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Thanksgiving weekend shopping driven by online, mobile purchases

More than 174 million consumers shopped over the Thanksgiving weekend and through Cyber Monday, driven by strong online and mobile device sales, according to an annual survey released by the National Retail Federation.

According to the survey released Nov. 28 by the NRF and Prosper Insights & Analytics, more than 58 million shoppers shopped solely online over the five-day holiday weekend, which included Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Sunday and Cyber Monday. That compared with 51 million who shopped in stores only, and 64 million who shopped both online and in stores.

The cumulative figure beat expectations; the NRF and Prosper Insights had projected in a Nov. 14 survey that 164 million shoppers would make purchases over the Thanksgiving weekend, 70% of which were expected to do so on Black Friday.

In a Nov. 28 conference call with reporters, NRF CEO Matthew Shay said the higher-than-expected figure was driven by favorable weather conditions throughout the country, strong consumer confidence, low unemployment and strong cyber spending.

"The big takeaway is that we know now, gone are the days that you could measure success of the weekend by looking through a single metric," Shay said. "We think we're off to a great start with the way the holiday went these past five days. It's an exciting time to be in the industry."

The NRF said there is no hard spending figure for the five-day period available, adding that the findings of the 2017 survey are not comparable with those of previous years because it was the first time the poll included sales from Cyber Monday shopping.

According to the groups, 63% of smartphone owners used their mobile devices to make holiday shopping decisions and 29% used their phone to make purchases.

Despite the well-documented shift of consumer spending to e-commerce from brick-and-mortar, Shay said these latest figures do not warrant any further concern for the industry, adding that executives he had spoken with from discount, specialty, and department stores expressed a "general optimism" about both in-store and online traffic.

"Retailers are working very, very hard on mobile," Shay said. "Why would that be a bad thing? People are shopping more. The fact is that it's a good for the industry."

“This year, consumers 65 and older proved that online shopping isn’t just for Generation Z and Millennials,” said Phil Rist, executive vice president of strategy at Prosper Insights and Analytics, in a statement. “However, younger consumers (those under 34) are still savvy when it comes to online shopping and leveraged their smartphones the most to browse for the best deals from some of their favorite retailers.”

The groups said that with 77 million consumers, Black Friday was the most popular in-store shopping day of the weekend, followed by Small Business Saturday at 55 million consumers. Average spending per consumer over the holiday weekend was $335.47, roughly $250.78 of which went toward gifts. Consumers between 25 and 34 years old spent the most on average at $419.52.

The survey, which polled 3,242 consumers about Thanksgiving weekend and Cyber Monday shopping plans, was conducted Nov. 25 to Nov. 26.

At 43% of consumers polled, department stores were the top shopping destination, followed by online retailers at 42% and electronics stores at 32%, according to the survey. The most popular gifts during the five-day period were clothing or accessories at 58%, followed by toys at 38%, and books and other media at 31% of consumers polled.