By about midday on Black Friday, the Thanksgiving weekend this year was already shaping up to be a remarkably inclusive shopping event, with large and small retailers, both online and off, notching record sales.
Black Friday is on track to hit $7.4 billion, according to early data from Adobe Analytics emailed to Retail Dive. But overall, it appears that e-commerce overwhelmed this early shopping season, with $600 million already spent online by 9 a.m. Friday morning, 19.2% more than last year, Adobe said.
"This is the year that will go down in the history books as the tipping point between digital and real world," Jon Reily, head of global commerce strategy at Publicis Sapient, told Retail Dive in an interview. "We knew it was coming and 2019 is the year."
That started on Thanksgiving Day, when U.S. consumers for the first time spent more than $4 billion, shelling out 14.5% more than last year for a total of $4.2 billion, according to statistics from Adobe Analytics emailed to Retail Dive on Friday. Much of that was accomplished not far from their Thanksgiving tables, with nearly half of the day's spending total coming from smartphones, 24.4% more so than last year and 30.5% over the season-to-date trend, Adobe said. "E-commerce giants saw a 244% boost in sales on Thanksgiving Day, while smaller retailers saw a 61% increase," according to Adobe's report.
Merchants working with e-commerce platform Shopify were similarly busy on Thanksgiving, reaching peak sales of $671,000 per minute globally at around 3 p.m. Sixty-nine percent of that was from mobile, 31% on desktop, with apparel and accessories sales dominating, followed by health and beauty, Shopify said.
Physical traffic patterns resembled last year but seemed sightly down at several stores, according to emailed comments from Telsey Advisory Group analysts, who did store checks nationwide starting 5 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. Friday morning started out slow in comparison, but built throughout the day, they said.
"Given the early start to the promotions and widespread availability of online deals for the past couple of weeks, there was less need to wake up early to rush to the stores," TAG analysts said. "We believe the pull-forward of sales continued. In addition, inclement weather in the West and Midwest likely had a drag on store traffic, while likely helping online. Early in-store traffic seemed best at Apple, Bath & Body Works, Bed Bath & Beyond, Best Buy, Target, and Walmart."
Deals continue the Black Friday tradition
Shoppers took to online early Black Friday, and most of that is likely to accrue from mobile: For Black Friday, Adobe expects 58% of online visits and 38% of online revenue to come from smartphones. Among its 1 million-plus merchants, Shopify tracked 71% of Black Friday sales (starting at midnight) made on mobile, and 29% on desktop.
One thing hasn't changed, however, and that is that the weekend is still all about discounts. Consumers were bombarded with offers including "sharp discounts on televisions (18.6%), computers (17.5%), toys (14.4%), appliances (9%) and sporting goods (6%)," according to Adobe.
Some retailers are digging especially deep with their discounts, including Bed Bath & Beyond which was offering 25% off most of the store (versus 20% off in 2018) and Michael Kors which was discounting goods up to 70% off (versus up to 60% in 2018), according to Telsey's report.
That will continue to pinch retailers' bottom lines, in a year when a careful consumer has already squeezed their margins. "Promotional deals have become so pulled forward in recent years that Black Friday has become more like 'Black November' — at least from the consumer's point of view," Joel Rampoldt, a managing director in the retail practice at global consultancy AlixPartners, told Retail Dive in an email. "However, from the point of view of many retailers, the incremental costs of competing with Amazon, of providing free shipping, of providing more experiences for shoppers and so on are starting to add up — which we've seen in the recent profit-warnings of several retailers."
Costco, H&M websites falter
Black Friday saw Target spilling the beans that Santa Claus had been spotted taking advantage of its in-store pickup service, declaring, "Even Santa uses drive-up!"
Not a surprise, considering that Adobe found that some 61% of online shoppers plan to take advantage of same-day shipping or BOPIS this year. This year to date, BOPIS services have generated 39.9% more in sales than last year, a trend Adobe researchers expect to continue as Christmas grows closer.
But other retailers weren't prepared for the high level of online shopping. As of late morning Friday, H&M's home page simply apologized for not being available at all and to try again later, and Costco was warning of slow load times after a disastrous outage the previous day. Costco said it had extended its Black Friday specials.
Costco and other retailers with such troubles at such a busy time of year are also alienating their customers, a situation that floors experts in the field.
"Black Friday has become a staple of the retail calendar over recent years, but it's still amazing to see how many brands have failed to prepare their websites for the flood of online shoppers," Lars Larsson, CEO of Varnish Software, told Retail Dive in an email. "Nothing winds consumers up more than websites that can't load images or videos of products, or crash just as they reach the check-out. Simple software fixes can ensure that retail websites are well-built and capable of handling the increased demand around major shopping events."