Online retail sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving fell just shy of last year’s pandemic-driven Black Friday record, even as many more consumers ventured out to shopping malls and retail stores this year.
U.S. consumers spent $8.92 billion on retail websites on Black Friday 2021, down 1.2% from $9.03 billion on the same day last year, says Adobe Analytics, a unit of Adobe Inc. that bases its estimates on 1 trillion visits to U.S. retail sites. But the $8.9 billion in sales this year was still up 19.8% compared to $7.43 billion in online sales on Black Friday 2019, demonstrating an ongoing shift in holiday purchasing to the web.
Friday’s online sales came in on the low end of Adobe’s forecast range of Black Friday sales of between $8.8 billion and $9.6 billion, a projection Adobe updated Friday after reporting Thanksgiving Day online sales of $5.1 billion were flat compared to last year. In its initial forecast in late October, Adobe had projected $9.5 billion in Black Friday ecommerce sales, which would have been a nearly 8% increase over last year, and Thanksgiving sales of $5.4 billion, which would have been a 6% year-over-year increase.
Digital Commerce 360 projected $9.53 billion in online sales for the Friday after Thanksgiving, which in the past has been known for doorbuster sales at brick-and-mortar locations but has increasingly become an online sales day, a trend accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Online shopping smooths out over the holiday season
While Adobe estimated U.S. online sales slipped a bit on Black Friday, competing ecommerce technology provider Salesforce Inc. estimated that web sales Friday increased 5% year over year in the U.S. to $13.4 billion and 2% globally to $63.4 billion. Salesforce said its estimate is based on an analysis of 1 billion transactions that passed through its ecommerce and digital marketing software, including data from 24 of the top 30 U.S. online retailers.
Salesforce termed online growth moderate in the period from last Tuesday through Sunday, which Salesforce calls Cyber Week.
“With the smoothing out of demand throughout the entire season, peak days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday have less of an impact than previous years,” says Rob Garf, vice president and general manager of retail at Salesforce. “It’s been less about Cyber Week and more about Cyber November. It’s always a retailer’s dream to pull demand early in the fall, and with supply chain bottlenecks and fears of inflation, consumers did shop early and often.”
Others agreed that web sales on Black Friday and Thanksgiving Day were impacted by many shoppers purchasing gifts ahead of the holiday, responding to the early sales many retailers offered online in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.
“Consumers have been shopping strategically this season: Buying early and taking advantage of deals retailers have been promoting since late October,” says Taylor Schreiner, a director at Adobe Digital Insights. “As a result, we’ve seen a record 18 days with sales over $3 billion in November. Black Friday still remains a major online shopping day, but the surge in online shopping is coming from the less marketed days of the season.”
2021 represents the first year that combined Thanksgiving and Black Friday online sales did not increase from the prior year by Adobe’s estimate. Nonetheless, this year’s combined sales of $14.0 billion for the two days were up 20.3% from the $11.6 billion on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday in 2019, the last year before the pandemic.
Adobe reported that U.S. online retail sales increased 8% in October versus the same month last year, in part because consumers were buying early to avoid missing out on popular items due to the supply chain disruptions. Adobe noted that that U.S. retail sites displayed 250% more out-of-stock messages in October than during a typical pre-pandemic period.
Akamai a provider of website acceleration and security services, reported that traffic to its online retailer clients around the world was up 2% on Friday compared to Black Friday last year and 14% higher than on a typical Friday. Akamai attributed the modest growth to the big surge in online shopping on Black Friday 2020 when many stores were closed due to the pandemic.
Consumers return to stores on Black Friday
Online sales also may have been impacted by the broad rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. giving physical stores a shot in the arm. Shopper visits to U.S. retail stores were up 47.5% on Friday compared to Black Friday last year, although still down 28.3% compared to the same day in 2019, according to Sensormatic Solutions, a unit of Johnson Controls that monitors retail store traffic. That decline compared to pre-pandemic levels suggests many consumers remain wary of going to stores.
Overall retail spending as of 3 p.m. Eastern time on Friday was up 29.8% over Black Friday last year, according to the MasterCard SpendingPulse index provided by MasterCard Inc., which includes purchases made with cash and checks as well as with credit and debit cards.
“Retail spending has been on the rise throughout the day and it speaks to the strength of the consumer,” says Steve Sadove, senior advisor for Mastercard and former CEO and chairman of upscaled department store chain Saks Inc. “Our latest Mastercard SpendingPulse report shows retail sales up 30% compared to last year and we anticipate a positive holiday season well beyond Black Friday.”
In its Black Friday analysis, Adobe also reported:
- Retailers with over $1 billion in annual sales continued to take share from smaller rivals on Black Friday. Since October, online sales for large retailers are up by 22% more than for retailers with annual sales of between $10 million and $50 million. But the average order value for the smaller merchants was 8% higher than for their larger competitors.
- Many items are unavailable this year. There was a 124% increase in out-of-stock messages in November through Black Friday compared to January 2020, before the coronavirus outbreak hit the U.S. Products were most likely to be unavailable in the categories of appliances, electronics, housekeeping supplies and home & garden.
- Top-selling product categories online include toys (up 954% over September 2021 levels), books (up 671%), video games (up 648%) and personal care products (up 553%). Online apparel sales were 376% higher than in September, driven by such cold-weather items as outerwear (ahead 720%), fleece (1090%) and hoodies (805%).
Like Salesforce, ecommerce technology provider Shopify Inc. reported higher Black Friday sales. Shopify said its e-retailer clients worldwide generated nearly $2.9 billion in web sales on Black Friday, a 21% increase over the same day last year. Shopify said consumers made 72% of their Black Friday purchases from mobile devices, an increase from 67% last year.
Salesforce also reported the following:
- The average selling price during the 5-day period from Tuesday through Sunday was up 13% in the U.S. and 6% globally compared to last year.
- The average discount on retail websites in the U.S. was 26% on Black Friday, down 9% from Black Friday 2020. The average discount globally was 23%, down 8%.
- Consumers used buy now, pay later options to purchase 8% of orders worth over $16 billion from Tuesday to Sunday, up 37% from last year. On Black Friday, deferred payment represented 4% of U.S. orders and 7% globally.
- The number of items offered on retail sites shrunk by 6% both in the U.S. and around the world, likely the result of supply chain disruptions, Salesforce says.
Shopify is the ecommerce platform provider for 48 of the retailers in the 2021 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000, an annual ranking of North America’s leading retailers by online sales. Magento, which is owned by Adobe, is the base ecommerce software used by 102 Top 1000 retailers and Salesforce has 63 Top 1000 retailer clients.
Akamai provides content delivery network services to 302 of the Top 1000 retailers.