Holiday buying during the ultimate peak on the retail calendar—or the mad shopping dash during the five days from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday—has wrapped up for 2021. The industry-dubbed Cyber 5 period was another huge one in ecommerce, with U.S. consumers spending $33.90 billion online, according to data from Adobe Analytics. While that is just shy of the record $34.36 billion in digital revenue during the same long weekend last year and represents a slight 1.4% year-over-year dip, it still marks a 19.0% jump over the more normal pre-pandemic spending levels in 2019.
Research firms, including Digital Commerce 360, projected a significant slowdown in ecommerce growth during the Cyber 5 after years of double-digit increases. In another unorthodox year in retail, merchants dealt with several challenges that tempered online buying for the period. Those included rising costs and supply chain snafus like clogged ports and low inventory leading to stronger earlier spending but weaker Cyber 5 discounting. That, coupled with shoppers heading back to stores after a hiatus in 2020, meant digital revenue didn’t keep pace with even moderate single-digit growth forecasts.
Adobe’s analysis is based on more than 1 trillion visits to more than 4,500 U.S. retail sites and covers 100 million SKUs in 18 product categories. The firm measures transactions from 80 of the top 100 online retailers ranked in the Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000.
Black Friday continues to close gap with Cyber Monday
Cyber Monday again claimed the no. 1 spot among all Cyber 5 contenders and is the biggest online shopping day of the year to date, hitting $10.69 billion, according to Adobe data. As shoppers raced to catch deals before they expired during the final push from 11 p.m.-midnight ET, consumers spent $12 million on ecommerce sites every minute. But the peak hour wasn’t enough for the day’s total to reach the $10.84 billion consumers spent on Cyber Monday 2020—leaving sales down 1.4% year over year.
Black Friday was the runner-up again this year, raking in $8.92 billion in web sales, down a bit from $9.03 billion last year, Adobe says. With a 1.3% drop in ecommerce, the day’s year-over-year decline was a hair smaller than Cyber Monday’s, which means Black Friday gained some ground on its weekend rival.
Historically, Black Friday has been a brick-and-mortar-focused retail sales holiday, with consumers navigating congested parking lots, braving jam-packed store aisles and waiting in long lines to grab doorbuster deals. Recently, retail chains have extended more Black Friday sales to consumers buying online, and the trend was magnified in 2020 as merchants sought to discourage crowds at physical stores. For years, Cyber Monday, which originated as the internet’s answer to the store-centric Black Friday, grew in importance for the season. The online retail holiday had steadily increased its lead over Black Friday in the battle for ecommerce dollars—until 2020, thanks to the pandemic.
Last year, with Black Friday’s bigger online gains, the gap between the two heavyweights began to close. The trend continued this year. In fact, the number of online shoppers on Black Friday—88 million—surpassed Cyber Monday’s 77 million, according to data from the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics, which is based on a survey of 5,759 U.S. adult consumers from Nov. 24-Nov. 29. So it comes as no surprise that Cyber Monday’s digital spending lead over Black Friday was down to $1.77 billion last weekend from $1.81 billion in 2020 and the $1.99 peak in 2019, according to a Digital Commerce 360 analysis of Adobe data.
Cyber Monday still accounted for nearly one-third—31.5%—of the five-day period’s collective ecommerce revenue but dropped incrementally from 2020, when the share still rounded to 31.5%. Meanwhile, Black Friday represented a greater share of Cyber 5 sales this year, 26.31% of the weekend’s sales, up just slightly from 26.28% of 2020’s Cyber 5 sales.
According to Adobe, the only Cyber 5 day that didn’t decline year over year was Thanksgiving. Still, online sales were relatively flat at just a 0.5% increase over last year, to $5.14 billion from $5.11 billion in 2020.
Number of in-store shoppers increases during Cyber 5
Seasonal foot traffic to stores took a major hit last year amid consumer anxiety over being in crowded spaces during a pandemic. For instance, the number of brick-and-mortar shoppers on Black Friday was cut in half in 2020, according to Coresight Research. But with the broad rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S., store traffic rebounded this year.
More consumers shopped at physical locations each day during this year’s Cyber 5 than in 2020, according to NRF and Prosper data. During the five days, around 104.9 million shoppers visited stores, up from 92.3 million—a gain of 12.6 million people, representing a 13.7% uptick. The uptick corresponded with a 12.1% decrease in consumers shopping on the web during the same period—127.8 million shoppers vs. 145.4 million in 2020, according to NRF.
“That obviously reflects the changed health environment and the level of comfort and confidence that consumers have about being out in stores, resuming many of their pre-pandemic behaviors,” said Matthew Shay, NRF president and CEO, in a Nov. 30 press conference.
Overall, the total number of shoppers across all channels reached 179.8 million, according to NRF and Prosper, which exceeded expectations by more than 21 million. While the figure was below the 186.4 million total shoppers in 2020, it’s in line with the average of the past four years, Shay says.
Data from Numerator also reflects a shift back to in-store shopping this past Cyber 5. 32% of consumers reported doing most or all of their holiday weekend shopping online, according to the consumer insights and technology company, which surveyed 4,048 verified buyers during the Cyber 5 period. That’s down from 46% last year. Meanwhile, 16% of respondents said they did most or all of their shopping in stores last weekend—up from 11% in 2020.
Numerator also found that the impact of the pandemic on consumers’ shopping choices was down significantly over 2020’s Cyber 5. Of the survey respondents who reported shopping more online during the long weekend compared to last year, 24% said it was to avoid large crowds—a decline from 53% last year. And this year, 21% of consumers said they were shopping more online in general due to COVID-19 concerns—again, a drop from 52% in 2020.
Early season online sales cut into Cyber 5 spending
Nearly half—49%—of shoppers said they took advantage of early holiday sales or promotions before Thanksgiving this year, according to NRF and Prosper data. That was mainly due to consumer awareness of supply chain disruptions, Shay said during the press conference. He added that retailers did a good job of communicating the overall retail environment, creating incentives and encouraging shoppers to get a head start.
“Thanksgiving weekend and Black Friday in particular were, once upon a time, the kickoff to the holiday season,” Shay said. Between the pandemic and shifting consumer behavior with inventory scares, “now they’re closer to halftime than the kickoff.”
Numerator data shows more dramatic early shopping trends, with nearly two-thirds—63%—of shoppers reporting taking advantage of pre-Thanksgiving sales, up significantly from 52% in 2020. Analysts agree that consumers getting a jump on holiday buying to avoid missing out on coveted items, as well as inventory shortages dominating headlines drove early spending.
The prevalence of out-of-stock messages surged 250% in October when compared with the pre-pandemic period of January 2020, according to Adobe data. For October alone, consumers saw more than 2 billion out-of-stock messages online, up a staggering 325% compared to the same month in 2019. From Nov. 1 through Cyber Monday on Nov. 29, out-of-stock messages were up 169% vs. January 2020 and surged 258% vs. two holiday seasons ago in November 2019, Adobe says.
Retailers urged consumers to order early with pre-season messaging to combat this product availability issue. In the Digital Commerce 360 retailer survey of 100 retailers this fall, nearly 6 in 10 merchants (59%) said they planned to start seasonal marketing before November. More than a quarter of respondents said they’d begin campaigns in October, 16% expected to do so in September, and another 16% talked about starting holiday marketing as early as July or August.
On Monday, Nov. 22—a full week before Cyber Monday—more than two-thirds, or 69%, of the top 100 retailers offered a promotion on their websites, with 20% featuring a sitewide sale, according to site checks completed by Digital Commerce 360 researchers. And the median deepest discount was 50% off—the same level offered on the official Cyber Monday holiday.
All of this worked to smooth out the typical spending peaks this season, pulling revenue forward and diminishing the Cyber 5 share of the holiday period.
October’s retail figures supported this trend, bolstering survey results. U.S. total retail through all channels rose 10.8% year over year in October—the second-highest recorded rate for the month, according to a Digital Commerce 360 analysis of retail data from the U.S. Department of Commerce. And U.S. ecommerce sales increased 8% in October over the same month in 2020, according to Adobe data.
Consumers spent $75.89 billion online from Nov. 1 through the day before Thanksgiving on Nov. 24, which is up 19.1% over last year, according to Adobe. And 22 days surpassed the $3 billion mark in online spend through Nov. 29—a new record. In 2020, only nine days topped $3 billion in digital revenue for the same timeframe, the firm reports.
“With early deals in October, consumers were not waiting around for discounts on big shopping days like Cyber Monday and Black Friday,” says Taylor Schreiner, director of Adobe Digital Insights. While those sales holidays remain leaders on the retail calendar, “the surge in online shopping is coming from the less marketed days of the season.”
Amazon grows its share of Black Friday spending
Amazon.com Inc., No. 1 in the 2021 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000, touted its record sales on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. However, the retailer didn’t disclose specific revenue figures or even growth for the period. Amazon didn’t respond to a request for comment on the company’s holiday weekend performance. But in the continuing campaign to highlight its marketplace as a champion for small, independent companies, the web giant reported that more than half of its sales from Black Friday through Cyber Monday were from third-party sellers—most of which are small- to medium-sized businesses, Amazon says.
However, Numerator insights show Amazon grew its share of the overall market—at least for part of the Cyber 5 period. The web giant captured 17.7% of total Black Friday spending across all channels this year, making it the top retailer for the sales holiday for the second consecutive year. The 5.1 percentage point share increase from 2020 widens Amazon’s lead over second-place Walmart Inc. (No. 2), whose Black Friday spending share declined 0.5 percentage points. Target Corp. (No. 6) also took a bigger piece of the pie, growing its Black Friday share by 1.7 percentage points to 5.7%. Spending shares for Best Buy Co. Inc. (No. 5) and Costco Wholesale Corp. (No. 10) all declined by less than 1 percentage point, Numerator says.
Percentage changes may not align exactly with dollar figures due to rounding.