Eli Schwartz

For retailers all over the United States (and now even the world) the combination of Black Friday and Cyber Monday is a sales event that companies begin planning for months in advance. The planning doesn’t just sit with the marketing teams since every team from security to HR to even the cleaning staff needs to pitch in to prepare for a time when stores are filled to capacity with customers grabbing products off the shelf. However, this year marked a huge shift in how customers took advantage of the holiday of discounts, since according to the National Retail Foundation more customers bought online than in the store. It will probably be a long time before we no longer see hours long lines of customers waiting to get into stores, but the transition to online shopping means that Black Friday’s days are numbered.

To try to understand this shift and how customers have adopted online shopping, I conducted a survey using SurveyMonkey Audience and received 380 responses. The respondents were chosen completely and random from a pool of millions of users and the sample size is representative for the population of the US at a 90% confidence level and a 4% margin of error.

Here are 3 key insights I learned from the survey:

  • 34% of users said they will be doing more than half of their holiday shopping online this year and this jumps to 48% for people that are current subscribers to Amazon Prime. Shockingly, despite the seeming big shift in shopping behavior from Black Friday and Cyber Monday this year there were still 29% of respondents that will be doing less than 10% of their shopping online. This is still quite a significant number, so it is certainly not yet time for retailers to shutter their physical locations and move their operations online.
  • 55% of respondents admitted to showrooming which is the practice of going to a retail store to physically examine a product and then purchasing it online. This indicates that for the majority of shoppers they may be completely comfortable buying and shopping online but they aren’t entirely confident in the product they will receive until they physically get to hold it.
  • When presented with a choice of the most important requirements in making online shopping decisions, price (47%) was the number one determinant and it was closely followed by free shipping (40%). Surprisingly, only 4% prioritized free return shipping; however, this does make sense when considering that users seem pretty confident on what the products is that they are buying.

There were also some interesting data points when I broke down the results by gender and income. Females (7%) prioritized the ability to return an online purchase to a physical store higher than males (5%). Showrooming was the highest in the 30-44 age bracket (62%), but even the lowest bucket of those 60+, 46% still admitted to showrooming.

The most important conclusion from the survey and this year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday numbers is that consumer buying trends have shifted dramatically in a short amount of time. Whereas a few years ago, product marketing teams might have battled with retail purchasers to get an extra two feet of shelf space at a retail establishment, they now need to talk to a CRM campaign manager to have their products featured in a weekly sales email. The rise of mobile and the connected home has made online shopping so convenient, purchasers can even buy with just a quick click of the Amazon’s Dash button. Based on the success of Amazon’s efforts at making it so easy to shop it is likely that other online retailers will try to do the same. Nonetheless, there is not a complete transformation as there are still shoppers who are shopping in physical stores so Black Friday isn’t dead yet, but it will be soon.

Part of Black Friday’s appeal is that it comes on a day that many people are off from from work and spending time with the family. If customers can make all of their holiday purchases while sitting in their living room or at their office computer, they can go shopping at anytime that is convenient for them. In a world where people walk into a store to check out a product and then buy it online to save a few dollars, competition is everywhere. Customers aren’t just looking for deals on one day, they are looking for deals every time they go shopping. Even more they aren’t just trying to save money and time when they buy holiday gifts, they want the same benefits when they buy their regular household goods too.  What should scare retailers even more than Black Friday dying is that in this new paradigm, every day becomes Black Friday.