analysts and ecommerce leaders have forecast a subdued online Christmas shopping season this year, with sales in the first three weeks of November flat over a year ago due to a weaker economy, inflation and more people returning to stores in the wake of the Covid -19 pandemic. But on the surface, the Thanksgiving long weekend seems more lavish than expected, though growth has certainly slowed this year after the boom in the pandemic period.
Black Friday broke $9 billion in sales for the first time yesterday, with online sales of $9.12 billion, according to figures from Adobe Analytics. This is a record number for the day, and a 2.3% increase from sales a year ago, and slightly higher than Adobe had estimated prior to the day. Adobe doesn’t break down volumes in its report, so it’s hard to know if those numbers are due to items simply costing more this year due to inflation, or if the higher numbers are a result of more purchases.
Black Friday is an important focus for those gauging how the e-commerce market is doing and consumer confidence in what is the most important and biggest shopping period of the year.
Salesforce publishes its own figures based on 1.5 billion buyersand it noted that online sales reached $8 billion in the US and $40 billion worldwide at 5pm ET on Black Friday, with the most discounted items in the US appearing in home appliances, apparel, health and beauty, and.. luxury handbags.
“Our data shows such a strong correlation between discount rates and online sales because consumers hung onto the biggest and best deals,” he said Rob Gaf, VP & GM of Retail at Sales team. “Consumers with a stretched wallet are looking for value and price. And retailers responded to Black Friday with the highest discount rates of the holiday season.”
Adobe said toys, gaming and consumer electronics were the most popular categories for people looking for Black Friday deals and discounts.
The day before Thanksgiving also had stronger-than-expected numbers: shoppers spent $5.29 billion online on Thursday. That’s 2.9% more than a year ago, and more than the $5.1 billion Adobe initially expected for today. Salesforce noted that Thanksgiving Day online sales were up 1% to $31 billion, while in the US specifically they were up 9% to $7.5 billion. Salesforce also said that 78% of sales traffic came from mobile devices. Average order values, it said, were $105 worldwide and $120 for US sales.
The shape of “holiday shopping” has changed a lot with the rise of e-commerce. Not only has online shopping extended the number of days and hours people shop, but it has also expanded and blurred the whole concept of seasonality in “holiday” shopping. The day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday used to mark the “first day” of holiday shopping; that went out the window years ago with sales starting on Thursday.
Of course it also had an impact how people shopping. Mobile devices play an increasingly important role in this. A record 48% of all Black Friday e-commerce sales took place on smartphones (versus 44% in 2021). Note: Thanksgiving is still a better day for mobile sales, partly because people aren’t at their computers – they’re with friends and family, not their desks! — and they’re not in stores. On Thursday, about 55% of online sales occurred on mobile devices yesterday, up 8.3% from a year ago.
“Mobile shopping struggled to grow for years as consumers felt the experience was lacking compared to desktop,” Vivek Pandya, principal analyst at Adobe Digital Insights, said in a statement. “Thanksgiving this year has been a turning point, where smartphones drove real growth and highlights how much these experiences have improved.”
And the use of buy-now-pay-later services is on the rise, a sign both of their growing ubiquity as an alternative to credit, but also of the need for consumers to take this route. During Black Friday, BNPL orders increased by 78%, and in terms of sales by 81%, compared to the same day a week ago. This is a particularly large spike compared to the day before. On Thanksgiving, “buy-now-pay-later” was up 1.3% in terms of sales and 0.7% in terms of orders (indicating more of it being used for larger-ticket items). All well and good, as long as it doesn’t translate into longer-term unsustainable debt.
Adobe says it analyzes about 1 trillion visits to US shopping sites, tracks sales for about 100 million SKUs and 18 product categories. The analytics will include anonymized data from some of its customers: it says it’s used by about 85% of the largest online retailers in the US. It said about $77.74 billion has been spent online since Nov. 1 so far.
Salesforce and Adobe may have different numbers and metrics, but both are seeing growth, so the bigger question may actually be whether the surge in activity on Thanksgiving will be sustained through the rest of Cyber Week – including Black Friday and Cyber Monday of today , and the weekend in between – and indeed the rest of the days and weeks leading up to the new year. Overall, Adobe has forecast that Cyberweek will generate $34.8 billion in online spending this year, up 2.8% from a year ago when the week generated $33.9 billion in sales.
Cyber Week of 2021 was actually 1.4% lower than 2020, so this represents a turnaround.
Be that as it may, sales cannot be fully sustained for the next few days. Adobe predicted that sales for today – the famous Black Friday – are expected to reach $9 billion, which is only 1% more than in 2021.
The holiday shopping season is an important time to keep track of for a number of reasons. First, it is traditionally a retailer’s most lucrative sales period, one that can make or break the entire year. (That’s why Amazon’s recent earningswhere it issued reduced sales guidance and warned of lower-than-expected holiday spending caused the stock to plummet nearly 20%.)
Because of that outrageous importance, e-commerce holiday numbers can collectively serve as a gauge for the e-commerce market as a whole.
But if growth is what we’re after, there are some indicators of stormy water ahead. Adobe found that the first three weeks of November saw flat online sales of $64.59 billion, up just 0.1% from 2021.
That’s against the backdrop of brick-and-mortar retailers becoming increasingly aggressive in winning back their audience. The National Retail Federation in the US said it expected 166.3 million consumers for shopping during the long weekend.
“While there is much speculation about the impact of inflation on consumer behavior, our data tells us that this Thanksgiving holiday weekend will see robust retail traffic with a record number of customers taking advantage of value pricing,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement. “We’re optimistic that retail sales will continue to be strong in the coming weeks, and retailers are poised to meet consumers however they choose to shop, with great products at prices they’re willing to pay.”
We will post more updates on sales figures as they come in.