Decoding Holiday Sales: Shopping Landscape, Trends, Surprises, and Key Insights

Results are still coming in from the Turkey 5, BFCM, Cyber5, Cyber Week, Holiday Rush—whatever name you prefer. Amidst the various names, conflicting headlines abound. Was it a resounding success or a lackluster performance? Is the retail sector poised for holiday cheer or set to be Scrooged? The holiday season is only half over, results are unfolding, and the upcoming month holds significant anticipation. Amidst the evolving seasonal shopping landscape, a few concrete facts have emerged:

  • Cyber Monday set a new spending record, with a 9.6% increase compared to the previous year, amassing $12.4 billion in sales. Moreover, Cyber Week, spanning the five-day shopping extravaganza from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday, saw a 7.8% increase over the same period last year, accumulating $38 billion in sales.

  • Black Friday online sales were up 7.5% compared to the previous year, with total sales reaching $9.8 billion.

  • Mobile devices accounted for the majority of sales

  • Key Categories for sales on Black Friday: Electronics, Smartwatches, TV and audio equipment

  • Key sales categories on Cyber Monday saw growth, with Apparel, Appliances, Toys, Furniture, and Electronics all experiencing increases of 100% or more compared to the same period last year.

  • Buy Now, Pay Later reached a historic high, recording $940 million in online spending—an impressive surge of 42.5% compared to the same period last year.

*Source: Adobe Analytics

Overall, big numbers, big sales for the biggest shopping week of the year. Results for in-store visits and sales grew as expected and in a different variety of top selling categories but overall, consumers are not shy about spending. In early November, the National Retail Federation (NRF) forecast holiday spending will reach record levels in November and December (+3-4% vs 2022). Now at the midway point of the season, we see sales are up 7.3% vs YAG in online alone ($109.3B) with Adobe now expecting to see the full holiday season +4.8% vs YAG ($221.8B).

Behaviorally, the shopping trends I see continue to evolve. Consumer expectation from the days of in-store doorbusters is to wait for special events for best deals. However, as retailers have been pulling those deals forward for days and weeks in an attempt to capture interest and remove purchasers from the market, we also start to see fatigue. Can consumers truly shop for the best deals for two months straight? Should retailers be better at rewarding loyalty and opt-in with deals and events for “members” as the holiday season approaches vs making it be a constant check-in? A case in point is Sephora, which proactively notifies Beauty Insiders about upcoming deals, enabling them to plan their purchases. This approach eliminates the need for consumers to explore other options, as they are well-informed about what's on the horizon, ideally leading to a rewarding and informed purchasing decision.

I think there is a lot of testing and research to be done to continually create the best experience possible for consumers. Personally, I was in search of several significant items during the holiday sales, and I found myself apprehensive that by making a purchase on Black Friday, I might miss out on additional discounts available on Cyber Monday. This experience could have been enhanced if retailers had reassured me that the deal I was considering was the optimal offer, even if other items might go on sale later—providing clarity that this was the prime opportunity.

Additionally, retailers could do better in utilizing their consumer data. I have received no fewer than 6 emails alerting me that a Christmas tree skirt is on sale (thankfully not at a better discount than what I purchased it for). Moreover, various display ads have been incessantly following me on the internet since Friday. Unfortunately for them (and their media dollars), these efforts have been in vain, as I had already completed my purchase.

As we enter the final month of the holiday shopping season, retailers and marketers would do well to consider the experience they offer their consumers. Offer your best customers your best offer from day one and make them feel confident that they won’t be sorry they clicked buy. Streamline your mailing lists, providing loyalists with the information they desire, and ensuring purchasers receive details about sales and items that may complement their recent purchases. Allocate your media and promotional budget judiciously for an enhanced experience for everyone involved. Wishing you Happy Holidays—and an add to cart with joy!