Another Black Friday and Cyber Monday is on the books, and with it came a crush of data about how, where and when shoppers were opening their wallets over the course of a five-day flurry of shopping. Here are some of the more interesting things we’ve learned about the state of shopping at a time when retail is changing rapidly.
1. We’re getting more comfortable buying — not just browsing — from our phones. In recent years, there has been a huge swell in traffic to e-commerce sites from smartphones and tablets, but there has not been a proportionately big increase in sales on those devices. In other words, shoppers were firing up their mobile gadgets to read customer reviews, check prices, even look up store hours, but they often weren’t closing the deal. However, we saw signs in recent days that shoppers may be warming to buying on mobile. Smartphones accounted for 44 percent of all online traffic last weekend and drove 19 percent of online sales, according to IBM Watson Trend. That is a 65 percent increase over how many sales were driven by smartphones over the same period last year. Meanwhile, smartphones for the first time this year surpassed tablets in the share of sales they generated last weekend.
The change is perhaps simply a reflection of a culture that is increasingly getting comfortable using smartphones for a wide variety of purposes. But it also could be a signal that retailers’ investments in their mobile sites and apps are paying off. Many in the industry have been working to improve clunky checkout processes, page load times and other aspects of their sites to try to make it easier to complete transactions.
2. Cyber Monday remains big, but it’s losing ground as the most important online shopping day. With so many retailers offering their Black Friday specials online as early as Wednesday evening, you might wonder: Were online shoppers all tapped out by the time this final buffet of deals came around? Judging from early data about their spending, not so much. Adobe reports that some $3.07 billion was spent online Monday, a figure it says makes for the biggest day ever for e-commerce sales. But while Cyber Monday still reigned supreme for online sales this year, it’s worth noting that other days are gaining on it. Online sales grew a robust 25 percent on Thanksgiving, according to Adobe, and Black Friday saw a 14 percent increase in digital sales to $2.7 billion. Note that the Black Friday total sales number is only slightly behind the total spending on Cyber Monday. And Black Friday sales saw stronger growth than the 12 percent growth seen on Cyber Monday.
The change makes sense, given that we increasingly have access to the Internet when we’re on-the-go and don’t need to wait until we slide into our cubicles Monday morning to start scouring the deals. Plus, retailers have been moving to have more harmony between their online and in-store deals, meaning shoppers have more reason these days to start their swiping and tapping earlier.
3. In-store shoppers were highly efficient. On Thanksgiving and Black Friday, shoppers who hit brick-and-mortar stores weren’t doing much dilly-dallying. According to a survey conducted by the International Council of Shopping Centers, Thanksgiving shoppers visited an average of 2.7 stores and made a purchase at average of 2.5 stores. The following day, they visited an average of 3.3 stores and opened their wallet at 2.8 stores. This is likely a reflection of a pattern we’ve seen take hold since the recession: Shoppers are doing their research before they make it to the mall, and so by the time they get there, they know exactly what they want.
This is a challenge for retailers and manufacturers in the holiday season and beyond, especially those that depended heavily on impulse-buying.
4. For all the time we spend on social media, it’s not doing much to drive sales. Retailers know that Facebook is often the first place many turn when they pick up their smartphone, and the stores have been trying to figure out how to use that social network and others to lure you into shopping. If this weekend is any indication, retailers are so far not doing a particularly good job of it. According to Custora, whose software is used by many retailers, sites such as Facebook , Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram drove a meager 1.7 percent of total online sales on Black Friday.
Retailers and the social networks have been experimenting with ways to move that needle, including through “buy buttons” that allow you to make a purchase without leaving the site. But some experts have questioned how effective such a tool could be, on the grounds that people cruising their friends’ engagement photos or reading tweets about the Video Music Awards aren’t exactly in a shopping frame of mind.
Still, we spend so much screen time on social networks that it’s hard to imagine retailers won’t keep trying to find effective ways to lure you onto their sites and apps from these platforms.
In the meantime, retailers had much more success with tried-and-true approach for luring online shoppers. E-mail promotions drove 25 percent of online orders on Black Friday.
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