How Internet retailing has evolved in a year! The rush is over and the results are starting to come in. The 2014 pre-Xmas Thanksgiving sales season is now coming to a close, though there is plenty of evidence that this year's event is actually more than just Black Friday and Cyber Monday. In fact, the heavy promotions started at least a week before Thanksgiving, both in-store and online, and Cyber Monday is giving way to Cyber Week.
To complicate things even more, many stores began Black Friday on Thanksgiving Day. The result has been a smearing out of promotional efforts and, as a result, Black Friday and Cyber Monday traffic likely underestimates the whole season.
The numbers still show that online is winning over brick-and-mortar (B&M) stores. Sales online on Cyber Monday itself grew 8.8%, which is lower growth than the 20.6% in 2013, but the weekend was up 17% compared to the same weekend in 2013.
Digging under the covers a bit points up some surprises. IBM has done a stellar job of trend capture. The results include the fact that desktop sales average 16.6% more in average order value (AOV) than mobile. iOS users spent 24.3% more per order than Android users. iOS also accounted for twice as much online traffic as Android, but nearly four times the total sales.
Another IBM statistic is that, while smartphones created twice as much traffic as tablets, the reverse was true with actual sales, where tablets claimed 36% more sales, with 17.6% more AOV. These figures, combined with the desktop statistic, suggest that customers aren't too happy working with the small images and limited flexibility of mobile screens. They need a tablet or full desktop screen for comfort. This may mean Chromecast-like functions for displaying a mobile screen on TV are more useful than ones used just for streaming.
IBM's statistics on social-network referrals show vastly different performance. Facebook referrals garnered 10% more AOV than Pinterest, but Facebook referrals converted to orders at twice the rate.
Other statistics point to the technical aspect of competitiveness. Site average response latencies differ significantly, with more than a 4:1 range among large retailers. Buyers aren't patient, and slow response could be a killer to converting a visit into a sale. Of course, no one wants to go to the extreme of Best Buy, whose site crashed three times, or Oracle, who lost its whole hosting setup for a while on Cyber Monday.
Technology also played a hand in speeding up delivery of very targeted ads. The days of just throwing ads into the round-robin pool are over. Analytics can give a pinpoint ad within a minute of your visiting a site. Such ads can increase sales while you are still on-site and create a high click-through later from other sites.
This idea is under test in the B&M stores. As a take-off from K-Mart's Blue Light Specials, Bluetooth-connected “Blue Beacons” are feeding instant ads to smartphones, with incentives and interest focusing results. These beacons are driven by a combination of position detection and analytics software.
Forrester Research reckons the online market will reach $89 billion this holiday season. The dropping cost of energy is increasing discretionary spending, amid signs that hiring is trending upward nationally. Even so, the hoopla over Black Friday (and the pain of two-hour lines for service) and for Cyber Monday are likely to lose steam in future years as online sales become more agile, targeted, and spread out over a period of weeks.