Holiday Predictions Recap: Did I Hit the Mark or Shoot My Eye Out?

The holiday season exploded, much like a shot fired from a Red Rider carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle, with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time. Back in October, I laid out my predictions for the 2017 holiday season. Now it’s time to take aim at my predictions and see whether I had Black Bart in the crosshairs or ended up shooting my eye out.


Where I Hit the Mark

Prediction: More Mobile Sales
Last year, mobile accounted for 30% of all online sales. I predicted mobile sales would increase to roughly 35%.

Result: We all saw this coming. Mobile accounted for 40% of online purchases, 33% of online revenue, and 56% of traffic, according to Adobe. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times; if you’re not optimized for mobile, you’re not optimized.

Prediction: Early Sales

Online holiday sales will start in October.

Result: Seeing as every day in November drove $1 billion in online sales, we know people were shopping the deals early. From my personal inbox, the incentives offered by retailers during the final week in October were right in line with those offered in November.

Prediction: Exclusions Apply

You will see fewer “off everything” promotions and an increase in discounts on “select items.”

Result: I did notice an uptick in select categories of sale items, such as discounts on pajamas one day and sweaters the next. While I did see exclusionary sales, I think they were handled much better than last year. Last year, in many instances, I would cart items only to find out at checkout they were not discounted. This year, I noticed the sales having their own sections on websites, and emails clearly defining which categories of products were on sale.

Prediction: Black Friday and Cyber Monday

I predicted both days would drive over $1 billion in mobile commerce and that the promotions for these days would start the Sunday or Monday prior.

Result: Black Friday raked in nearly $1.9 billion in mobile revenue, nearly 37% of all of Black Friday’s online revenue. Cyber Monday became the first day ever to reach $2 billion in mobile revenue, setting a new mobile benchmark.

Black Friday wasn’t just a day – it was a weeklong event. Even though Gray November was in full effect, many retailers started their Black Friday earlier that week. I made 92% of my purchases prior to Black Friday, and the other 8% on Black Friday itself. The deals were out early.

Prediction: Thanksgiving Day

I predicted that Thanksgiving Day would cross $2 billion in online sales for the first time ever.

Result: Online sales clocked in at $2.87 billion for the day. This day keeps growing as a critical online shopping day.

Prediction: Browserless Commerce

I predicted voice assistants would be the hottest sellers of the season, with Amazon devices being the No. 1 sellers in this group.

Result: Well, Apple’s HomePod was delayed until 2018, handing market share to Google and Amazon, and Google did not disclose how many devices were sold during the holidays.

But does it even mater? Amazon appears to be the big winner here. Amazon’s David Limp, head of devices, said that millions of Alexa-enabled devices were sold over Black Friday weekend. Amazon later said the Echo Dot was the top-selling item on the website worldwide during the holiday season, while the Fire TV stick was runner-up. Can households claim Alexa as a dependent?

Prediction: Amazon’s Take

Amazon captured 38% of the online holiday sales in 2016, and I predicted this figure would inch up to the 45% mark.

Result: Amazon is king. GBH Insights estimated Amazon accounted for between 45% and 50% of online sales during the holidays. On Thanksgiving and Black Friday, Amazon accounted for 45% of online transactions among 50 top retailers, according to Hitwise. Amazon also announced Cyber Monday was its best day ever, surpassing even Prime Day. Considering they were responsible for 44% of all online sales in 2017, this all sounds like just another day in Amazon-land.


A Few Half-Baked Holiday Results

Prediction: Even More Mobile Clicks
In Q4 2016, mobile accounted for nearly 57% of paid search clicks, with 47% coming from smartphones. I predicted we would see continued increases.

Result: At the time of writing, the data is not yet available. However, with 56% of holiday traffic coming from mobile, I would expect this prediction to be a successful one.

Prediction: In-Store Exclusives

In an attempt to drive in-store traffic, I predicted you might see a rise in brick-and-mortar retailers offering “off everything” or deeper discount sales for in-store only.

Result: There was a noticeable increase in retailers offering an additional discount, on top of the online discount, for shopping in-store. However, a relatively small number offered store-only discounts. In fact, I was astounded to see some omnichannel retailers make specific mention of the discounts being for online purchases only. Why would they not want their customers to come into the store? If anything, make it available in both places.

Prediction: Re-engineering the Brick-and-Mortar Experience
I predicted we’d see a lot of in-store-only Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, as well as some in-store price-matching.

Result: While there was a noticeable rise in extra in-store incentives, there seemed to be relatively few in-store-only sales for these signature days. This might be why Shopertrak reported that foot traffic to physical retail stores was down 1% on Black Friday.

And to no one’s surprise, Black Friday deals were widely available for the entire week (and weekend) of Thanksgiving. Looking at my own inbox, more than 20% of all email subject lines contained the term “Black Friday” on the Monday before.

And yes, price-matching was seemingly everywhere. Stores like Dick’s, Walmart, Best Buy, Sears, Newegg and even Amazon, in some cases, all deployed price-matching strategies during the holidays.

Prediction: Email Marketing Will Continue to Dominate

Result: This one is still pending, as complete data is still being analyzed. Adobe did report that on Cyber Monday email drove 24.9% of sales, closely followed by the 22.9% from paid search. My inbox was extremely busy. In November, I received almost 25% more emails this year than last year. Year over year, Bronto sent more than 25% more emails on both Black Friday Cyber Monday. Email continues to be a highly effective marketing tool for retailers.

Where I Shot My Eye Out

Prediction: More Billion Dollar Days.

I predicted we’d see 60 of the 61 days in November and December rake in $1 billion in online sales, up from the 57 days in 2017.

Result: 58 of 61 days topped the $1 billion mark. Every day in November reached this milestone, further reinforcing Gray November as a mainstay, not a trend. While improving upon last year, December let me down. Come on, December!

Prediction: The largest online shopping day of the year

I predicted that for the first time, Black Friday – not Cyber Monday – would be the largest online shopping day of the year.

Result: Here’s the big one. I predicted Black Friday to be the online king of the year. My reasoning was based on the industry-accepted benchmark of 2016 Black Friday and Cyber Monday online sales of $3.34 and $3.45 billion, respectively. We have been seeing this gap seemingly close year over year. Inexplicably, when the 2016 baselines were referenced, these numbers were surprisingly different, at over $4.3 and $5.65 billion each day, respectively. What a difference! While the industry thought Black Friday was about to catch Cyber Monday in sales, these adjusted numbers show that this wasn’t quite the case.

All in all, this year’s Cyber Monday reportedly clocked in at $6.59 billion, and outperformed Black Friday by $1.5 billion. Although Cyber Monday has some breathing room as king of online sales, Black Friday, at over $5 billion, is no day to smirk at.

And What About my “Bold” Predictions?

Predictions:

  • Starbucks will take flack over their holiday cup design. ‘Tis the season!
  • I will once again purchase my tree on Black Friday.
  • Fruitcake, while good in theory, will continue to be a poor party dessert.

Results: A little, yes and yes!

The Starbucks cup design faced only minor controversy this year. Hey, someone has to complain, right?

I again purchased my tree on Black Friday, but not from the usual store. Upon arriving at my usual retailer, I was greeted with a tree ghost town. My local fire department’s tree lot was the winner this year. I absolutely loved my tree, and that usual retailer may have just lost my tree business forever.

And no, I did not serve fruitcake at my holiday party.

While not all of my predictions for 2017 hit the target, coming up with them is always fun. And by all accounts, this holiday season was great for consumers looking for a deal. Although retailer margins may have been squeezed, retailers certainly benefitted from the high shopping turnout. This year, I look forward to seeing who Amazon acquires (I have my thoughts), how consumer behaviors will shift and how retailers will adapt to meet their needs. These will, of course, all affect my predictions. Hopefully, next year my predictions will be more like a Red Rider, and less like pink bunny pajamas. Only time will tell.

Greg Zakowicz is a Senior Commerce Marketing Analyst at Bronto Software

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