The way we shop over the peak period leading up to Christmas can have a lot to tell us about the way consumer shopping trends are changing more generally. The volume of transactions often makes trends more pronounced, and never more so than over the biggest shopping weekend of the year Cyber Weekend, from Black Friday to Cyber Monday. Here are five things that struck us about this year’s event.
Shoppers turned early to mobile as they browsed and bought while they were on the go.
Digital commerce consultancy Salmon said that its analysis of orders across a range of clients over the five-day Cyber Weekend period showed 68% of traffic came from mobile devices, and 51.2% of online sales were placed on them. Nearly three quarters (73%) of site visitors on Cyber Saturday came via mobile devices.
Jamie Merrick, head of industry insights at Salesforce Commerce Cloud , said UK retailers were reaping the rewards of investing in mobile, and had seen a 17% increase in revenues over the Cyber Weekend.
“Insight from the Salesforce Commerce Cloud platform over the five days of ‘Cyber Week’ show that the UK is leading the way when it comes to mobile,” he said. “Mobile traffic is up 13% year-on-year and the volume of mobile orders rose to 34% – higher than France, Germany and the US.”
Black Friday has grown from a one-day event into a period spanning several weeks as retailers from Amazon to PC World started early and carried on later. It seems shoppers presented with discounts in the run up to Christmas will tend to snap them up.
IMRG figures counted when retailers launched their Black Friday events, and found 11 were already up and running when Cyber Week dawned.
Indeed, according to The 12 Retail Days of Christmas from commerce solutions integrator Tryzens and ecommerce platform Magento , 5% of UK shoppers started their Christmas shopping in January, while 22% did so in October and 33% in November.
But even though both shopping and Black Friday started earlier, Salmon found it peaked around Black Friday. Some 19% of ‘Black Fiveday’ sales launched on Thursday November 24 and shopping peaked on Black Friday morning: 35% of overall sales over the period took place on Black Friday, between 9am and 12 noon, according to Salmon’s data.
Shoppers planned ahead for Black Friday, according to Salmon, and increasing their propensity to buy at the same time. The agency saw an 86% increase in the percentage of visitors adding items to their cart over the Black Five Day compared to the previous week, and conversion rates twice the normal weekly rate (+106%). The conversion rate was also 10% up on the previous year. Salmon also saw more shoppers putting items in their online baskets ahead of Black Friday weekend, clicking to buy as soon as the discounts came into force. For evidence, Salmon points to a 6% rise in cart abandonment on Thursday November 24, compared to the previous day. Abandonment then declined steadily over the course of the weekend, as shoppers bought instead.
Tryzens and Magento point to consumers planning well ahead. Their study found more than a third of all consumers surveyed (35%) said that they had visited a store first before buying Christmas gifts online, while more than a quarter (26%) had price checked items or even bought from other shops with their smart phones while still in a different store.
Return Path research, meanwhile, found that consumers were less likely to read Black Friday emails – which accounted for one in eight of all marketing emails sent in November 2016. Black Friday read rates were on average a tenth less than for the November benchmark. It found that 42% were sent before the event, 34% on the day and 24% after the event.
Emails sent before Black Friday performed the best with read rates 12% higher than the benchmark but these also generated the highest levels of mailbox provider marked spam at 14%.
Guy Hanson, senior director, professional services international at Return Path, said: “Black Friday has fast become a shopping phenomenon in Europe, however, as these results show, it can pose a number of challenges for email marketers. Firstly, it’s important to get the right balance between neglecting and spamming your customers. Timing is everything. This year, any emails sent more than a week before the day performed badly, generating read rates that were on average a fifth lower than on the day, while emails closer to the day delivered email read rates that were a fifth higher, suggesting greater relevance as the day got closer.”
He added: “What’s also interesting is how those brands that chose not to actively participate in Black Friday deals performed compared to those that did. ASOS, Asda, M&S and Secret Escapes are all examples of those that chose not to jump on the Black Friday bandwagon – however, this doesn’t mean they weren’t active on the day. They were and their email read rates were actually 5% higher than those that were promoting it.”
Retailers hold the line
But while some high-profile retailers took part in Black Friday, many did not. Jigsaw, Next and Asda, for example, have decided that the discounting event didn’t work for them.
Salesforce Commerce Cloud’s Jamie Merrick says that UK retailers didn’t discount as heavily as those in other countries. Consumers, he says, saw prices cut by an average of just 9%. That compared to Germany (23%), France (26%), the United States (29%) and Canada (36%). “In the past,” he said, “retailers in the UK have chosen to invest in spreading sales discounts across the entire Christmas season but not giving in to heavy discounting. This could be a risk that either increases margins or moves them down the consumers Christmas wish list.”
Competitor Monitor tracked price changes for 10,000 toys sold online by more than 20 major toy retailers during the Black Friday week and found that far from blanket discounting, many put their prices up over the course of the week.
Between November 21 and 28 it detected more than 209,000 price changes made by toy retailers – of which 85% were made by Amazon. More than 40% of those changes, it says, were price increases, with Argos, Amazon and Tesco.com most likely to have put their prices up over the period. Debenhams, Disney Store and Early Learning Centre (ELC) were more likely to have put their prices down – in 95% of price changes. On Black Friday itself, it says, 33% of 31,247 price changes by toy retailers were increases: The Toy Store put up prices in 68% of cases, and Smyths Toys in 50%. Debenhams’ Black Friday price changes were all downwards, while John Lewis, Asda and Argos cut prices in 90% of changes.
On Cyber Monday, 36.8% of changes were price increases: Debenhams (99.1% of price adjustments), John Lewis (100%) and Toys R Us (100%) all put their prices up. But more than 90% of price changes made by MotherCare, LittleW and Very on Cyber Monday were reductions.
The Brexit effect
International sales rose in a pattern that could be triggered by overseas shoppers visiting the UK online in order to make the most of a weaker sterling. Salmon detected peaks in international traffic from Europe, the US and China.