Retail stats: how has Black Friday affected the current Christmas frenzy?

16th Dec 2015

So, Black Friday 2015 has been and gone and we are now well and truly into the Christmas shopping season, but did Black Friday this year have the same impact on the High Street that it did in 2014?  Looking at some of the high level statistics, it certainly did.  Consumer spending for the day went over £1 billion for the first time, showing an increase of 36% over the previous year.  IBM has this year been tracking the effects using it's new Watson Trend service to provide some interesting results and here are some of my observations.

Digital channels lead the way:

One of my biggest observations for Black Friday this year was the shift in focus from physical stores to the digital channels.  One of the highlights (or low lights, depending on how you viewed it) last year was the amazing scenes in some retail outlets, where consumers were literally fighting over products that were heavily reduced. 

There was a definite shift in retailers using the digital channels even more than ever to promote their Black Friday offers and this can be seen from our results that show that online sales rose by over 50% compared to 2014.  Physical stores showed a decrease in sales of 4.3% this year against 2014, further backing up the evidence of a shift to the digital channels.  This shift did take some retailers by surprise, with digital page responsiveness being hit, emphasising the importance of a robust peak trading testing and planning programme.

Black Friday, Black Friday Weekend or Black Friday Week? 

Another key difference in my opinion this year were the different promotional strategies various retailers were taking.  Many used Black Friday to kick off a sustained period of promotional activity, rather than simply keeping it to one day.  The mix of products promoted were also generally more focused, with carefully selected products, rather than the overall blanket X% off everything we saw last year in many cases.  This tells me that retailers are really looking to control sales margins greater this year at a time when sales are at their peak and profits need to be maximised before the traditional end of season sales.

Mobile is king: 

This has been coming for sometime now and Black Friday confirmed that mobile channels have now well and truly taken over from the desktop as the primary digital channel.  63% of all digital traffic came through mobile devices and 47% of sales came through the mobile channel.  It is still interesting though that consumers still appear to prefer the larger screen devices for actually making their final purchase.  This is more than likely down to the richer customer experience that can be delivered through tablets and the desktop, than that of the smartphone.

Dwell time is on the up: 

Last year we had seen indications that dwell time was reducing, but encouragingly our Watson Trend analysis is showing that dwell time is now actually increasing.  This backs up a trend I have been seeing with my retail clients, where they are working heavily on making the digital experience far more emersive by fusing content with commerce to further engage and inspire the customer online.  This looks like it is paying off as session lengths increased, whilst bounce rates reduced.

On the face of it, all this bodes well for retailers going through the Christmas trading season.  However, it will be interesting to see how trade continues on through December and into the New Year sales and when the dust settles in late January, will we all be looking back and thinking if we got it right for this year?

By:  James Lovell, European Retail Executive, IBM Commerce

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