Yet, despite the countless hours of consumer research, sales and merchandise modeling and media planning and buying, there was a major new factor with no prior history in any of those models: how would the pandemic affect online shopping?

The results were mostly good news for holiday marketers. But there are also some important trends that speak to the longer-term relevance of these established consumer events in planning for next year’s post-pandemic holiday marketing season. (At least, that was our hope as we broke this year’s wishbones!)

Here’s a quick grab bag of results:

  • Cyber Monday
    Holiday shoppers spent $10.8 billion on Cyber Monday, up 15.1% from a year ago, setting a record for the largest U.S. online shopping day ever, according to Adobe. Interestingly, during the final hours of Cyber Monday, from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Pacific time, consumers spent $2.7 billion, accounting for 25% of the day’s revenue, the firm said.
  • Small Business Saturday
    Revenue at smaller businesses grew 294% on Saturday compared with an average day in October and online shopping reached $4.68 billion, up 30.2% compared with last year’s Small Business Saturday, according to Adobe analytics.
  • Black Friday
    Consumer spending on the internet surged 21.6%, turning in the second-largest day for online spending in US history, behind last year’s Cyber Monday. Online spending on Black Friday notched a record $9 billion this year, according to Adobe Analytics.
  • Thanksgiving
    Thanksgiving Day saw a 20% increase in online purchasing, well above last year’s rate of 14.5%.

A Warning for the Future?

But there’s a big caveat in those numbers. While growth in the 20% range is above last year’s 14.5% jump in online sales on Thanksgiving compared with 2018, it’s still far below the pace of ecommerce gains during the pandemic. It’s especially below the annual ecommerce growth of 40.3% Digital Commerce 360 projects by the end of 2020, and it falls short of the 34.9% expected jump in online sales during November and December, according to Digital Commerce 360.  The average shopper spend of $311.75 over the five-day Thanksgiving shopping period was down 16%, from last year’s total of $361.90, but comparable to 2018’s $313.29, NRF pointed out. Of that amount, $224.48 was spent directly on gifts.

Some of this can be accounted for in trends that started before the pandemic. For many retailers, Cyber Monday has already been playing a diminished role. Big-box companies like Walmart and Target started their deals in mid-October to coincide with Amazon Prime Day and plan to have more in the weeks ahead. Shoppers are now expecting good sales all season and, as been the trend for some time, hold out for even bigger deals as the season wraps up.

It is likely that Black Friday customers made many of their purchases on companies’ websites instead of in person. While on the one hand this shows a continuing long-term trend toward online shopping, it cannot predict how many shoppers will return to shopping in malls once the pandemic passes. How much do Black Friday and Thanksgiving Day shoppers look forward to the rush and crush of the in-store hunt? Or will the traditional news footage of shoppers storming malls in the wee hours become a relic of the pre-pandemic past?

And, while there was certainly a lot for small businesses to cheer about, those smaller retailers benefited from a lot of publicity about their own precarious positions due to the pandemic. How much is that surge in Small Business Saturday holiday marketing due to consumer sentiment that might fade once some sense of normalcy returns? Or will shoppers continue to prefer the small business experience?

Mobile vs. Desktop for Online Purchasing?

While it appears that brick and mortar shoppers might have preferred more small shops than big-box stores, what about the online shopper? Were they browsing and buying on small mobile screens or big screen desktop computers?

37% of digital sales on Cyber Monday were made on mobile devices

As expected, smartphone usage was up year over year, but conversions were actually highest on desktop.  This leads us to conclude that people continue to research on their mobile devices, but any serious purchasing is done on the desktop, a form factor that is comfortable to most.

This theory is further solidified when reviewing conversion rates across mobile and desktop.  Over the holiday weekend desktops averaged a 5.8% conversion rate, two times higher than mobile conversion rates on Tuesday and Wednesday and we also saw a higher average order value ($122) on desktop on Thanksgiving, 20% higher than mobile purchases, according to Salesforce.

Planning for Next Year Starts Now

There’s no time like now to start looking over the list of this year’s data and checking it twice. While the numbers look good and will give marketers something to cheer about come New Year’s Eve, there are definitely some anomalies that require deeper digging, and should be kept in mind when applying this season’s results to next year’s holiday marketing plans.

Nobody knows what return to normal will mean once the pandemic passes. The trick for future holiday marketing will be deciphering which numbers reflect longer-term consumer trends, and which are temporary factors that hopefully will fade away along with masks and social distancing. These are certainly the questions that our own analysts will be dealing with on behalf of our clients in 2021. And what we’ll be wishing for when we raise our glasses to the new year!

Talk to us about digging deeper into your holiday results. Contact Us