Online Sales Boost Black Friday

The holiday shopping season is off to a bangup start, giving retailers hope that shoppers will continue to pack the malls for the next month. Another Black Friday is behind us, and online sales contributed a big chunk of the action. How big? According to Adobe Digital Insights, which tracks sales at the 100 largest US web retailers, Black Friday 2017 shoppers spent a whopping $7.9 billion online over Thanksgiving and Black Friday. That’s a 17.9% increase over last year.

Once again, the top player was Amazon, which sold more than 200,000 toys in the first five hours of Black Friday. Sales at brick-and-mortar stores were down slightly but still healthy.

While $5 billion sounds impressive, Adobe is predicting that Cyber Monday will surpass that number with $6.6 billion in online sales.

Go online or die

In an effort to grab a larger slice of the online action, traditional retailers have beefed up their websites and offering more delivery options. At the same time, some chains have cut down on in-store inventories to avoid having excess merchandise that would have to go on sale after Christmas.

More than ever, the Thanksgiving/Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend belongs to the retailers that know how to attract and satisfy online shoppers while chains that depended too long on their brick-and-mortar stores are losing ground – and in some cases, going under.

Every month we hear about another mall staple of past decades declaring bankruptcy and closing stores while others are still clinging to life – barely. The Sears/Kmart chains are the best example of what happens when a company fails to move forward.

For the last several years,savvy retailers have been offering smartphone apps that allow shoppers to make purchases via their phones, making online buying even more convenient. That investment has paid off bigtime as commerce marketing firm Criteo reported that this year 40% of Black Friday online purchases were made using smartphones, a 29% rise from 2016.

What did shoppers buy on Black Friday?

Electronics – lots and lots of electronics. Retail analysts and consultants report that TVs, toys, laptops and gaming consoles were the biggest sellers of Black Friday 2017, with the Playstation 4 having an edge over the Xbox One S. It’s no coincidence that these were the most heaving advertised and discounted items of the year, the ones that retailers splashed across the fronts of their ad flyers.

While the traffic to brick-and-mortar stores did decline slightly, overall they had a healthy Thanksgiving/Black Friday this year. In a statement, Brian Field, senior director of advisory services for ShopperTrak, discounted the talk that online shopping will totally replace physical stores. “There has been a significant amount of debate surrounding the shifting importance of brick-and-mortar retail, and the fact that shopper visits remained intact on Black Friday illustrates that physical retail is still highly relevant and, when done right, profitable.”

While the future of some department stores remains gloomy, they seem to have done well overall on Black Friday 2017. GlobalData Retail Managing Director Neil Saunders told CNBC, “I think department stores had a reasonable time of it, better than last year.”

Kohl’s gets it

One chain proclaiming victory was Kohl’s, which in a statement said it enjoyed a “record-breaking” Thanksgiving, with major traffic both online and in stores. Kohl’s claimed that more than 16 million visits were made to its websites, with 40% of online orders being picked up in-store. While retailers that offer store pick-up as an option tout how it saves their customers time, it also saves them shipping fees and gets the online shoppers into the store where they can be tempted by more merchandise.

According to Kohl’s CEO Kevin Mansell, their Black Friday best sellers were the Apple Watch, the Fitbit and the Instant Pot with Nike and Under Armour items also moving briskly. The Instant Pot, one of the most-wanted items for holiday 2017, sold out online.

So does JCPenney

The struggling JCPenney chain, hoping to avoid the fate of its stodgy rival Sears, partnered with trendy beauty brand Sephora in hopes of attracting young, fashion-forward customers. According to a press release from the chain, upgrading its merchandise has paid off. “Hundreds – and, in some cases, thousands – of shoppers lined up outside our stores for popular items such as the Cooks air fryer, Xersion puffer jackets, diamond jewelry and smart watches, Nike athletic apparel and shoes, and toys.”

JCPenney may have also benefitted from being one of the first retailers to open its stores on Thanksgiving. That 2 pm opening could encourage shoppers to make JCPenney stores their first stop on a long shopping day – and night – while they still have energy and money.

Traffic was heavier than ever at with the top online items being furniture, refrigerators and jewelry. All in all, JCPenney seems to be taking steps to lure a hipper crowd to their brand. Will that be enough to keep the aging brand afloat in the digital age? Only time will tell.

Macy’s has style

While shoppers have no qualms about buying electronics and appliances online, there is one area where the brick-and-mortar stores shine, and that’s apparel. Most customers still prefer to try on clothing and accessories for fit and quality. That’s one area where the Macy’s chain shines, especially after gobbling up most of the competition, and they’re making the most of it.

A Macy’s spokesperson stated on Saturday that more than 16,000 shoppers were lined up outside the chain’s Herald Square store in NYC awaiting its opening on Thanksgiving. Colder than usual weather in the Northeast contributed to Macy’s bottom line on Black Friday. Macy’s had already sold 200,000 coats by 7 am and expected to sell more than a million other winter items like sweaters and fleece jackets. Sales were also strong in beauty, women’s apparel and women’s shoes.

Macy’s also benefits by having a strong online presence and offering some pretty cool deals on the most wanted items of small kitchen appliances and cookware.

Amazon rules

No one excels at online selling like Amazon, which is almost certain to have exactly what you want, may have the lowest price, and will send it to you in two days. Although Amazon stocks plenty of boring everyday necessities, that’s not what you’ll find on their front page. This online giant knows how to get your attention with the newest, trendiest, sexiest products, like their own electronics and tech items. Unlike the dying Sears chain that wasted valuable Black Friday ad flyer space on work boots, tools and appliances, Amazon grabs your attention with razzle dazzle before it amazes you with selection. They know what shoppers really want to see – toys for grownups.

This year, Amazon is getting a head start on Cyber Monday by giving users of Alexa-enabled devices the chance to begin their shopping at 5 pm Sunday. How much easier could it be to spend way too much money on Amazon? And if you don’t have an Alexa device yet, shouldn’t you pick one up to do the rest of your holiday shopping?