Online Market Research: Holiday Ecommerce Trends

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You may think that just because Black Friday and Cyber Monday have passed, the big sales opportunities are over. You might be surprised to find out how much of an opportunity you still have in the remaining December days. Let's take a look at some of the online market research to glean insights that we can apply to our holiday sales strategies.

Holiday E-Commerce Trends in 2014

As you can see from the chart above, e-commerce has started eating up more and more of the holiday retail pie. With over $46 billion dollars spent in online transactions just last year, it makes one wonder what the stats will look like after the 2014 holiday season peters out.

Preliminary reports are a bit mixed. The National Retail Federation (NRF) stated that the average spend for the holiday weekend decreased in 2014 from $407.02 to $380.95 per shopper. Shopping traffic from Thanksgiving to the following Sunday likewise decreased, although this isn't necessarily as negative news as it would seem at first look.

According to a recent statement by NRF CEO Matthew Shay, “A strengthening economy that changes consumers' reliance on deep discounts, a highly competitive environment, early promotions and the ability to shop 24/7 online all contributed to the shift witnessed this weekend.” That seems a bit like putting a positive spin on things to me, but you have to remember that the NRF data includes brick-and-mortar retailers as well.

This relative slowdown isn't all that surprising though, especially considering how many early online promotions were being run to take a bite out of the big sales holiday weekend. Regardless of early online marketing promotions, figures for holiday sales as a percentage of the overall U.S. economy have been fairly consistent in recent years, fluctuating by fractions of a percentile:

So while the big picture isn't overwhelmingly encouraging, it's certainly nothing to worry about. Moreover, it should be seen as an opportunity to pick up the slack and offer some targeted sales to your most loyal customers after the well-known sales days.

Online market research from Adobe was more overtly positive. Their data shows that previously impressive sales records were shattered on both Thanksgiving Day ($1.33 billion this year) and Black Friday ($2.4 billion this year). Just check out their hourly sales tracking from Black Friday 2014.

Looks like a lot of folks weren't too busy making sandwiches from leftover turkey to hit up their favorite e-commerce sites looking for good deals. So while the purse strings aren't quite as loose in the macro view, there's still plenty of opportunity to bring in conversions with strategically formulated advertising and sales.

The not-so-well-kept secret about holiday sales is that they aren't always isolated to the established sales days. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are well known, but discounts often match or exceed the sale prices established on those days throughout the entire month of December.

“Green Monday,” (the second Monday in December) for example is predicted to see a sizable increase in online sales this year, considering from 2012 to 2013 the increase was approximately $200 million. (We're still waiting on the official numbers to come in.)

Adobe made some bold projections about online discount percentages for the rest of this month as well:

Considering how accurate their predictions have been thus far, it might be worth using this graph to help determine your holiday sales strategies going forward. Moreover, it should be fairly obvious at this point that most people are looking for good deals throughout the entire month of December, not just on Black Friday or Cyber Monday.

Running online promotions all through the holiday season can make a big impact in your bottom line. This goes double if you plan these sales based on your site's analytics. Try to match your marketing distribution to high periods of online activity within your target market, and run your sales during weekends to make sure your customers have plenty of time to browse your inventory.

Beyond that, there's one more vital insight that recent collated online market research has made abundantly clear.

Mobile is Still Important

By now, you've probably read, heard, and been told that having a responsive website or some other viable mobile solution is paramount to your sale strategies, and that is absolutely still the case. Refer back to the Adobe chart tracking hourly sales throughout Black Friday and you'll see that at peak sales time more than $50 million in online sales were made via tablet or smartphones.

This trend is exponentially increasing over time. More and more of your customers are expecting your site to be well designed and intuitively usable on a mobile device. Even if they aren't actually buying through their mobile devices, they're certainly comparing prices. In fact, over 52 percent of total online traffic volume on Thanksgiving Day was mobile traffic, and it was just under 50 percent on Black Friday. Be sure to factor in seasonality and holidays in your trend analysis for each of your products and product ideas.

So once again, if your site isn't mobile accessible, you're missing out on a ton of traffic and subsequent conversions. Optimize your site for mobile ASAP.


What can we conclude from all this data? First and foremost, the idea of “sales holidays” is rapidly eroding. Cyber Monday is quickly stretching into Cyber week, and Black Friday is just as much of a cyber-sales day as it is a brick-and-mortar phenomenon, even better since you don't have to fight with anyone for discount panties.

Be careful about clicking through to that link. It's not for the faint of heart.

So all in all, you can conclude that you haven't missed anything if you've missed out on holiday sales mores. You can run your own promotions all month long, and expect to receive a healthy return for your troubles. Just be smart about it, let your own analytics and sales data from years prior inform your strategies going forward, and keep in mind that online shopping opens up a lot of options for bargain hunters. Get on their radar early, and stay there by offering great deals and quality content.

How have your holiday sales gone thus far? What do you plan to do for the rest of the holiday season? Let us know in the comments.

About the author
Zack Rutherford

Zack Rutherford is a freelance copywriter. A combat sports enthusiast and poetic soul, he endeavors to create beauty through syntax, sentence structure, and the liberal use of hyperbole.

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