Holiday retail sales appear to be back on track after much lower than forecast retail sales growth during the 2018 season. Indeed, the NRF’s latest figures recapping the 2019 holiday season are right on par with their forecast growth rate before the holiday season began.
The sales figures released by the NRF indicate that retail sales over the last two months of 2019 grew by 4.1% year-over-year (y-o-y) to $730.2 billion, well within the forecast growth rate of 3.8-4.2%. This is almost double the unexpected slump in growth during the 2018 holiday season (2.1%) which was attributed to various factors including a government shutdown and interest rate hikes.
Non-store holiday sales (including e-commerce) grew by 14.6% during this latest holiday period.
The NRF release reveals that most retail categories enjoyed modest increases save for Electronics and Appliance stores, which experienced a decline of 2%, Clothing and Clothing Accessory stores (down 1.6%) and Sporting Goods stores (down 0.4%).
Furniture and Home Furnishing store sales, which remained flat during the 2018 season, this time experienced a healthy uptick of 2.6%, second only to Grocery and Beverage stores, which reported a 2.9% gain.
Here are some further highlights and results as reported by various sources.
Mastercard’s SpendingPulse data showed that holiday retail sales increased by 3.4% in 2019.
As in previous years, online shopping increased by double-digits, with a gain of 18.8% over the previous holiday season, defined as November 1 through December 24. Per data from SpendingPulse, e-commerce sales accounted for 14.6% of total retail sales during that period.
In contrast to the NRF data, Mastercard’s SpendingPulse indicates that the Electronics and Appliance category performed quite well this past year, up 4.6% in total sales, with e-commerce sales growing by 10.7%. Although Apparel only saw a 1% uptick this year, its e-commerce growth was an impressive 17%.
First Data’s analysis [pdf] of aggregated merchant processing data suggests an overall growth rate of 5.9%, with an average ticket size of $57.82 for the holiday period.
As with Mastercard’s data, the Electronics and Appliance category saw the fastest growth rate (8.4%), followed by General Merchandise Stores (up 4.8%) and Specialty Retail (up 3%). Some other categories experienced a decrease in sales, though, including Sporting Goods, Hobby, Book and Music stores (down 0.8%) and Furniture and Home Furnishings (dropping 1.5%).
Growth rates did differ significantly across regional areas: while the South saw year-over-year growth of 3.3%, in the Mid-Atlantic it was just 1.9%.
More people seem to be using their mobile wallets to make purchases. First Data reports that spending through mobile wallets grew by 75% y-o-y.
Adobe Digital Insights
Adobe Digital Insights (ADI) reports that although online sales were up 13.1% over the 2019 holiday season, that’s a deceleration from 2018 (+16.5% year-over-year), 2017 (+14.7%) and 2016 (+14.4%). In total, US consumers spent $142.5 billion online for the period of November 1 through December 26, per ADI’s data.
The five-day period from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday accounted for 20% of overall holiday spending online.
Mobile continues to lead the pack when it comes to retail site visits, accounting for 58% of total visits over the holiday period. More than one-third (36%) of all sales were made through smartphones for the season, up 14% over 2018. However, ADI does note that smartphones are still behind desktops when it comes to completing the buying process, with cart abandonment rates on smartphones at 50% compared to 33% on desktop.
Multichannel retailers mixing bricks and mortar with e-commerce saw a 35% increase in the use of BOPIS (buy online to pick up in-store). No doubt due to last-minute shopping, the week before Christmas saw revenues increase by 55% from BOPIS.
Amazon reports that it had a record-breaking holiday season. Not only does it report selling billions of items, but Amazon also notes that tens of millions of its devices were sold. The Echo Dot, Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote and Echo Show 5 were the best sellers.
Shoppers weren’t just buying these voice-assistant devices, they were also using them over the holiday season. Amazon notes that customers interacted with Alexa at record levels, whether it be to help find recipes, search for TV shows or films, to show who was at the door, or to turn on the holiday lights.
As more consumers turn to home delivery of groceries as a way to save time, Amazon saw an increase of more than 80% in the number of Prime members who used their grocery delivery service for the first time during the holiday season. Members also ordered more than twice the number of grocery items during the 2019 holiday season than they did in 2018.
An analysis of sales [download page] made by smartphones through e-commerce tech platform Button highlights the impact of both app usage and Cyber Week on overall holiday sales. Customers shopping through an app had a 86% higher conversion rate than those doing so through the mobile web. Apps also had 27% more orders per customer and 17% more sales per tap than the mobile web. For Cyber Week, one-quarter of consumers who installed an app went on to make a purchase.
Button’s data shows that although Black Friday shopping peaked at about 10 AM EST, consumers shopped late into the evening on Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, when shopping peaked closer to 10 PM EST.
Previously Published: Cyber Week Recap
With Thanksgiving weekend and Cyber Monday in the rear-view mirror, shopping results are coming out from several sources. Although the precise figures differ from one source to the next, it seems that yet again the key takeaways include a new record for e-commerce spending on Cyber Monday.
The following recap offers highlights from several research sources, with links provided for readers who would like to explore the data in more detail. (Note that there is a considerable amount of data not covered below, so we encourage you to follow the links to see what each source has to offer.)
- More US consumers participated in holiday shopping over the five days between Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday this year. NRF reports that 189.9 million Americans shopped during this time, 14% more than in 2018 (165.8 million). On average, shoppers spent $361.90 on gifts and other holiday items (up 16% from last year). Per the NRF, Black Friday had more online shoppers (93.2 million) than Cyber Monday (83.3 million) for the first time.
- That being said, in its recap, Adobe Digital Insights reports that Cyber Monday was the largest online sales day in US history, with $9.4 billion spent by the end of the day, up 19.7%, just slightly higher than last year’s growth of 19%. Early data (from 7PM ET on Cyber Monday) from Adobe reveals that one-third (33%) of sales on Cyber Monday were via smartphone, which represents 46% y-o-y growth from 2018.
- Brick-and-mortar stores saw 6.2% fewer shoppers on Black Friday this year per data from ShopperTrak (as reported by Chain Store Age). This is despite a 2.3% increase in brick-and-mortar store shoppers on Thanksgiving Day.
- Separately, data from ICSC shows that 75% of consumers who spent money on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday did so in physical stores, while another 45% purchased online from traditional brick-and-mortar stores.
- Analysis from SAP Commerce Cloud indicates that on Black Friday the busiest hour was 1PM ET: most orders were placed during that hour, and it was also the hour when the highest conversion rate was witnessed. On Cyber Monday, the busiest hour was 3PM ET, when the most orders were placed as well as the highest conversion rates witnessed.
- How big were the discounts on Cyber Monday? Average online discounts hit 31%, reports Salesforce, with these deals coming with free shipping 83% of the time. Salesforce also revealed an increase of 41% in the number of mobile purchases from a social referral across the entire Thanksgiving week.
- Consumers talked a lot about Black Friday and Cyber Monday on social channels this year. Social media analytics firm Talkwalker found that there was a total of 4.2 million social posts around these shopping days, with 53 million engagements by 2 million unique authors. The majority (56.8% share) of those posts were about technology, followed by home (19.4% share) and clothing (14.4% share).
- More than half (54%) of Black Friday shoppers were first-time buyers, according to Bluecore, which also found that more than two-thirds (69%) of purchases on Black Friday were impulse purchases.
- Spending on digital games on Black Friday and Cyber Monday rose 9% year-over-year to reach a record $4.36 billion. Superdata reports this is largely due to in-game content deals and big game releases.
Previously Published: Thanksgiving Weekend Forecast
More than 165 million Americans say they are likely to shop either in-store or online this coming Thanksgiving weekend (Thursday through Monday), according to the latest holiday survey from NRF. That figure is up slightly from last year when similar estimates called for 164 million to shop during the 5-day period.
The most enthusiasm for Thanksgiving weekend in the NRF survey is reserved for Black Friday: 69% of those who plan to shop on Thanksgiving weekend said they either will or might shop that day. That compares to the just more than two-fifths (42%) who might shop on Cyber Monday, and about one-quarter (24%) on Thanksgiving Day.
Here are some further statistics regarding key shopping days over the 5-day period.
- Globally, Salesforce forecasts year-over-year (y-o-y) online sales growth of 24% for Black Friday, 18% for Thanksgiving, and 22% for Cyber Monday. Additionally, Salesforce predicts that digital revenue for the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving will grow by 19% y-o-y. (Link).
- Within the US, the Thanksgiving Weekend (Thursday through Monday) is expected to generate one-fifth (20%) of total online holiday sales, according to Adobe Digital Insights, which also notes that online revenue growth during that period will outpace online sales growth during the entire holiday period. Cyber Monday will continue to be the key day, with the highest predicted sales ($9.4 billion) and the fastest growth (+18.9% year-over-year). (Link)
- Cyber Monday might – as its name suggests – be the heaviest day for online spending, but Black Friday will be the busiest day for in-store traffic, according to a ShopperTrak forecast. (Link)
- Some 44% of consumers who plan to shop over Black Friday weekend will try to avoid the crowds and take advantage of click-and-pickup options by purchasing online and picking up in-store, with 72% of those shoppers expected to spend even more while at the store, according to a survey from the ICSC. (Link).
- The ICSC expects the vast majority of spending to occur in-store, and the Consumer Technology Association indicates that more people will shop for tech products in-store than online during the 5-day Thanksgiving period. Separately, the CTA survey finds that 82% of US shoppers plan to buy tech accessories during the critical shopping period, with US adults planning to purchase wireless earbuds/headphone, mobile device cases and video game discs. (Link)
- No matter what shoppers are buying, more of them are shopping on Thanksgiving Day. Per data from Comscore, digital commerce (which includes both desktop and mobile spending) on Thanksgiving Day grew 36% y-o-y in 2018 to reach $3.4 billion. (Link).
The holiday season has begun, which means that dozens of studies are being issued forecasting spending trends, retail destinations and shopping attitudes. This latest annual data hub (which will be updated periodically during the holiday period) highlights key points from holiday-related research for what looks to be an enthusiastic season in terms of consumer spending.
[Editor’s Note: As with last year’s holiday data hub, this year’s article will highlight one or two unique findings from each piece of research. Readers interested in more data are encouraged to follow the links provided to access the studies.]
Before getting to the list of research highlights, let’s a look at the broad forecast for this holiday season.
- The NRF is projecting this year’s holiday sales to increase by 3.8-4.2% to roughly $728-$731 billion. The forecasted growth is slightly above the 5-year average of 3.7%. This is below last year’s forecast of 4.3-4.8% but well above the unexpectedly low 2.1% increase which the holiday season closed out with. For their part, consumers expect to spend 4% more this year than last, per another survey released by NRF.
- Deloitte’s forecast is higher than NRF’s with an expected gain in sales of 4.5-5.0%. That’s below the 5.0-5.6% gain predicted last year and includes projected growth in e-commerce holiday sales of 14-18%.
- The International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) is also predicting growth in holiday spending this year, expecting a 4.9% rise in holiday sales [pdf] (slightly above the 4.5% increase forecast last year) to reach an estimated $830 billion.
- Projections from eMarketer are similar to NRF’s, with predicted growth in retail holiday season sales at 3.8%, which also includes a rise in e-commerce sales of 13.2%. This growth is expected to push sales over the $1 trillion mark for the first time.
- Consulting firm AlixPartners offers a forecast growth of 4.4-5.3% for US holiday retail sales, which stretches from November through January.
- Forrester is predicting that online holiday sales will reach $138 billion, which amounts to a 12.7% increase. Although this is a modest forecast compared to the other projections so far, NetElixir comes in with an ever lower prediction, forecasting slower than usual holiday e-commerce sales growth of 9%.
- Salesforce’s analysis of its Commerce Cloud data leads to similar forecast online revenue growth of 13% year-over-year. Between November 1 and December 31, Salesforce expects total online sales to reach $136 billion in the US. Globally, online growth of 15% is predicted, with total sales expected to hit $768 billion.
- This year’s projections from Adobe Digital Insights (ADI) call for e-commerce spend to exceed $140 billion, representing 14.1% growth over 2018 (which is down slightly from last year’s projected 14.8% increase).
Other Key Holiday Data
The following list highlights key points from the studies cited above, along with several others. We’re generally disregarding data regarding top gifts and shopping times, as the surveys disagree widely with respect to these. (You can follow the links to the research to find each one’s results on those.)
Likewise, we’ll largely avoid shopping destinations data for the same reason, unless there are noteworthy results to highlight.
One such prediction worth noting comes from Deloitte, which on the basis of its survey of holiday shoppers, believes that a majority of holiday budgets will be spent online (59%) rather than in-store (36%) or via other means. PwC’s holiday survey also found that the number of shoppers intending to shop online during the holiday season has risen to 54% from 50% last year.
Here are some highlights from the myriad surveys and other research pieces that have been released in recent weeks. Links to the research are provided at the end of each bullet point.
- Although the research indicates that many consumers will be shopping online, that’s not without its difficulties. Bazaarvoice data shows that for 38% of online shoppers the biggest complaint about shopping online during the holidays is difficulty deciding between brands and product options. Close behind, 34% say that slow websites and complicated checkout process are their biggest annoyance with online shopping during this season. (Link)
- Holiday shoppers are using Amazon for more than just purchasing. PwC found that shoppers are heading to Amazon for inspiration (52% share), price checking (53% share) and product information (44%) more than they are visiting Google and social media for those purposes. (Link)
- A majority (65%) of US shoppers say they plan to start their shopping before November, with nearly one-quarter (22%) saying they planned to start shopping before September. The same research from MiQ found that those shoppers who begin their holiday shopping early expect to spend more on average. (Link)
- Shoppers like personalized and relevant offers. RedPoint Global’s survey of 1,000 US consumers revealed that 3 in 5 said they are more like to purchase from retailers that send a personalized offer. At the same time, one-third of consumers say that their top frustration during the holiday season is receiving offers that are not relevant to them. (Link)
- Data from Tinuiti indicates that email beats out social media when it comes to influencing holiday gift purchasing decisions. More than half (58.5%) of shoppers said they sometimes or often make a purchase because of a promotion they received through email, compared to the one-third that said the same for social media. (Link)
- Again on the theme of social media, 1 in 6 of the consumers surveyed for The NPD Group said they would use social media as part of their pre-purchase research. (Link)
- Holiday spending on tech is set to account for a substantial part of overall holiday spending. A release by the Consumer Technology Association estimates that technology spending during the 2019 holiday season (October-December) is projected to reach $97.1 billion in revenue in the U.S. – on par with last year’s actual spending. Based on their survey of more than 2,000 consumers, some 186 million U.S. adults (74%) plan to purchase a tech product as a gift this year – with streaming service subscriptions and video games emerging as popular tech gifts. (Link) [Editor’s note: technology searches also dominate Amazon over the year, as can be seen in MarketingChart’s Weekly Top Site Searches and Product Pages on Amazon with data provided by Hitwise. Sign up to the newsletter to get the password.]
- While the timing of holiday shopping varies between surveys, Amazon’s Prime Day may have had an impact. More than 6 in 10 of retailers questioned by RetailMeNot worry that Amazon Prime Day has shifted the majority of consumer spending to Q3 vs. Q4. (Link)
- The fact that Thanksgiving is six days later than in 2018 leads Salesforce to note retailers may have less time to drive key sales. In response, retailers should use click and collect, as sites with such options drive 48% more active shoppers (defined as “those that create baskets, start checkouts and engage in site search or similar activities”) and see 28% more revenue places in the last 5 days of the shopping season. (Link)
- On the topic of click and collect, the ICSC’s representative poll of 1,000 U.S. adults finds more than four-fifths (82%) of click-and-collect shoppers expect to make an additional purchase when picking up their items in-store. (Link)
- Mobile is forecast to have a significant impact, as NetElixir’s analysis of 300 million unique website visits leads them to predict that 45% of online purchases (and 72% of all searches) will happen on a mobile phone. They add that for physical retailers, “Near me” searches are driven by mobile devices, along with more prevalent “buy online, pick up in-store” options. (Link)
- Profitero’s consumer survey finds that shoppers are considering the impact of the US-China trade situation in their purchases. Some 4 in 10 say they are either “very concerned” (19%) or “mildly concerned” (21%) and may change the timing of their shopping as a result. (Link)
- Millennials will be responsible for a large percentage of holiday spending growth this year, per a study by The Harris Poll on behalf of OpenX. Close to half (46%) of Millennials say they will spend more this holiday season, compared to 30% of the adult population as a whole. (Link)
- Retailers should be careful with counting their sales too early, as Oracle’s global survey of more than 15,000 consumers found that three-quarters (77%) plan on returning at least a portion of their gifts. (Link)
- Shipping continues to be extremely important, as 98% of shoppers surveyed by Convey will “stake their brand loyalty based on their delivery experience.” (Link).