Lackluster Black Friday Results Show Online Retail is on the Rise


Black Friday is a shopping day that has become synonymous with chaos for many retail employees across America. Thanksgiving evening has even garnered a similar reputation thanks to retailers like Old Navy and JC Penney, who opened their doors at 3PM this year.

But this affiliation may soon become obsolete in the coming years. I visited a local Target store Thanksgiving night where my brother and I ran into a friend of ours who works there. We asked him how his night was going, to which he smiled and said “Great. There haven’t been any fights this year!” The sight of products still sitting on shelves hinted at lower foot traffic than usual, as did the lack of congestion in the aisles.

My speculation of lower foot traffic has proven to be true. Headlines across multiple news sources read that in-store traffic was not as monumental as many retailers had hoped. But Black Friday as a whole was not a dud by any means. The same headlines also read that online sales increased, big time.

ShopperTrak found that sales at retail stores fell to $10.4 billion, which is an 11% drop from the year before. Thanksgiving did not boast impressive numbers, either. In-store sales dropped to $1.8 billion from $2 billion the year before, which could explain the large number of HD televisions sitting on the shelves at my local Target store.

Online sales, on the other hand, took an impressive jump from last year’s results. Adobe studied 150 million visits across 4,500 retail websites to learn that online sales increased 14.3% on Black Friday to $2.72 billion. Combined with $1.73 billion in online sales on Thanksgiving, and you’re looking at a $4.45 billion weekend for retailers in the eCommerce space.

The online success train does not appear to be losing any steam, either. Chris Christopher of IHS speculates that after Black Friday’s success, online sales will actually jump 11.7% to $95 billion between November and December 2015, overshadowing last year’s 10.9% increase. Compare this to a more meager 3.5% increase in total holiday sales, and it’s safe to predict that $1 in every $7 in holiday shopping sales will occur online.

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Online retail’s popularity is rising in the United States, and it makes sense. If you were like me this past weekend, it was a remarkably relaxing break from the constant hustle of our day-to-day lives. Let’s be honest, the crowds that appear on Black Friday can be intimidating, to say the least, and online shopping avoids this common situation.

But another reason for eCommerce’s successful Black Friday can be found in the tactics leading up to the holiday weekend. Many retailers such as Amazon and Target spread a lot of their promotions out the week before, acting as a countdown to the busiest shopping day in America. This decompressed promotion tactic definitely helped take the spotlight off of brick and mortar retailers during the busy Thanksgiving weekend.

Another strategy that online retailers appeared to nail this year was email promotions. Adobe found that email promotions actually drove 25% more sales compared with 2014’s results. By targeting consumers early, online retailers were able to capitalize on the excitement that Black Friday produces ahead of their brick and mortar counterparts.

Adobe also found that online doorbusters accounted for 40% of Black Friday’s online sales. The fact that shoppers wouldn’t have to stand in a long line in the cold and fight tooth and nail for these products probably helped influence their decision to buy them. Aside from doorbusters, online products averaged discounts around 24% lower than their regularly listed price.

Black Friday was also a proving ground for sellers with mobile sites. Mobile made up 53% of website visits, and actually made up 34% of overall online sales. Tablet usage has been dropping, and most consumers used their phones to browse and even purchase the items. This was the biggest year for mobile yet, and it hints at the continued rise of mobile commerce.

Cyber Monday 2015 became the largest online sales day in history with $2.98 billion in sales, 12% more than in 2014. Adobe believes that Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday will drive a total of $11 billion in online sales, which is a 15% increase year-over-year. However, out of stock rates were at an all-time high, with 13 of 100 product views displaying an out-of-stock message.

Brick and mortar retailers don’t need to fret just yet. The holiday season is full of last minute shoppers who are more than likely to put their trust in brick and mortar stores, which will have a positive impact on those sales. Retailers who are able to accomplish a “brick and click” presence will post the most successful results, as they saw the strongest increase in sales year-over-year with 18% growth.

The holiday season has only just begun, but it’s looking to be an incredibly positive one for online retailers. Get the most out of it with Wiser’s holiday eBook, available here.

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Brian Smyth

Brian Smyth is a content writer at Wiser, a dynamic pricing and merchandising engine for online retailers. He holds a BS in business with a concentration in marketing from San Francisco State University.