Black Friday is the ultimate consumer experience exception. Shoppers don't set 5am alarms, or worse, head straight to the mall from their Thanksgiving tables, for the great customer experience. Instead, they dress for comfort and speed, map out a plan of attack, and prepare for a fight if necessary. In a world where consumers crave personalized items, one-on-one experiences, and an Instagram-worthy shopping environment, the only retail experience expected on Black Friday is a hefty discount.
Online shopping – particularly done on mobile devices — reached record levels during the traditional holiday kickoff period. Deal-hungry customers spent as much as $1 million per minute on the Internet at the height of Black Friday, e-commerce platform Shopify said. Retailers brought in some $7.9 billion in online sales on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, up almost 18% from a year ago, according to Adobe Analytics' review of transactions at the largest 100 U.S. web retailers.
With the increase in online shopping, early estimates from ShopperTrak, a data analytics company that measures the number of shoppers at stores, said foot traffic "decreased less than one percent when compared to Black Friday 2016." While this might be due to more retailers focusing their sales online, a greater number of brick-and-mortar stores opted to close on Thanksgiving Day as well — a response to the controversial trend of late Thursday and early Friday hours that trapped retail workers in the stores instead of spending the holiday at home with family.
However, when millions of Americans are shopping online all at the same time, websites are bound to crash. Thousands of customers trying to access the online Black Friday deals offered by Lowe’s — up to 40 percent off certain appliances and half-priced power tools and more instead encountered glitches that caused the site to fail mid-purchase or struggle to load at all. During Black Friday 2016, both Macy’s and Express dealt with customers enraged by technical difficulties with the brands’ websites.
The global reach of e-commerce has inspired many international companies to participate in the post-Thanksgiving shopping event — crashes included! Takealot.com, a general goods e-commerce retailer based in South Africa, apologized to shoppers for site-wide problems, saying in a Twitter post that “ a fundamental service within our platform has failed.”
And what exactly were consumers buying? Top sellers included Chromecast and Roku streaming devices, the Nintendo Switch, Hatchimals & Colleggtibles toys, PJ Masks, L.O.L. Surprise Dolls, and Ride On Cars.
Another noteable change this year is the shift away from a single, chaos-fueled day of deals into a more mellow, month long evolution of sales for consumers. Retailers have increasingly spread sales and discounts throughout the month, turning November into a shopping extravaganza. Online sales from November 1 through 22 totaled almost $30.4 billion this year, accounting for nearly 18% year-over-year growth, according to Adobe Analytics. In fact, every day in November so far has seen over $1 billion in online sales. While Black Friday remains one of the biggest shopping days of the year, it now shares the spotlight with Thanksgiving, Cyber Monday, and the two weekend days in between.
Transforming the day into a season, Black Friday sales events are starting earlier and earlier in November every year as retailers try to get the jump on one another. The terms "Black Friday week" and "Black Friday weekend" are more prevalent across advertising. This year, Target had online Black Friday deals for their credit card holders on November 22, two days before Black Friday. On November 1, Amazon launched its Black Friday store, and Sears put all the items in its stores on sale. And, spoiler alert, the sales on Black Friday aren't any better than those earlier in November.
Another reason for the death of Black Friday is the ease of shopping on smartphones, enabling shoppers to browse and purchase online anywhere and anytime. Phones accounted for 46% of all retailer traffic on Thanksgiving, according to Adobe — an increase of more than 15% over last year. At the same time, traffic from tablets and desktops decreased, making mobile the most popular option for Thanksgiving shopping for the first time.