This year’s holiday sales got off to a strong start around Thanksgiving, but the sales data looked a bit different in 2020 than in years prior. With retailers choosing to extend their sales windows and consumers no longer flooding brick-and-mortar locations, Black Friday and Cyber Monday performed well but may no longer be the big stars of the retail calendar.
“This year, retailers were launching promotions much earlier than in years past,” said Michael Osborne, CEO at SmarterHQ. “Between Amazon Prime Day starting later and COVID-19 driving so many promotions online, there was no reason to wait. And I think the savviest of retailers were aware that the competition for attention would be that much higher.”
With many shoppers avoiding physical stores – even if open – due to the potential safety risks, online channels have been accelerating in popularity. But this volume of business has placed strains on fulfilment services, which in turn has created anxiety for consumers who need their purchases in time for the gifting season. This need, combined with a more competitive retail landscape and more critical holiday season, has seen sales periods expand; with more time to shop, the big sale days lose some of their significance.
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Personalization firm SmarterHQ tracked its retailer customer base during this early holiday period, which includes companies like Finish Line, Bloomingdale’s and Michael Kors. After a drop in Thanksgiving day traffic, which was partly attributed to the Amazon Web Services outage that occurred, each shopping day from Black Friday (Nov. 27) through Cyber Monday (Nov. 30) saw significant growth over 2019’s numbers.
“The window for consideration was opened up, the drive for any in-store doorbusters was greatly diminished, and the pent up consumer demand was at an all-time high,” said Osborne. “The pattern of there being one day that every sale drops was erased by the need for consumers to shop early. I think this is a great thing for overall retail as it breaks the cycle of depending on a singular day in time to get “the best deal.”
Black Friday traffic for SmarterHQ’s retail customers saw a gain of 9% and hit 523,292,154 users; Cyber Monday reported an increase of only 6%, reaching 453,311,431 users. This data surprised much of the industry, as the growing role of e-commerce and limited number of open stores in November suggested that digital traffic would surge.
Meanwhile, Saturday Nov. 28 and Sunday Nov. 29 saw growth in the double digits (16.6% on each day). The overall traffic numbers for these days in 2020 were still lower than those of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. However, this rise in popularity reflects a broader trend in the way consumers are shopping this year – and how they might shop around the Christmas holiday too.
“Consumer behavior requires adaptation,” said Osborne. “If your customers want to buy earlier or need longer to consider a purchase, let them do it. The end result that you want is the same – a sale – but the method that consumers take to get to that point should be respected. The retailers that figured this out definitely capitalized in 2020.”
While 2020 has been a unique year for retail, Osborne expects that some of these trends may continue into 2021. Store traffic may rise again, as brick-and-mortar becomes a safer option, but retail’s reliance on Cyber Monday as the main driver of online traffic is expected to dissipate.
“It’s proven that traffic can be generated well in advance, that mobile is much more of a factor than before, and that consumers want to actually consider a purchase even for a big promotional sale,” said Osborne. “Savvy retailers will employ this in 2021 and beyond, to capitalize on the attention windows of consumers and reap the benefits for it.”