Black Friday came a week later than usual in 2019, which sent retailers into overdrive – launching into an early “Black Friday week” rather than relying on the traditional Black Friday itself as the kickoff date. Motivated in part by this unusual lateness in the calendar as well as the ongoing uncertainty around US tariff wars with China, which promise to make consumer electronics and toys -- big holiday sellers -- abnormally expensive this year, retailers wanted to get ahead of the challenges posed by offering an earlier, longer and steeper discount period.
Black Friday had already become a five-day sales event upon which retailers rely – with the date pushed back, retailers seized it as an opportunity to lengthen the sales period. This move also gained momentum as many retailers decided to close entirely for Thanksgiving and Black Friday to give their employees days off to be with their families. The earlier start to the shopping ‘season’ and consumers’ tendencies to begin their shopping on the Thanksgiving holiday itself has led to more online bargains (and website traffic surges) on Thanksgiving, possibly creating the higher number of outages and technical problems popping up on Thanksgiving rather than Black Friday. Top this off with a dash of unusually bad weather in parts of the US, and you’ve got a recipe for much more attractive e-commerce.
Are people dashing directly from their Thanksgiving dinner tables to online retailers? Hard to say, but evidence appears to indicate that the hunt for bargains begins on Thanksgiving (or earlier) -- a trend that has been growing globally in markets that don’t even celebrate Thanksgiving. Despite various factors conspiring against Black Friday success, how did it all shake out in the end? Will an earlier start date and the growing popularity of Cyber Monday keep this year’s numbers merry?
Actual sales turned out to be aligned with predictions, with Thanksgiving Day sales up 17%, raking in about 4.1 billion USD. Online sales on Black Friday itself were up 22% from 2018, for about 5.4 billion USD in total revenue. Globally, this number was 40 billion USD, reflecting this worldwide boom in pre-Christmas consumer spending.
And the saving grace of it, perhaps, is the record-breaking 9.2 billion USD in Cyber Monday sales - up 17% from last year and also unique in being the first time shoppers spent more than 3 billion USD via mobile.
For the period between November 1 and December 1, more than 72 billion USD has been spent online, according to Adobe figures. Overall holiday spend is projected to be more than 143 billion USD.
Down and out
While the number of outages appears to have been lower than in previous years, some of the biggest hiccups in 2019 happened on Thanksgiving Day.
Massive warehouse (and online) retailer Costco experienced lengthy website outages and slow page load times on Thanksgiving Day, prompting them to extend Thanksgiving-only deals through Friday. Unfortunately, Costco’s woes continued into Black Friday. Estimates put Costco’s potential losses at USD 11 million per day.
Fast-fashion giant H&M experienced brief downtime on Thanksgiving Day as well, but it didn’t seem to cause problems for consumers.
More problematic were the Black Friday technical difficulties experienced with leading outlet store, Nordstrom Rack. These problems were mostly check-out related, with items disappearing from shopping carts, the checkout processes timing out before purchase completion, and customer account login problems.
Trouble beyond the sales
Breaking the bank
But for once it was not just ill-prepared or overextended websites – bank sites ended up ruining their customers’ holidays as well. Many services offered by NatWest bank in the UK weren’t available – bad timing, as the UK is caught up in the frenzy of Black Friday as much as their American counterparts… and it being the last business day of the month, it was also payday for a lot of people. Online and mobile banking were both down the entire day – creating major problems for would-be shoppers… and everyone else who might have wanted to access their money.
Strangely, Instagram and Facebook experienced technical difficulties during Black Friday, which isn’t unusual or particularly related except that a number of retailers rely on Instagram and other social influencer marketing and in-app drives for higher sales. And they put a lot of marketing spend behind these social efforts.
- Performance all-year-round: We’ve been saying it all year: Black Friday itself is becoming less important, while the must-perform shopping period expands. What does this mean for online retailers? You need to be ready for the rush -- all the time. Performance is key, and with consumers taking to social media the moment they are dissatisfied, you don’t have a lot of time to clean up mistakes.
- Shopping on every device: We’ve been talking about being mobile-ready for a long time, but this year’s Thanksgiving-Black Friday-Cyber Monday appears to be the tipping point where mobile and smartphone shopping hits the big time.
- All businesses are part of the Black Friday rush: One would think that it’s just e-commerce companies that need to focus on performance, uptime, availability and resilience. But as we can see from the failures experienced by social behemoths, Facebook and Instagram, as well as some more traditional and must-work businesses (banks!), everyone needs to be on top of their game.
Most retailers, as we know from our own conversations and from outside reporting, claim to have added capacity to ensure that their infrastructure is ready to handle anything during these peak sales periods. In addition to having a real-time monitoring and recovery plan, e-commerce retailers need to have done their due diligence on resilience, availability and scalability.
This is what we can help you do. Varnish Software e-commerce solutions can help make sure that your customers can shop ‘til they drop while your sites and apps don’t drop a thing.