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Smarter Commerce | December 20, 2014

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Black Friday Consumer Trends: 3 Quick Takeaways

Black Friday Consumer Trends: 3 Quick Takeaways
Loren McDonald

As anticipated, Black Friday 2014 saw record online and mobile shopping sales. While these increases were expected, digging into the data reveals some interesting trends that could have implications for how retailers engage with consumers in the future.

You can explore the latest statistics for yourself on the new IBM ExperienceOne Benchmark Live application available on the IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark Hub. Here are three trends I felt were of particular interest, along with some quick marketing takeaways:

1) “Cranberry Red Thursday” Gobbles at the Heels of Black Friday as Shopping Events Blur

While Black Friday remains a huge shopping event, with 2014 online sales up 9.5 percent year-over-year, 2014 has been the year that holiday shopping has become less about single-day promotions. Instead, retailers increasingly have spread their incentives out over a longer time period, with related emails launching earlier in the month and sales spreading out across November like an endless Thanksgiving buffet.

Although it may not be time to start calling the entire month “Black November” quite yet, the fact that promotions are no longer confined to Black Friday and Cyber Monday was apparent in the strong 2014 online Thanksgiving sales, which increased 14.3 percent over 2013. Need further proof? Black Friday sales were 63.5 percent higher than Thanksgiving Day 2014 versus 70 percent higher in 2013. (For more Thanksgiving insights, please check out “A first: Mobile Tops Desktop for Browsing over Thanksgiving.”)

Expect Cranberry Red Thursday to continue its growth in importance in 2015. It wouldn’t shock me to see Black Friday outpace Thanksgiving sales by only 50 percent next year as retailers move even more aggressively toward Thanksgiving week sales promotions, with less emphasis on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Quick Takeaway: Earlier sales and more Thanksgiving promotions mean more emails, and consumer fatigue could set in fast amidst an avalanche of “10% off” and “Free Shipping” emails. Instead of relying exclusively on these promotional messages, marketers should look to add “white space” and behavior-triggered emails to the mix to differentiate themselves and grab customers’ attention. A “Holiday Shopping Kit” email with store hours, shipping deadlines, etc. is a great place to start.

2) While Smartphone Engagement Grows, Many Customers Still Opt for Store or Desktop on Black Friday

Mobile continued to make huge strides with shoppers in 2014 as smartphone traffic and sales increased versus 2013. When it came to actually moving from browsing to buying on Black Friday, though, consumers showed less tendency to finish their purchases on a smartphone than on Thanksgiving.

Consider that the share of traffic occurring on both smartphones and tablets was down about 5 percent on Black Friday 2014 versus Thanksgiving, whereas the share of sales was down about 20 percent for smartphones versus about 10 percent for tablets. This suggests that while smartphone users are increasingly comfortable making purchases on these mobile devices, the option of hitting the stores on Black Friday (as well as using a desktop) remains enticing for some consumers.

Quick Takeaway: Many marketers have seen success with browse abandonment emails. Next year, consider sending Thanksgiving and Black Friday customers who visit your website on their smartphone a “browse abandonment” message that not only nudges them toward an online purchase, but also encourages them to visit your store on Black Friday by providing helpful information such as store locations, product availability and special in-store offers.

3) Many Consumers Are Becoming More Comfortable Buying Certain Products Online

The IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark reported real-time trends across four of the hottest retail categories this holiday season, with the “Health and Beauty” and Home Goods” categories seeing tremendous growth in particular. Black Friday online sales for the “Health and Beauty” segment grew by 56.9 percent over 2013, while “Home Goods” online sales grew by 43.2 percent.

Combine those findings with the fact that the average “Home Goods” order value was $238.46, and it becomes apparent that the Black Friday landscape is changing. In the past, the opportunity to buy big-ticket items like a 50-inch TV in person drove a lot people to stores on Black Friday, but these figures suggest that people are becoming more comfortable purchasing electronics and appliances online, as well as health and beauty items that might require less tactile interaction.

Quick Takeaway: If you want to make sure these new online purchasers turn into repeat customers, you’d be wise to have a post-purchase email plan in place to help build the new relationships born during the holidays. Sending a post-purchase support email or series of messages that offer usage tips and help address common questions, for example, can help make sure that customers get the most out of your products.

Be sure to visit our new IBM ExperienceOne Benchmark Live application available in the IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark Hub to see live data on Cyber Monday mobile usage and trends. You can also check back afterward for our full reporting on the holiday shopping season.

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