Interview: Global Business – Cyber Monday Shopping in US Reaches Record Level

This article was pulled from an interview with Jason Goldberg on CGTN from Monday, November 27th.

According to Salesforce, Black Friday online spending reached a record $16.5 billion in the United States, a 9% increase over last year, and Cyber Monday sales hit 12.6 billion, a 3% increase over the previous year.

At the stores, we saw relative calm compared to the mad rush of years ago with in-store sales experiencing modest gains. This year's Black Friday shopping at brick-and-mortar stores saw an increase in foot traffic with a 1% bump in in-store sales from a year ago, per Mastercard SpendingPulse. Despite inflation concerns and a sluggish U.S. economy, companies are offering good deals and consumers are continuing to spend.

Is Cyber Monday Still a Thing?

It is still a thing. Both Black Friday and Cyber Monday are very significant peaks in the holiday season, but less so than they used to be. The whole holiday is sort of flattening out, so that all the days are big days.

Are consumers concerned about inflation?

They are. We certainly came into holiday very conservative; consumers were spending, but they're spending on essentials. So a lot of those discretionary categories were quite slow leading up to the holiday. And while there's been some increase in those discretionary categories, it's been at the lower price points. So we've seen apparel, footwear, health and beauty have had a nice bump this year over the holiday weekend

But categories like home improvement and consumer electronics, still have been a little softer than we would like or expect.

That's interesting because certainly the retailers are doing everything they can ahead of Cyber Week to get you to spend some money. So that didn't work, or it didn't work as well as they wanted it to?

It certainly hasn't worked as well as they wanted it to. Consumers are starting their holiday shopping slightly earlier, but not as much as retailers want. Amazon launched a second prime event this year on October 10th and a lot of retailers followed suit with early holiday discounts, but overall sales in October were only 2% higher than last year. So the discounting started earlier, but consumers were cautious and they really were waiting until Black Friday and Cyber Monday to find the best deals. And so, while retailers started early, I think consumers did less so.

What are people looking for in big ticket items? What are they looking for in discounts?

The discounts have to be deeper to get consumers to move. We have a saying this holiday, “40% off is the new 30% off.” We are seeing much more significant discounting which does move the needle for consumers.

The big categories in consumer electronics are things like smartwatches. The high-ticket items like televisions and laptops have continued to be slow. Consumers are spending on discretionary items and on affordable luxuries more so than the real aspirational purchases.

Do retailers ever jack up the high price to then give a 40% discount off of that?

There certainly is a fair amount of what we call deal fatigue out there. And a lot of retailers do use a tactic called high/low pricing where they set a high price but have frequent sales – so consumers rarely pay that high price. It's actually illegal to always offer the low price, by the way.

And consumers have seen a lot of these deals before. There's a lot of back-to-school deals in the summer Amazon prime event. And then we had early holiday deals and now we've got Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which are very similar deals.

And the best deals may still be to come if holiday continues to be soft. The retailers are in a good inventory position, and they're going to want to move that inventory. That said, it’s entirely possible that if sales don't pick up, we'll see even deeper discounts as we get closer to the “Christmas cutoff” where consumers have their last chance to buy goods that will still arrive in time for the holidays.

What about profits? A lot of sales are going on, but is that going to translate into aiding the company's bottom line?

It’s likely going to be a challenging environment for profitability. We came into this quarter kind of soft, the recession had really taken a bite out of the American consumer. As mentioned before, they're spending a lot on essentials. They're spending more on food, particularly proteins. As such they were spending less on discretionary items and those essentials are less profitable for retailers.

Retailers were optimistic and hopeful that consumers would open up their wallets and spend on the higher margin gift items that they traditionally do over holiday. The early results are sort of mixed in that regard. Because retailers are having to discount so much, it's shaping up to be a holiday season that's that will be okay from a revenue standpoint but likely disappointing on a profitability standpoint.

What about Singles’ Day and China's economic holiday?

Singles’ Day is a lot newer and younger than Black Friday or Cyber Monday. For the last five or six years, we've been used to these eyewatering growth numbers happening on Singles’ Day. Coupled with economic headwinds in China, the law of large numbers is starting to catch up with Singles' Day and the pace of growth has slowed down. This year on Singles' Day we saw a ~9% growth in sales over the previous year, which is right in line with online sales that we're seeing on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. They're kind of in that 7 to 9% growth year. So at the moment, we seem to have a parody in online shopping. Of course, in the US, the bulk of shopping is still in store and there the growth is more anemic, it's only about 2-2.5% percent.