Analysis of IBM’s Black Friday report

Mark Cameron

Mark Cameron
Mark Cameron is CEO of customer experience innovation agency Working Three and a world renowned digital strategy commentator with well over 400 published articles. Specialties: Digital innovation, Digital customer experience strategy, Social media strategy, Digital strategy, Online Marketing strategy. He blogs at markrcameron.com and tweets from @MarkRCameron.

As the US emerged from the Thanksgiving holiday, the data and analysis of the seasons online sales came in thick and fast.

While we in Australia more commonly associate the term Black Friday with bushfires, in the US it is the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. It represents the biggest trading day of the year for many retailers. IBM has released it’s initial analytics findings which lets us examine online consumer trends, and identify some potential implications for Australia in the coming year.

Overall the Black Friday online sales rose by 20.7% over the 2011 figures. Unsurprisingly, mobile site visits and sales increased significantly. The continued rise in smart phone adoption saw mobile transactions exceed 16% which is close to double that of the year before. At 10% of online sales, Apple’s iPad generated the majority of this activity, accounting for more traffic than any other smart phone or tablet device.

Following the trend of ‘showrooming’, or using a mobile device to compare prices, consumers utilised websites, mobile devices and apps simultaneously to get the best bargains, sometimes while in the actual stores. This behaviour led to a drop in the average  order value by 4.7%, even though spending rose overall.

Interestingly referrals that converted into sales driven by social networks decreased by 35%, and only generated 0.35% of sales overall. That is only part of the story though, as the social media sentiment expressed by shoppers on “promotions, shipping and convenience as well as the retailers themselves…” was extremely positive. This suggests that social media referrals played a much bigger part in the overall awareness of online sales than the raw numbers suggest. This isn’t surprising as people do not always behave in predictable ways, and good metrics can be difficult to pin down.

The industries that were the stand out performers were departments stores with 16.8% growth in sales over the previous year, health and beauty with 11%, apparel sales with 17.5%, and home goods which had a huge online lift of 28.2%.

Although the IBM report is useful in showing how shopping behaviour is changing at the digital check out, it is missing insights into why this may be the case. This is common with these types of reports as they find it difficult to look at the entirety of a shopper’s journey.

What we can tell is that the online shopper is changing their behaviour.

The further down the purchase pathway they are, the more the consumer relies on search.

The multi-channel approach that emerged last year suggests that an increasing number of consumers are now getting online earlier. The online environment is increasingly becoming a space to browse and learn about products.

This is the key insight that retailers need to be aware of. Consumers are clearly becoming more comfortable with online shopping across many categories, and are not just browsing to find the best price. People are seeking out recommendations and trends.  Social media behaviour is having a larger impact on shopping trends than ever. These trends are only going to become more prevalent.  These will lead to an e-commerce tipping point, it’s only a question of when.