Black Friday and Thanksgiving sales - by the numbers

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving sucked online sales away from Black Friday but overall, volumes were up
Thanksgiving sales via mobile were higher than PC for the first time at 52.1%
Facebook crushes it on social sharing
Amazon powers ahead in the UK with volumes up 37.5%
Many UK retailers embarrassed as systems were crushed under demand

shopping mayhem black friday
UK shopping mayhem - via Reuters

IBM produces a US retail benchmarking service (PDF download) which compares a series of metrics between 2012-14.

In broad terms, the results demonstrate that while overall traffic via mobile are up on 2013 - and for the first time exceeded traffic via a conventional PC or laptop - on Thanksgiving Day (52.1%), average sales values on Black Friday are down 4.36% compared to Thanksgiving.

Even so, at $129.37 per transaction on Black Friday and $125.35 on Thanksgiving, the values are far from shabby.  Black Friday online sales were up 9.5% year-over-year.

Shopping time trends have remained relatively stable on the last two years although they vary depending on the day. Black Friday for instance sees far more shoppers early in the day while Thanksgiving sees two surge periods: morning and evening.

Neither of these trends should surprise given the nature of those 'holiday' days. (see image at left, click to expand.)

Black Friday retail benchmark - IBM
Black Friday US retail benchmarks - IBM

More standout numbers

Black Friday trumps Thanksgiving: Black Friday online sales were 63.5 percent higher than Thanksgiving Day. This is a decrease from 2013, however, when it was 70% higher as Thanksgiving online sales continue to eat into Black Friday shopping.

Smartphones browse, tablet shop: Smartphones drove 34.7% of all Black Friday online traffic, more than double that of tablets, which accounted for 14.6% of all traffic. Yet, when it comes to mobile sales, tablets continue to win the shopping war – driving 16% of online sales compared to 11.8% for smartphones, a difference of 35.5%. Tablet users also averaged $126.50 per order compared to $107.55 for smartphone users, a difference of 17.6 percent.

Facebook/Pinterest drive impressive numbers: Facebook referrals drove an average of $109.94 per order compared to $100.24 for Pinterest, a difference of nearly 10%. Face book referrals converted online sales at more than twice the rate of Pinterest.

Back in the UK, Amazon reported selling 64 items per second with overall volume smashing past previous records to reach 5.5 million transactions.  Volume in 2013 was four million items. Bestsellers included the Kindle Fire HDX, heavily discounted by £100, as well as the Dolce Gusto Mini Me Coffee Capsule Machine, Toy Story Ultimate Buzz Lightyear, diamond jewellery and men's watches.

The social angle

According to AddThis, Wal-Mart had a good shopping season, earning 48% engagement on Black Friday. Sears and Kmart came in a distant second with 12%. Unsurprisingly, Amazon was in third spot since it runs its own approvals system.

Elsewhere the Social Times reported social sharing numbers:

  • Facebook: 35 percent of shoppers shared Black Friday deals, and 38 percent shared Cyber Monday deals.
  • Twitter: Black Friday sharing was down 6 percent year-over-year, while Cyber Monday sharing dropped 19 percent.
  • Pinterest: Black Friday sharing increased 40 percent year-over-year, and Cyber Monday sharing is up by 33 percent.

Down dirty in the UK

Most observers were surprised at the upsurge in UK 'real world' shopping on Black Friday, a phenomenon usually reserved for the US. Ironically, the fighting at some shops harks back to the claimed modern day origins of 'Black Friday' when, according to Wikipedia:

The day's name originated in Philadelphia, where it originally was used to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic that would occur on the day after Thanksgiving.[6][7] Use of the term started before 1961 and began to see broader use outside Philadelphia around 1975.

Nevertheless, not every retailer joined in the bonanza. High end retailers like Liberty, Burberry and Selfridges for example did not make Black Friday offers. Elsewhere, some analysts are concerned that while Black Friday may have been successful in the UK, it has yet to be seen whether this will have an impact on sales over the Christmas and post-Christmas sales periods.

And just to add a touch of gloom to proceedings, on Facebook, Pat Phelan CEO Trustev warned that this shopping period also sees a surge in fraudulent transactions which in turn puts a dent in retailer margins they only feel after the celebrations.

My take

Vendors that are used to operating at scale like Amazon were clear winners. Those that have yet to understand trading at scale or building for peak loads were in trouble. This should not be considered unusual in Europe where technology has lagged the US experience and where customer experience problems are routine.

Some retailers will consider this as the cost of business but when you see Amazon's performance, you have to wonder what goes through the minds of those who sit idly by.

When it comes to influence, Facebook in the one to beat. What we don't know is how search factors into the equation.

In the UK, luxury items that are sold at discount still command plenty of attention from those who want to acquire bling.

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