Retail analysts looking for holiday cheer over Thanksgiving weekend found it on screens large and small, as a craving for convenience and inclement weather drove up online sales during and after Black Friday — a trend analysts say can help the sector, even if Cyber Monday itself becomes less significant.
"Extreme weather across the U.S. in the form of heavy rain and snow, along with earlier deals that retailers pushed out to make up for a shorter holiday season, meant that many shoppers opted to stay home to shop on Black Friday,” said Taylor Schreiner, principal analyst and head of Adobe Digital Insights. “It shows that consumers are re-imagining what it means to shop during the holidays.”
Adobe data found that shoppers spent $7.4 billion online on Black Friday, and the company is predicting a $9.4 billion tally for Cyber Monday, with Adobe lead analyst Vivek Pandya characterizing the weekend as “a truly lucrative period” for e-commerce. Adobe overlaid weather data onto its sales analytics and found that Black Friday online sales rose by 7 percent in states where more than two inches of snow fell.
As more Americans migrated to the internet to do their shopping, data from ShopperTrak showed that brick-and-mortar Black Friday sales fell by just over 6 percent from last year.
Aside from the temporary effects of the weather, a secular reason for the shift is generational: Millennials grew up alongside the internet, and are now reaching their peak earning and spending years. “The younger generation is definitely more comfortable with online shopping, even with big ticket purchasing,” said Camilla Yanushevsky, equity analyst at CFRA Research.
Untethering e-commerce from the desktop computer was a watershed moment. Shoppers today are more willing to use their phones to buy merchandise, and more retailers are investing in not just their websites, but in mobile-friendly technology. The tradition of Cyber Monday, when workers would shop online because they were at their desks, is no longer as relevant.
Analysts say Amazon led the way in the push to get people shopping any time and anywhere, but other stores are starting to catch up — an evolution that has ramifications for the future of retail more broadly.
“When it comes to retail, Amazon is always considered the elephant in the room,” Yanushevsky said, although she added that some of its competitors are narrowing the gap in the technology arms race. “The two retailers closest are Target and Walmart… They’ve done a lot with accelerating delivery options,” she said.
“Many of the big box, legacy retailers have figured out ways to blend the overall shopping experience so that they are more competitive,” Schreiner said.
Giving customers the choice to pick up online orders in stores, for instance, is a convenience Amazon can’t match. “Click-and-collect services also… have breathed some new life into physical stores,” he said.
The laggards are the retailers that didn’t prioritize their online sales channels. “There are a bunch of companies that are large traditional retailers that have not invested...and they’re the ones that are really suffering,” said Forrester Research retail analyst Sucharita Kodali. “Many of them still do not have great omnichannel programs in place.”
Although this is creating a bifurcation in the sector, analysts say some companies’ abilities to refine and adapt their digital strategies belie the narrative of a “retail apocalypse.”
“It’s definitely eroding some stores more than others, but there are other stores that have done just fine,” Kodali said.
In particular, this is good news for e-commerce startups that use platforms such as Instagram to connect directly with customers.
“There are small business retailers that are doing really well that are pure play e-retailers like ThirdLove,” Yanushevskysaid. “They’re really good at attracting millennials on social media.”
Paradoxically, analysts say the growth of digital Black Friday might erode the clout of Cyber Monday as a distinct shopping event.
“Across the board, it’s pretty clear that digital was the standout in terms of Black Friday and in terms of the weekend. What that means in terms of Cyber Monday is the lines are blurring,” Yanushevsky said. “As online continues to take more share from brick-and-mortar, it’s going to continue blurring, because there are online promotions year-round.”