Each year, I make my predictions for Gray November, a month-long season of discounts, and the rest of the holiday season — but this year I didn’t.
As Dr. Seuss might say, now, please don’t ask me why. I don’t quite know the reason. It could be that my predictions wouldn’t be quite right. But I think the most likely reason of all is that too many mobile emails were optimized two sizes too small.
Whatever the reason, the season, or the screen, let’s take a look at how online shoppers kicked off this holiday season. How did Gray November play out from a consumer spending standpoint? On which devices did consumers shop? Let’s take a look at a few key highlights:
Online sales from Nov. 1-Dec. 6 were $80.3 billion according to Adobe Analytics, up 16% from 2017. For the second consecutive year, every single day in November drove over $1 billion in online sales; this is the new daily benchmark for the month. The upcoming benchmark will be $2 billion sales days; 14 of the first 36 days of the holiday season hit this new benchmark.
And for the big three:
- Thanksgiving Day: $3.7 billion in online sales, up 28%.
- Black Friday: $6.2 billion in online sales, up 24%
- Cyber Monday: $7.9 billion in online sales, up 17%
Looking at these individual days, we see larger YoY growth on Black Friday and Thanksgiving Day than Cyber Monday. Thanksgiving has been evolving into a major shopping day over the past several years, and retailers should expect this to continue.
This should come as no surprise, as sales were noticeably ramped up beginning the Monday of Thanksgiving week, following a trend seen the last several years.
Shopping by Devices
We have seen mobile continue to increase its share of web traffic and online sales over desktop. This year we saw a similar yet evolving story from consumers.
Traffic: Mobile once again ruled traffic to websites, taking 57% of it. Of this, 49% was from smartphones. While not apples to apples, if we compare this to the overall holiday season of last year, we begin to see a slight, if predictable, shift.
While the overall percentage is the same as last year’s season, smartphones took some share away from tablets. In 2017, smartphones accounted for 46% of web traffic while tablets accounted for 10%. As screens get larger and tablet usage slowly declines, we see a shift in consumers favoring smartphones as their go-to online search device.
Sales: From a sales standpoint, desktop still owns the day, accounting for 60% of online purchases. While still dominant, this is a decrease from the 67% we saw during the holidays overall last year. Smartphones accounted for 30% of sales, while tablets accounted for the remaining 10%. Bottom line: If you’re not mobile-optimized, you’re not optimized.
Notable Email Marketing Highlights
As I do every year, I track the volume of emails I receive to my personal inbox from the hundreds of retailers I subscribed to. I look at send volumes and advertised subject lines during the season, and here are a few interesting observations.
High-volume send times: High sends were prevalent throughout most of November, although the acceleration started Thanksgiving week, with an average lift of 30% as compared to the three weeks prior. Bronto, which sends hundreds of millions of emails each day, saw a 10% YoY lift in email sends on Black Friday and 21% lift in sends on Cyber Monday. Retailers continue to send, and they send a lot.
The four highest send days in my inbox, in order, were Cyber Monday, Black Friday, Thanksgiving Day and the Tuesday after Cyber Monday. For Bronto, it was Cyber Monday, Black Friday, Thanksgiving Day and the Sunday before Cyber Monday. On Cyber Monday alone, Bronto sent more than half a billion emails!
Subject lines: Starting with the last Friday before Thanksgiving, the term “Black Friday” was being used in at least 18% of all subject lines each day up to and including Black Friday.
Looking at incentives during Thanksgiving week, discounts were deep and widely available. Fifty percent discounts was the most advertised incentive throughout the week, followed by free shipping, 20% discounts and 30% discounts, respectively.
And what about my shopping habits? If you recall, last year I finished my shopping before the Black Friday clock struck midnight. This year, many sales early in the week mirrored the Black Friday offers from 2017. By Black Friday this year I had made all but two purchases. The final two came later that weekend.
All in all, starting in mid-November, I bought lots of toys, ribbons and tags. I bought lots of packages, presents and bags. What does this all mean? It means that me, myself, the ol’ marketer, successfully won Gray November with ease.
All indications are that this holiday season saw the biggest ecommerce sales yet; Adobe won’t release its final figures until NRF’s Big Show in January. If true, we are going to enter 2019 with higher ecommerce expectations than ever; it’s going to be an interesting year.
How did the holiday season look from your vantage point? I’d love to hear. Be sure to let me know.
Greg Zakowicz is a Senior Commerce Marketing Analyst at Oracle Bronto