Cyber Monday: What happened on the biggest e-commerce sales day ever

Consumers weren't afraid to spend, website outages plagued Target, and mobile seemed to win the day

After a big Black Friday weekend full of digital sales, consumers turned again to their computers and smartphones to indulge in holiday discounts on Cyber Monday. And they did it in a big way, too.

By 8 p.m. last night, Adobe said Cyber Monday sales were on track to reach $2.98 billion, making it the biggest sales day ever for e-commerce. Although online purchases still represent only about 7% of total retail sales over the year, the rapid growth of online sales during the holiday season and beyond has made e-commerce a big priority for many traditional brick-and-mortar retailers this year.

While concrete Cyber Monday figures won’t be released by comScore until Wednesday, early projections from Adobe's Digital Index and others provide a snapshot of the changing nature of online shopping during the holidays.

Consumers ‘ready to spend’

While predicted to come just under analyst expectations of $3 billion in sales at $2.98 billion, Cyber Monday saw a 12% increase in spending compared to last year. This number is even more telling when you consider the sizable online sales growth witnessed just a few days before Monday, as Adobe reports that online sales rose 14% during this year's Thanksgiving and Black Friday over 2014.

As in-store traffic slowed on Black Friday and more people showed up online than in stores to catch the deals, some observers questioned the need for Cyber Monday at all, wondering if shoppers would blow their holiday budgets online before Cyber Monday and skip the day all together. These numbers put that speculation to rest, and reinforces the significant shift in consumer shopping behavior from browsing in stores to browsing the Web. Instead of slowing down online shopping on Cyber Monday, this past weekend of digital shopping seems to have stoked the fire.

"Shoppers have seen promotions roll out for the past several weeks, but if the price is right on Cyber Monday, they'll definitely show up ready to spend," NRF president Matthew Shay said in a statement.

While the massive online growth during the launch of the holiday season will worry some brick-and-mortar retailers, many of these retailers actually benefited the most this Cyber Monday. Adobe reports that large brick-and-mortar (or “brick-and-click”) retailers saw an 18% sales growth from 2014. Target and Wal-Mart came prepared with deals, with Wal-Mart offering different deals throughout the day and Target advertising 15% off site wide, which drove volume to its site twice as high as its previous busiest online day ever.

Website outages plague Target

Target’s record-setting influx of online shoppers proved to be trouble for the retailer, which had to limit access to the site for some customers to ease congestion. While this tactic may have helped keep the site from crashing, it did anger many shoppers who took to Facebook and Twitter to complain about vanishing shopping carts and check-out glitches.

“As we experience spikes in traffic, our systems place guests in a queue and prompt them to access the site later. We apologize to guests who experience any delays, we appreciate their patience, and encourage them to try again in a few minutes by refreshing their browser,” a Target spokesman said in an email to Wall Street Journal.

The distinction between "crashing" and "metering access to the site" wasn’t much appreciated by many customers, who took to social media to vent with a #targetfail hashtag about the difficulties of shopping there. At least a few on Twitter made a point of saying they would look for the items they were attempting to buy on Amazon, which notably had no metering or crashing (or whatever you want to call it) despite heavy promotions, or Toys R Us instead.

Mobile is 'the dominant shopping trend'

Mobile made a huge jump in sales this Black Friday weekend, and it didn’t disappoint on Cyber Monday. Both phones and tablets contributed to the overall uptick in shopping, as consumers used them not only to browse, but to purchase this year. According to the IBM Watson Report, mobile traffic exceeded desktop traffic for the first time on Cyber Monday this year.

“Most of our predictions have been spot-on, but mobile surprised us,” Tamara Gaffney, an analyst with Adobe, told USA Today. “It’s much higher than we‘ve ever seen.”

According to Adobe’s predictions, 49% of visits and 28% of sales during Cyber Monday came from mobile devices, with $514 million in sales predicted at 8 p.m. yesterday to come through mobile.

While in past years smartphones and tablets were seen as tools to help customers shop around and compare prices before visiting stores (or even while in stores), Adobe found that they are now being used as tools to make purchases online.

“Mobile firmly established itself as the dominant shopping trend, for both traffic and sales,” Fernando Maderia, president of Walmart.com, said in a statement. Maderia revealed that Wal-Mart saw more than 70% of traffic and nearly half of online sales come from mobile since Thanksgiving.

“Our customers went from previously mostly searching and browsing on mobile, to making purchases at a much higher rate,” Maderia continued.

Positive outlook for the holidays

Online seems to be a key growth segment this year, with Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday bringing in $11 billion of online sales, a 15% increase from last year, Adobe reports. The spending is predicted to continue, too, with the first 18 days in December expected to pull in $1 billion of online sales as consumers take advantage of the free shipping offered by many retailers. 

Filed Under: Consumer Trends E-commerce Corporate News
Top image credit: Flickr user Mike McCune