It might seem premature to start thinking about holiday ecommerce in spring, but lessons learned during the 2017 season can inform planning for this year.
The holiday shopping season has been expanding for some time, thanks mostly to ecommerce—which makes it easier to shop at any time—and better fulfillment operations so digital buyers can make purchases closer to Christmas.
Because of this lengthened shopping activity, retailers have been extending Black Friday sales, in some cases for weeks. A new Econsultancy study cites Amazon as an example of an online retailer stretching out a Black Friday event for up to 14 days.
In the survey, retailers were asked about the duration of their Black Friday events. Fully 35% characterized it as the four-day weekend (from Black Friday to Cyber Monday), while 45% said it extended beyond four days.
According to Adobe, Cyber Monday was the largest online shopping day of 2017, accounting for $6.59 billion in sales. Black Friday ranked second with $5.03 billion. And Thanksgiving Day has also become a shopping holiday in its own right, responsible for $2.87 billion in retail ecommerce sales last year.
Andrew Lipsman, principal retail analyst at eMarketer, thinks Black Friday's strong sales illustrate its enduring importance. “While Black Friday promotions are continuing to bleed into the surrounding days, there’s also evidence to suggest that Black Friday itself is as important as it’s ever been—especially on digital platforms. Adobe reported more than $5 billion in online spending on Black Friday 2017, with $2 billion coming from mobile. Consumers are still very responsive to the big shopping holidays, which suggests it’s not just about getting the deals but also about participating in the actual event," he said.
Per MasterCard, the second largest weekly growth rate in US retail ecommerce sales during the 2017 holiday season occurred the week of December 17, when sales increased 23.7%. And December 23, a Saturday, was the second highest shopping day of the year. Now digital shoppers are postponing purchases until the eve of Christmas Eve.
It’s to the retailers’ advantage to spread out the holiday sales since there is less likelihood of websites crashing and delayed deliveries. Last year also saw an unanticipated surge of shoppers starting sooner, which resulted in earlier returns—just as retailers hit their prime shipping season. “The reverse logistics is just as important as the outbound logistics. You have to be prepared for those packages coming back to your fulfillment center as much as the ones going out,” said Louis DeJianne, director of retail at UPS.
And it appears Black Friday is being divorced from the concept of occurring only on the day after Thanksgiving. Home improvement stores like The Home Depot and Lowe’s have been advertising Spring Black Friday deals on items like grills, gardening equipment and patio furniture to drum up sales during the holiday-free slump between Presidents’ Day and Memorial Day.