2019 Holiday Season Takeaways and Ecommerce Marketing Action Items

The 2019 holiday season has concluded, and once again ecommerce experienced record-breaking sales. This online holiday season registered just above $142 billion in online sales, a 13% increase from last year, according to Adobe Analytics.

But what made the 2019 holiday season so successful, and which trends have become the new normal? Let’s explore.

The Subtle Nuances of November

In sports, subtle moves with a major impact are called the “game within the game,” which succinctly describes the continuing evolution of Gray November’s monthlong series of discounts.

We started seeing pre-Black Friday deals and other heavy discounts start in late October. But once we entered November, we started seeing this “game within the game” begin to play out.

Black Friday is Now a Week-long Event

The concept of Black Friday week started in 2018 and became an official thing this year. Many retailers started their sales on the previous Sunday, and many others jumped in on Monday.

Beginning that day, more than a quarter of subject lines in my personal retailer tracking inbox had the term “Black Friday.” It’s possible that Black Friday week was a result of the day falling later in the year, but it continues the trend of a growing sales event. Expect this to be the new norm. 

The Cyber Five Expands to the Cyber Ten

The Cyber Five (Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday) now accounts for 20% of the holiday season’s ecommerce revenue. But this period has morphed into the Cyber Ten, thanks in part to Black Friday week.

The ten days from the Sunday before Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday accounted for seven of the top online sales days of the entire season, with six of them hitting $3 billion+ in ecommerce sales and accounting for 27% of the total holiday revenue.

Black Friday, Cyber Monday Remain Tentpoles

Black Friday recorded $7.4 billion in ecommerce sales, falling just short of Cyber Monday 2018’s record-setting $7.9 billion day.

But this year, shoppers propelled Cyber Monday to $9.4 billion in ecommerce sales, meaning both days grew nearly 20% year-over-year. While consumers show a willingness to shop early, they’re also willing to shop often, especially on these tentpole days.

The New Daily Online Sales Benchmark is $2B

Only a couple of years ago, $1 billion in one-day ecommerce sales was the benchmark to hit during the holidays. In 2018, only the period of Dec. 22-25 failed to reach that mark.

But in 2019, only Christmas Eve missed it, with $850 million in ecommerce sales. Two billion dollars is now the new online sales benchmark, with 29 days reaching it, including each day during the Cyber Ten.

Mobile Revenue Grows, Smartphones Gain Share

Mobile continued its march toward the dominant shopping method in the 2019 holiday season. However, tablet’s share of mobile was replaced by smartphones.

  • In 2019, purchases on smartphones accounted for nearly 35% of revenue, according to Adobe, while tablets accounted for 5%
  • In 2018 season, smartphones made up 31% of revenue, and tablets 9%

We saw this same shifting pattern for mobile devices in web traffic:

  • In 2019, smartphones accounted for 58% of retail web traffic, while tablets hit 5%
  • This was up from 51% in 2018, when tablets made up 8% of the traffic

I have repeatedly said if you’re not mobile optimized, you’re not optimized – and we’re clearly at the point now where smartphone optimization is table stakes. 

Consumers Continue to Value Email

Email marketing continued to drive ecommerce sales, accounting for 17% of online revenue this year, nearly half of which (49%) came from smartphones. To put this in context, social media drove less than 2% of sales. You can see why email marketing is a powerful promotional tactic.

Email volume continues to increase year over year, confirming that Gray November is alive and well. This season, average daily sends began to increase the last week of October and continued through November. Overall, there were 10% more emails sent in November than in October.

Emails sent from the Bronto Marketing Platform supports the notion that Black Friday week is a promotional event. In November, there were 54% more emails sent during Black Friday week than in the previous weeks. This represents a significant increase in sends during the week of Black Friday compared to previous years.

Of course, discounting in email remained the top tactic. Eighty-four percent of consumers said they’re more likely to open emails with discounts, and 58% felt that relevant email offers had a higher likelihood of purchasing.

2019 Holiday Season Takeaways and How to Use Them

Analyzing the 2019 holiday season does no good unless you implement the lessons learned to further your marketing program. From the takeaways above, here are opportunities for some marketing reflection and optimization throughout 2020:

$2B is the New Daily Ecommerce Sales Benchmark

Question: How do you plan to attract new customers and increase AOV to take advantage of this increase in consumer spending?

Email Marketing Needs to be a Major Program Component

Question: What specifically can you do to improve your email program throughout the year?

The Cyber Ten replaced the Cyber Five

Question: Do you have enough value-adds and promotional strategies to take full advantage of this extended sales period?

Smartphones Took Over Web Traffic, Getting There for Online Sales

Question: Are your website, emails, popup forms and paid search strategies optimized for mobile users?

Now is the time to dive deep into the types of offers customers responded to, the types and timing of automated email messages (i.e., abandoned cart, post-purchase, etc.), subject line tactics, paid search strategies, and the traffic sources and devices.

These tactics will allow you to test hypotheses and roadmap improvements to your overall marketing programs, giving you an early start on next year’s planning while driving increased sales year-round.

Greg Zakowicz is a Senior Commerce Marketing Analyst at Oracle NetSuite

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