Black Friday Disappointed This Year—At Least Online

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Shoppers at The Galleria Mall in Houston, Tex., during their Black Friday sale on November 26 this year.

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Supply shortages may have affected how consumers planned their holiday shopping, convincing more people to stock up on gifts early if they couldn’t be shipped on time. That’s a takeaway from early Black Friday sales figures, which paint a mixed picture for retailers.

Adobe (ADBE) released figures on Saturday showing that online sales on Thanksgiving were similar to levels a year ago, while Black Friday sales were down slightly from 2020 — not quite as blockbusters as they were in the past. Adobe said the sales figures come from a record of more than 1 trillion online visits to retail websites.

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“For the first time, Black Friday reversed the growth trend of previous years,” said Vivek Pandya, principal analyst at Adobe Digital Insights. “Buyers are being strategic in their gift shopping, shopping very early in the season and being flexible when they shop to make sure they get the best deals.”

However, Adobe’s flat numbers only tell part of the story. Data from in-store purchases showed large sales gains from 2020, when vaccines had not yet started. Mastercard said on Friday that its initial data showed a 43% increase in in-store sales, as well as a 10.6% increase in online sales. and Shopify said That the average Black Friday buyer was spending more at businesses using its service—people checked $101.20 worth of “carts” this year, compared to $90.70 in 2020.

Other data from Adobe appears to suggest consumers stocked up before Thanksgiving. Spending has increased throughout the month, with 19 days where consumers spent more than $3 billion, compared to just five last year. One reason people shopped ahead of Black Friday was concerns about potential supply shortages.

According to Adobe, consumers are more than twice as likely to get an out-of-stock message today when they search for a product than before the pandemic.

Yet more data shows that customer behavior is changing, benefiting retailers who offer flexible pickup options to shoppers. The way consumers shop now often includes a mix of personal and online engagement. According to Adobe, there has been a 70% increase in online purchases and raised curbsides this month from pre-pandemic days.

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