Cyber Monday, Cyber Month or just Cyber Everything?
With the final sales results for Cyber Monday still being tallied - and added to the take from Black Friday weekend - holiday 2021 is coming into focus.
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And while the holiday season is expected to show growth from last year, the industry is still shifting under the unusual confluence of the pandemic, supply chain back ups and a very tentative return to "normal" for consumers. Amid all that change, the big shopping days that helped define the start of the season for years are morphing into something else - a mile marker in a holiday shopping marathon instead of starting gun.
Adobe predicted Cyber Monday sales would range from $10.2 billion to $11.3 billion this year - straddling the $10.8 billion haul a year ago.
The company tracked more than 1 trillion visits to U.S. retail sites, 100 million stock keeping units and 18 product categories, including apparel. The findings over the holiday weekend showed that Black Friday sales online slipped to $8.9 billion from $9 billion a year ago, while Thanksgiving Day was flat at $5.1 billion - with sales showings for both days coming in at the low end of its forecast.
Adobe attributed at least part of that slowdown to some fast and furious buying earlier in the season. As of Sunday, online shoppers spent $99.1 billion in November, a 13.6 percent rise from a year ago.
"Online sales on big shopping days like Thanksgiving and Black Friday are decreasing for the first time in history, and it is beginning to smooth out the shape of the overall season," said Taylor Schreiner, director of Adobe Digital Insights. "With 21 days in November driving over $3 billion in spend, what we know as Cyber Week is starting to look more like Cyber Month."
Cyber Month and more.
Fashion retailers and brands used the pandemic to make a hard pivot to digital, remaking their businesses to grow online while nurturing the best of brick-and-mortar.
Most big companies have already reset their businesses and are looking to power out of the pandemic, hoping the Omicron variant that started rattling stock markets and health officials last week is just a speed bump.
But the work of building online continues even if the shopping trends are somewhat muddled this year with all the unusual circumstances.
"Shopping habits have permanently changed, there's no question," said David Bassuk, global co-leader of AlixPartners' retail practice. "Everyone knows that cyber/digital/online is here to stay and the pandemic created that for many people who weren't accustomed to it and now that's just part of our psyche."
It's a consumer psyche that also has less room for a myopic take on single shopping days.
"Black Friday and Cyber Monday kind of no longer exist," Bassuk said, referring to the cadence of business now versus years past. "They stretched into a multiday period years ago." (E-commerce leader Amazon started calling the five-day stretch between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, "The Turkey Five").
Shoppers have been looking at - or been bombarded with - holiday deals earlier and earlier each year, with Halloween running into Christmas in many cases.
"The stretching out of the holiday season is also a permanent shift," Bassuk said.
That has the industry - after a big bankruptcy shake out early in the pandemic last year - settling in and looking at how they can operate in a world where the web is not just the fastest growing part of the business, but the primary touchpoint that pulled the brand experience together.
"Retailers are investing heavily into what I would call 'omni profitability,' and I think they're going to use that to shape customers' actual actions," Bassuk said.
That could mean making the most of inventory on hand by figuring out the most profitable way to fulfill an order - with options from ranging from in store, to curbside pick-up to home delivery - and nudging consumers in that direction.
"The good retailers are going to try to get some of the power back," Bassuk said. "The good ones aren't going to just let this happen to them."
Supply chain troubles and the impulse to social distance might make this an imperfect year to gauge fashion just how well fashion is migrating to online, but there seems to be more room to refine.
New data from Searchmetrics suggests that roughly 50 percent of the top 100 most visible websites in the desktop search engine still fail to deliver a "good" page experience, as defined by Google's Core Web Vitals (Page Experience), and 44 percent of the top 100 websites fail on mobile.
Among the worst offenders: fashion e-commerce, due to bounce rates, abandoned shopping carts, conversions and return visits.
Google integrated page experience signals - which "measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page" - in its search rankings, as of an update announced in May and completed in August.
The Searchmetrics analysis suggests e-commerce sites, such as fashion and travel, generally perform worse for Core Web Vitals than all the other verticals analyzed. For instance, only 24 percent of the top 100 most visible fashion and apparel websites pass Core Web Vitals on desktop and even less, at 16 percent, on mobile.
One of the major reasons, according to Tom Wells, Searchmetrics' vice president of strategy, is that these sites tend to be image-heavy and feature dynamic elements, like advertising banners.
"The Core Web Vitals update was Google's way of encouraging websites to improve the quality of the online experience they deliver. But the data suggests that even some of the biggest brands have not completely solved their user experience challenges," Wells said. "While they continue to rank highly in spite of this, it's important to remember that the page experience has wider implications especially for e-commerce brands."
That is just one example of how the needs of the retail experience are changing - both in the longer term as brands focus more energy online, and in the shorter term as the digital tactics change day to day.
Delivering the right retail experience was long about having what shoppers want at a price they like, but Elissa Quinby, director of retail insights at Quantum Metric and former retail product lead at Amazon, said e-commerce layers in an additional focus on convenience, an aspect of the business that is now being refined.
That means meeting consumers where they are and understanding their online behavior.
"The majority of customers are shopping and making their purchases via a mobile device and customers are super distracted when they're on their phone," Quinby said. "People are shopping sporadically and are less likely to be loyal to brands. The winners are the ones that have seamless experiences."
That means, for instance, having goods in stock or, if they're not available, offering up alternatives and generally understanding what the people clicking need.
"It's about being a customer centric organization," said Quinby, noting the complicated goal could be boiled down to an easy buzzword - "One-to-one personalization."
That seems to the gold standard. Santa always made stops at each house.
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