Thanksgiving e-commerce sales hit a record $2.87B, up 18.3% year-on-year

Black Friday, the day after a quiet Thanksgiving Thursday, traditionally has been thought of as the start of the holiday sales season, but the rise of e-commerce in the last few years has changed all that, and the action kicked off with a loud bang on Thanksgiving itself.

Adobe says that Thanksgiving online sales hit a record, whopping $2.87 billion, up 18.3 percent on a year ago and surpassing Adobe’s own prediction of $2.79 billion. This is a huge spike in online sales for the day. As a point of comparison, in 2016, Thanksgiving sales totalled $1.93 billion.

Given that these early days of holiday sales are seen as a bellwether for the rest of the season — a crucial part of the year for e-commerce companies — it’s a strong sign of a tipping point in online spending, and also of consumer confidence.

Adobe determines its figures by tracking 80 percent of online transactions at 100 of the largest retailers on the web in the U.S. Shoppers went hell for leather in buying stuff online after their meals, racking up $1.3 billion in sales in the afternoon (our previous figure was $1.52 million spent online as of 2pm Pacific time on Thanksgiving Day). Smartphones were accounting for just under half of all e-commerce traffic, at 46 percent.

The 16.8 percent mirrors the rest of the month so far. Between November 1 and November 22, overall spending has been up 17.9 percent compared to 2016, with all 22 days seeing over $1 billion in online spend. This is a mark of consumer confidence, but the fact that the promotions actually have started earlier and earlier, has likely also played a role.

Bypassing the fact that many physical stores are closed on Thursday, or open towards the end of the day, a number of businesses are taking advantage of the fact that most people in the U.S. are not working today to get them started on their winter shopping with cut price deals and more.

Adobe says the average order value on pre-Thanksgiving day is, as of 2pm Pacific, $132, down from $137 earlier in the day. As a point of comparison, IBM’s Bluemix analytics panel has been putting the average order value currently at around $114 today.

One reason for the decline in average order value is the laying on of more discounts as the day goes on: these may mean more volume, but overall less spent per item.

“Thanksgiving is shaping up to be a record-breaking shopping day. Conversion rates across the board are seeing double digit growth, and we’ll see that continue throughout the week as we expect Black Friday and Cyber Monday to pull in the most spend,” said Mickey Mericle, vice president, Marketing and Customer Insights at Adobe.

Smartphones and mobile overall continue to play a strong role in purchasing, especially on days when you are sitting around with family and possibly not wanting to open up a computer but buy a little more surreptitiously.

Adobe says 46 percent of all traffic to sites is coming from smartphones currently, up two percentage points from this morning when smartphones were accounting for 44.2 percent of traffic. Smartphones now have jumped by 15 percent in usage compared to a year ago.

Amazon released some numbers as well, noting that orders on mobile on Thanksgiving this year exceeded those on Thanksgiving last year by more than 50 percent. Trying to encourage more conversions through its newest shopping interface, Amazon was offering early-access deals for those shopping using its Alexa voice-based assistant.

The prominence of visits from desktop-internet users has dropped at bit as the day has progressed: they account for 44.0 percent of traffic, down 11 percent year-on-year (and two percentage points lower than earlier in the day). Tablets are becoming less popular, too, and account for only 10 percent of traffic, 5.7 percent less than in 2016.

Still, smartphones remain more interesting for browsing than buying. Currently they are accounting for 30.3 percent of all sales, which is still eight percentage points up from last year — but actually four points lower than earlier in the day (when they were at 34 percent of all sales).

Desktop sales are at 57.2 percent of all sales, dropping 7.3 percentage points, while tablets are at 12.5 percent and also down 7 percentage points. These are likely to change as the day progresses. IBM notes that among actual sales (not traffic) 34 percent of these are coming from mobile.

In terms of what’s on sale, computers are discounted on average 11.2 percent, TVs 15.1 percent and toys 11.4 percent. Black Friday will see the discounts spike by quite a lot.

On, as was the case with Prime Day, Alexa devices were some of the best-selling items on the site. Other non-Amazon strong sellers included the TP-Link Smart Plug, Sandisk Ultra 64GB Micro SD Card, and Keurig K55 K-Classic Single Serve Programmable K-Cup Pod Coffee Maker. Top items sold using the Alexa voice-response platform included the Echo Dot, Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote, the new Echo and the TP-Link Smart plug.

Adobe overall forecasts that sales online will reach $107.4 billion this season, up 13.8 percent.

Updated with full-day figures.