Retailers and industry experts have been forecasting a 2020 holiday season dominated by ecommerce almost since the world started taking COVID-19 seriously, and results from “Cyber Weekend,” or BFCM (Black Friday/Cyber Monday), effectively made their case. In fact, the behavioral shifts that occurred during the first wave of COVID-19 are being reinforced as many areas navigate a second wave of the virus. Now, industry reports point to the possibility that the traditional Thanksgiving weekend — filled with frenzied shoppers in crowded stores and shopping malls — could be gone for good.
Peter Sheldon, Senior Director of Commerce Strategy for Adobe, believes that the “pendulum swung in favor of digital” at the beginning of COVID-19, and it hasn’t swung back.
During the latest episode of Retail Remix, Sheldon shared detailed commentary on Adobe’s holiday research. His insights are validated by other research reports that analyzed the holiday weekend, and collectively they spotlight five trends that will drive the remainder of the season.
1. Digital will continue to be the star: Although Black Friday spending was lower than Adobe’s projections, consumers still spent a total of $9 billion online, making it the second-largest online spending day in U.S. history. Digital’s momentum continued through Cyber Monday, which set an online sales record. Consumers spent $10.8 billion, a 15.1% increase over the same day last year.
“At no point did the pendulum swing back [from digital],” Sheldon noted. “As we’re experiencing that second wave of the virus and more closures, if anything, the pendulum will continue to swing in favor of digital and online shopping.”
Because consumers are focused on minimizing risk and exposure, store traffic plummeted over the holiday weekend. RetailNext found that Black Friday store traffic dropped by 48% year over year, with jewelry (-53.5%), footwear (-52.8%) and apparel (-50.2%) seeing the most significant drops. A small bright spot: research indicated that those shoppers who did venture to stores ultimately spent more. Shopper Yield data revealed that spend per consumer increased 36.3% over the 2019 holiday.
2. “Couch commerce” will be redefined: With the surge in online shopping, retailers also saw mobile traffic and sales reach new heights. Up to 40% of online sales on Black Friday were through smartphones and these devices also accounted for the majority — 60% — of all site visits. Mobile continued strong on Cyber Monday, accounting for 37% of that day’s sales.
Sheldon believes that retail will experience a significant evolution in mobile shopping and specifically “couch commerce” as house-bound consumers grow hungrier for instant access and gratification.
“The concept of ‘couch commerce’ has evolved quite a bit,” Sheldon explained. “We’ve been stuck at home, not at work or traveling. You would think that since we’re spending more time at home, we’d be spending more time on traditional desktops and laptops, but the reality is those devices are going out of favor. It’s so intuitive because the device is already in your hand, you’re on the couch using it…and it’s just as easy, if not easier, shopping on your mobile device than any other device.”
Travel restrictions enacted due to the pandemic also will impact the future of couch commerce. Consumers will rely on their devices to fill down time and will shop online when they’re not connecting digitally with friends and family. In fact, Adobe found that states that put COVID-19 restrictions around family gatherings saw 265% year-over-year growth in online shopping on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday when compared to states with fewer restrictions.
3. Consumers will rely more on curbside pickup: In order to mitigate delivery challenges, many consumers used curbside pickup to receive their purchases through Cyber Monday. Over the weekend, curbside pickup saw 67% growth over the same time last year, while Cyber Monday saw 30% growth. Adobe reports that the percentage of retailers offering curbside services also increased year over year, from 15% in 2019 to 23% this year.
“Consumers are worried about exposing themselves to unnecessary risk, but they’re also concerned about delivery constraints,” said Sheldon. “Not every retailer has been able to operationalize and offer curbside, but it’s a lot more prevalent than it was last year. As we get past those final shipping deadlines, curbside pickup is going to become the preferred and predominant way to get those online orders.”
4. Small businesses will get a larger piece of the pie: Small Business Saturday is no longer a standalone holiday. Like their larger counterparts, small businesses focused on driving traffic to their digital properties and found ways to market holiday deals earlier in the week, according to Sheldon.
Although research from Adtaxi reported that 74% of consumers planned to shop small this holiday season, only half said they felt safe venturing to stores. As a result, consumers eager to support local institutions turned to online shopping, helping small retailers achieve a staggering boost in online sales on Black Friday (+545%) and Cyber Monday (+501%) respectively.
5. Early and frequent communication will be key: Sheldon noted that for all retailers, the holidays came early. Online order volumes were “unprecedented” earlier in the year and remained at record levels through the Thanksgiving holiday. He believes this is due to consumers “pre-programming themselves to jump in early” as a way to beat inevitable supply chain challenges as well as shipping and logistics delays.
Many retailers capitalized on these behaviors by kickstarting their Black Friday campaigns earlier in Thanksgiving week through email and other channels, according to Sheldon. Research from Klaviyo confirms the popularity of this approach, indicating that merchants turned the final quarter of the year “into a seasonal sprint.” More than 50,000 ecommerce brands using Klaviyo technology drove $917 million thanks to their branded email and SMS messaging campaigns, and CEO Andrew Bialecki believes more businesses will rely on consistent, owned campaigns throughout the remainder of the season to maintain demand.
“More online businesses are increasingly using the owned marketing channels that are within their direct control, like email and SMS, to drive holiday sales rather than relying too heavily on paid advertising or third-party marketplaces for their sales success,” said Bialecki in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “These owned channels give brands more control over the entire customer experience from start to finish, which helps them to more effectively use their customer’s data, like their browsing behaviors and preferences, to deliver personalized and memorable experiences to customers.”