Black Friday Starts Early This Year, With Pre-Thanksgiving Sales Up 19% Over 2013

Holiday shopping got an earlier start this year with a number of retailers including Walmart, Target, Amazon, Staples, Lowe’s, Sears and several others launching “pre-Black Friday” deals, or kicking off a week of Black Friday-like sales where select items are deeply discounted. The overall effect has been an early lift in online sales ahead of Thanksgiving. This past weekend, sales were up by 18.7% over the same time last year, according to IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark data.

Mobile traffic and sales also increased over the same period last year, with mobile traffic up 24.4% to account for 48.8% of all online traffic, while mobile sales accounted for 26.6% of all online sales – an increase of 23.9% year-over-year.

Smartphones drove nearly double the traffic of tablets here, with 31.8% of total online traffic versus tablets’ 16.5%. But tablet shoppers spent more, accounting for 17.3% of online sales, which was nearly twice that of smartphones (9.2%).

As per usual, iOS shoppers sent more traffic, drove more sales, and spent more money, when compared with Android shoppers. Says IBM:

  • Average Order Value: Apple iOS users averaged $111.55 per order compared to $86.56 for Google Android users, a difference 28.9 percent
  • Online Traffic: Apple iOS traffic accounted for 33 percent of total online traffic, more than double that of Google Android, which drove 15.3 percent of all online traffic
  • Online Sales: Apple iOS sales accounted for 20.8 percent of total online sales, more than triple that of Google Android, which drove 5.4 percent of all online sales.

Desktop PCs still played a big role, too, driving 51.2% of all online traffic, and 73.4% of all online sales. And consumers spent more money on their desktops at $123.29, than on their mobile devices ($105.37) – a difference of 17%, says IBM.

However, though consumers were shopping more online, so far they’ve been spending slightly less. The average order value during the pre-Thanksgiving weekend was $112.86, or down 5.4% from 2013. IBM attributes this decrease to consumers being more digitally savvy, and better capable of using coupons and rebates to secure the lowest online prices.

On the social marketing front, IBM found that Facebook referrals drove an average of $101.83 per order while Pinterest referrals averaged $103.87 per order. But Facebook referrals converted sales at twice the rate of Pinterest, the study says.

Asked what was driving shoppers to start spending more, earlier, this year, Jay Henderson, Director at IBM Smarter Commerce, told us that it’s more than just a general shift to e-commerce that’s at play here.

“This year, we are predicting in-store growth of four percent, so in our opinion, both in-store and e-commerce are growing this year, but we are of course seeing more growth online,” he says. “We are seeing incremental consumer spending shifting toward e-commerce. Combine this with the elongation of the holiday shopping weekend, holiday promotions beginning earlier and lasting longer, we see tremendous growth.”

“Ultimately, these trends lead to an overall lift in sales, rather than cannibalizing of other days,” Henderson adds.

Retailers are always working to extend the holiday shopping season, as it’s the biggest sales driver for their businesses, so it’s not surprising to see them figure out how to turn Black Friday into a week-long event. In fact, given the number of week-long sales rolling out ahead of the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, it no longer even seems appropriate to call these “Black Friday” sales. They’re just holiday sales.

One has to wonder, too, what this extension of sales means for the day branded by retailers as “Cyber Monday” – the Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday where everyone returns to work and shops from their desk for all the things they forgot to buy while in-store. Will it still see as big a boost, given that consumers have had a week or more to shop deals ahead of the usual Black Friday events?

While several of the “early” sales started over the weekend, many more kicked off today, including Amazon’s. Websites like TheBlackFriday and BlackFriday help shoppers keep track of the growing number of sales, while mobile apps like Black Friday 2014 Ads App can help you when you’re away from the PC. Tellingly, that app is already #1 in the “Lifestyle” section on iTunes – a week before the day in question.