Has Black Friday lost its luster? For weeks, retailers have bombarded shoppers with “Black Friday” and “early Cyber” sales. Some sales started before Halloween.
In a Digital Commerce 360 site check of 100 online retailers within the Top 1000, 24% were offering a promotion marketed as “Black Friday” on their ecommerce sites as of Nov. 9. But Black Friday is more than two weeks away, and Christmas six weeks away. Will shoppers still shop during Thanksgiving weekend when they can seemingly get the same discounts now?
Retailers and analysts say yes. But to what degree they are not sure.
“The big five weekend is still extremely important, not only to digitally native ecommerce companies but to ecommerce as a whole,” says Sam Wilson, head of growth at exercise accessories brand Bala Bangles.
“For the last 10 to 15 years, consumers have been conditioned — positively or negatively — to shop during the last two months of the year, because brands have been putting discounts out during this period of time,” Wilson adds.
Even with such great deals early, Wilson expects the sales curve of the five-day Thanksgiving weekend to match last year’s weekend.
Typically, early shoppers spend more later in the season as well, and this spending doesn’t take away from the Thanksgiving weekend, says Rodney Sides, vice chair of retail and distribution at consulting firm Deloitte LLP. Shoppers who start early will often think of more items they want and make additional purchases later in the season, regardless of when they’ve started, he says.
“In early years, before inflation challenge, earlier buyers typically buy more, that’s held true over the past 10 years,” Sides says.
But 2022 could be different, he says. With food and energy prices up, shoppers are likely to pull back on holiday spending, he says. And that could mean consumers who shop early may buy less in December.
While this could curb Cyber 5 sales growth, Sides says it’s more likely that shopping will trail off closer to Christmas.
Cyber 5’s share of total online holiday sales
The five-day period from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday — dubbed the Cyber 5 — is historically the peak shopping weekend in the holiday period. But as retailers started discounting earlier in recent years, many consumers shopped earlier, diminishing the importance of the Cyber 5 weekend. In 2021, those five days accounted for 16.0% of online holiday sales, down from 17.9% in 2020 and 20.9% in 2019, according to Digital Commerce 360 estimates.
In fact, 2021 was the first time in recent history that online sales did not grow year over year during the Thanksgiving weekend. U.S. consumers spent $33.90 billion in 2021, down 1.4% year over year from $34.26 billion during the 2020 Cyber 5, according to Adobe Analytics data. However, Cyber 5 sales surged by 20.6% in 2020 over 2019, due in large part to the COVID-19 outbreak keeping many shoppers from brick-and-mortar stores.
For 2022, fraud prevention vendor Signifyd projects that the seven-day period from the Wednesday before Thanksgiving through the Tuesday following Cyber Monday will decline in share of holiday sales by two percentage points compared with 2021. Signifyd bases its data on thousands of retailers in its network.
Inflation, early discounting and early shopping are the main reasons for the projected decrease, says Phelim Killough, lead data analyst at Signifyd.
“Consumers are wanting to get that product earlier before prices increase,” Killough says.
Already consumers are gobbling up discounts faster than last year. Online sales accompanied by a discount code increased 24% year over year in September, and 43% year over year in October 2022, according to Signifyd. From Nov. 1-8, online sales with discount codes were up 48% compared with the year-ago period.
2022 early holiday discounting – October
For the 2022 season, retailers launched holiday discounts well before Halloween. Amazon.com Inc. kicked off its holiday promotions with its Early Access sale on Oct. 11-12. And online retailers followed suit with their own sales, many of them launching holiday promotions.
In a Digital Commerce 360 site check of 100 online retailers, 80 ran a sale on Oct. 11-12, with 17.5% of them tying promotions to the holidays. Apparel merchant Victoria’s Secret & Co. (No. 45 in the Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000), for example, ran a 30%-off sitewide promotion, with marketing language “Like Cyber Monday, but make it a Tuesday.” Similarly, apparel merchant PacSun (Pacific Sunwear of California Inc., No. 252) ran a “PacFriday” preview sale with 40% off the entire ecommerce site.
Merchants run sales early because they know consumers are shopping. Marketplace seller Petcube, for example, says sales were five to 10 times higher during Amazon’s Early Access sale than they would normally be at that time of year.
Similarly, marketplace seller Volcanica Coffee said its sales increased 62% year over year during the two days of the Amazon Early Access sale.
This sales bump will prove to be additive, and won’t interfere with sales later in the holiday season, says CEO and founder Maurice Contreras
“For our business, we do not believe sales were pulled forward from holiday sales,” Contreras says. “Our customers normally purchase closer to the holidays since we offer fresh roasted coffee and customers will wait to receive a fresher coffee closer to Christmas. We believe this was an incremental increase in sales.”
Even before this sale, shoppers were buying for the holidays. 44% of consumers said they start their holiday shopping in October or before, according to a Digital Commerce 360/Bizrate Insights survey in September 2022. This is up slightly from 40% of shoppers in 2021.
Black Friday discounts in early November
And online retailers are offering more deals now as they try to entice shoppers to buy earlier in the holiday season.
In Digital Commerce 360’s site check on Nov. 9 of 100 top online retailers, 51% were offering some type of promotion, including 24% with a promotion directly tied to Black Friday. For retailers offering “Black Friday” percentage-off sales on their homepage, the median top discount was 60%.
Even for brands that don’t typically have sales, it’s wise to run a promotion during the holiday season, Bala’s Wilson says. Bala is typically not a promotional brand, with only one or two sales a year, he says.
“If you’re not promotional during that time period, brands are likely not getting the most out of that period of time from a sales experience that you could possibly,” Wilson says. “This is the one time of year where people are spending more and have a propensity to shop.”
ShopBala.com plans to start its “Black Friday” holiday promotion Friday, Nov. 11, two weeks before the day after Thanksgiving and about a week earlier than when it launched its “Black Friday” deal in 2021.
“We’re just trying to maximize sales during Q4 because of struggles that we faced earlier on in the year, including supply chain issues, shortages of product, this list can go on and on,” Wilson says. “For us, we are trying to have the most fruitful Q4 as humanly possible,” Wilson says.
After the sales boom in 2020 and 2021, it’s tough for brands to grow on top of those gains, Wilson says.
“If we were flat year over year we would be very happy,” Wilson says about its holiday season sales.
What does all this early buying mean for Thanksgiving weekend?
Retailers are not sure yet if early sales equates to fewer dollars during the Thanksgiving weekend.
But one thing retailers can count on is shoppers at least visiting ecommerce sites over the Cyber 5 period. 58% of shoppers plan to shop online on Black Friday, 53% on Cyber Monday, according to a Digital Commerce 360/Bizrate Insights survey of 1,000 online shoppers in September.
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