Retailers Unpack Black Friday Spending Data

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Was Black Friday a success for retail brands this year? It depends on who you ask.

While an analysis by Criteo found that online sales overall were down 5% year-over-year., spending was also up in key categories. Sales were up 240% in fashion and 359% in consumer electronics in the U.S., compared to October.

That’s not taking into account the changes in holiday sales occurring online versus offline. According to a survey by Jungle Scout, 54% of consumers plan to buy gifts online this year, compared to 38% who will purchase gifts in-store. The incredible increase in e-commerce spending has been much discussed, and experts say they see some positive takeaways based on early Black Friday sales data.

Criteo’s Tim Rogers says data from his firm shows that consumers are still shopping for their loved ones and are still looking for good deals, regardless of the pandemic. They’re just doing it a bit differently this year.

“Due to the pandemic, the comfort levels of consumers going in-store vary, so retailers should be prepared for an array of shopping preferences and make sure consumers are aware of their options,” Rogers says.

Rogers and his team at Criteo analyzed commerce data from 1,005 retailers in the U.S. and 216 million transactions in the fourth quarter of 2020. In the process, they found that sales in the first three weeks of November were up 7% year-over-year in the U.S., indicating that Black Friday sales may have been down 5% because those purchases happened earlier this year than previously.

“It’s important to note that Black Friday sales were still up 177% when compared to the month of October and that globally, sales in the first three weeks of November were up 7% compared to last year, so instead of focusing on just one day of doorbusters, retailers can think of a month-long shopping spree,” Rogers says.

The digital marketing agency NetElixir found similar results in its analysis of the “Cyber 5” period, running from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday. NetElixir found a spike in e-commerce sales, up 25% from 2019. However, those figures still fell short of NetElixir’s earlier predictions of a 30% increase.

According to CEO Udayan Bose, the pandemic has intensified shoppers’ focus on value and frugality, and led to a concrete change in buying behaviors. For a successful holiday shopping season ahead, retailers will need to be sensitive to the new needs of online shoppers and emphasize creativity through unique, promotional strategies.

How you interpret the relative success or failure of Black Friday depends on which channels you’re looking at. While firms like Criteo and NetElixir found increases in sales, we know that retailer foot traffic fell off a cliff. In its analysis of customer visit data at six top U.S. retailers — a list that includes Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Ulta, Home Depot, and Bed, Bath & Beyond — the analytics firm found that from an in-store shopping perspective, Black Friday was a bust. Customer visits were down by more than 26% on average, compared to Black Friday 2019.

However, there was some good news to be gleaned. It’s clear from’s data that shoppers do still want to get out and spend money. While Black Friday foot traffic was down, shoppers still went out. Ulta, for example, had a pre-Thanksgiving surge in visits. Home Depot, Bed Bath & Beyond, and At Home had surges the day after Black Friday. At Target, visits were up 2.8% and 5.3% year-over-year during the Saturday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

While none of the major retailers looked at had strong Black Fridays, in terms of customer visits, most did relatively well during the week prior. That could be a signal that shoppers still want to buy; they just don’t want to deal with busy, crowded stores in the middle of a pandemic.

Based on Black Friday results, Criteo’s Rogers says retailers should be able to home in more on their strategies for the remainder of the season. Surveys show that one in four consumers plans to buy a gift for themselves this year. Twenty-one percent of consumers plan to give essential items like groceries and toiletries as gifts. And while discounts started earlier than ever this holiday season, there is an expectation among consumers that they will continue for the remainder of the year. Retailers that pull back too soon could be missing out on last-minute sales.

“Cyber week has always been a big week in e-commerce, and we would expect this week to continue to yield strong sales,” Rogers says. “Retailers should expect an increase in offline shopping as last-minute shoppers head in-store due to earlier shipping deadlines to prepare for expected delivery delays.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.Rainbow over Montclair

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.
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