Mobile Leads the Way in Holiday Weekend Shopping Traffic

With the growing popularity of presales and early promotions, the holiday shopping season is becoming more spread out and less centered around Black Friday. Still, the day after Thanksgiving remains, for the time being, the biggest shopping day of the year.

Brick-and-mortar stores took a slight sales hit this season. According to consumer analytics firm ShopperTrak, shoppers spent roughly 7 percent less this Black Friday compared to last year, with sales totaling $9.1 billion, but spent roughly 24 percent more on Thanksgiving Thursday, with sales reaching $3.2 billion. The net result was a 0.5 percent drop in overall sales. Shoppers who didn't make it out to the stores shopped online and through mobile devices, however. Thanksgiving online and mobile sales were up by 14.3 percent and 25.4 percent, respectively, while Black Friday sales grew by 9.5 percent and 28.2 percent, respectively, IBM's Digital Analytics Benchmark reports.

"The mobile growth is the big story here," Dave Haucke, product strategist at IBM, says. "For the first time ever, mobile traffic eclipsed Web traffic, making up for 51.2 percent of the online shopping traffic. It also accounted for nearly 30 percent of all online sales. That's major," he adds.

This holiday weekend's mobile activity mimicked last year's, with smartphones being used primarily for research and tablets being used for actual purchases. "If you think about it, this makes sense given people's behavior. As soon as I left the table on Thanksgiving, I picked up my smartphone to get a sense of what's out there. Then on Friday morning, my wife pulled out her tablet and we started making transactions," Haucke says.

Though mobile device use is growing rapidly, the desktop still makes up a significant portion of sales, and typically tends to drive sales with higher order values. While mobile shoppers spend an average of $116.02 on a transaction, desktop shoppers spend roughly $135.33, or 16.6 percent more.

Other trends emerging from the past weekend's sales suggest that targeted coupons and offers are playing a major role in how people shop. IBM's Digital Analytics Benchmark found that retailers sent approximately 5.3 emails on Black Friday—that's 11 percent less than last year. However, the emails were more targeted and the data revealed that "folks are cashing in on coupons at higher rates," according to Haucke.

IBM also examined how social channels, namely Facebook and Pinterest, influence shopping activity. Facebook leads other social channels in terms of referrals and sales. Average orders stemming from Facebook referrals total $109.94, while average Pinterest-referred orders are 10 percent lower, at $100.24. The visual element is critical to conversions, Haucke says, adding that other up-and-coming visual channels, such as Instagram, may soon become sales influencers as well. "Marketers have been putting a lot of real estate on social media, so they are going in with reasonable expectation that these channels will drive sales," Haucke says. "With substantial order totals, they're seeing these efforts really pay off during this big shopping weekend," he adds.

As for the rest of the holiday season, Haucke says it's tough to determine whether Black Friday shopping patterns are an indication of sales throughout the rest of December. IBM will keep tracking trends with the company's Digital Analytics Benchmark Live dashboard, which will enable marketers to access and use the analytics available through the dashboard in real time. The tool was just launched in November.

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