Black Friday takes on the world

by | Nov 24, 2023

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Written by John Plassard, senior investment specialist at Mirabaud Group

Thanksgiving is an age-old American tradition. Every year from 1789 to the present day, Americans have celebrated the holiday over a meal of turkey. The origins of this tradition can be traced back to the founding pilgrims of the Plymouth colony (named after a British town in the county of Devon). 

Thanksgiving celebrates the help the indigenous people gave to the pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower in 1620. But it was only in 1863 that Thanksgiving was declared a bank holiday by Abraham Lincoln. He also set Thanksgiving for the fourth Thursday in November.

 
 

Thanksgiving is not just about going to church: it’s also about eating. A lot. For some retailers, a bad Thanksgiving could spell disaster for the whole year. And while the frenzy of consumption around the holiday used to be confined to the United States, the rest of the world is now succumbing to it. 

The facts

The traditional Thanksgiving shopping frenzy no longer takes place over 3 days, but over 4 at least, including Cyber Monday (an online shopping event on the last Monday in November, just after the Thanksgiving festivities). In the United States, this date is always eagerly awaited, as it is the last in a series of wild promotions.

 

Before indulging in online shopping on Cyber Monday, avid consumers can also take advantage of Black Friday, just after Thanksgiving. According to The Balance, many retailers claim to generate at least 20% of their annual sales in the four weeks between Black Friday and Christmas. Black Friday sales can therefore be seen as the starting point for an intense trading period requiring a sophisticated omnichannel strategy. These festive days are part of the so-called “winter” holiday spending period. 

What happened in 2022?

Black Friday in 2022 saw a 2.3% increase in online sales compared to 2021. An estimated $9.12 billion was spent online that day, with shoppers taking advantage of various services to pay for their purchases and avoid queues in shops. 

 

The National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics reported that a record 196.7 million consumers shopped online and in-store between Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday. However, while there was a rise, it fell short of the 8.6% increase in 2021 and the 32% growth in 2020.

Online toy sales were up 285% on a single average sales day in October. Another bright spot was electronics, with the category as a whole up 19% up to Friday evening. In addition, smart home electronics and audio equipment were up by more than 200% on an average day in October. 

According to Adobe Analytics, “curbside pickup” was more modest in 2022 compared with 2021. The service was used for 13% of online orders, against 21% in 2021. Finally, compared to the previous week’s average sales, Black Friday sales increased by 440% on 25 November 2022 in Germany, compared to just 270% on the previous Black Friday (18 November 2022). 

 

However, the biggest increase was in Italy, where online sales jumped 476% on Black Friday.

What can we expect for Thanksgiving 2023?

While the rising cost of living continues to weigh on household budgets, according to research by BCG Henderson Institute, 74% of consumers say they intend to take advantage of bargains during the November sales this year, an increase of 7 percentage points compared to 2022. Over the course of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Singles’ Day, US consumers plan to spend the most ($460 per head, on average), followed by Switzerland ($390), and Germany ($385).

 

The average outlay is expected to exceed 2022—in some countries by as much as 22%. This record spending, while partly driven by year-on-year inflation, also reflects a growing focus on deal-hunting as consumers shift December holiday shopping to November.

Black Friday is a highly anticipated part of the annual shopping calendar. As consumers feel pressure on their personal finances this year, they are more deal-focused than ever”, said Jessica Distler, Managing Director and Partner at BCG, and coauthor of the study. 

Consumers are turning to the November sales for financial relief. In response to inflation, consumers are changing their buying habits. More than 50% reported that they have cut back on non-essential purchases in the past three months, 49% check and compare prices more frequently, and 41% buy more based on deals and promotions.

 

In line with these trends, consumers are turning to November sales events less for high-end items and more to cover their basic needs. While adult clothing and consumer electronics were the most favoured product categories across countries, electronics experienced a strong decline compared with 2022. In addition, 68% of consumers said they intend to take advantage of November sales events to buy gifts for the festive season.

Across every country surveyed, consumers said that—more than a steep discount on select items, free/reduced shipping deals, or bundle deals—their preferred type of deal was a clear discount on all items. 

When asked about the minimum discount that would qualify for a “good deal,” consumers said they expect at least 30% off.

Many consumers also begin deal hunting well in advance of the blockbuster November sales events. Over 60% of consumers surveyed said they start actively researching deals early—some as early as October. 

Furthermore, when they begin deal hunting, more than 70% of consumers said they don’t know exactly what brand or product to purchase—leaving retailers room to shape buying decisions.

“November sales events are blurring into a whole season of bargain hunting. And this year, consumers are ready and willing to shop around to get the best value for their dollar”, says Julia Hohmann-Altmeier, an Associate Director in BCG’s Marketing and Sales practice and a coauthor of the study. “Retailers need relevant discounts and targeted ads based on product interests and key moments if they’re going to convert shoppers during what is sure to be a highly competitive shopping season”.

The key is online

Black Friday is already traditional for consumers looking for items at a reduced price, and the e-commerce market intends to generate a significant amount of revenue from the event.

According to a survey published by Adobe in October, the Black Friday trends are optimistic for 2023. The study analysed e-commerce transactions, covering more than 1 trillion visits to retail websites, 100 million SKUs, and 18 product categories.

The research shows that online sales are expected to increase by 5.7% (compared to the previous year), reaching $9.6 billion. On Thanksgiving, celebrated the day before, sales are predicted to grow by 5.5%, reaching a total of $5.6 billion compared to last year.

More generally, according to the Adobe study, online sales are expected to reach $221.8 billion in the United States during the period from 1 November to 31 December. Cyber Monday, a day when many online shops offer significant discounts, is expected to be particularly popular and could generate more than $12 billion in sales.

The 2023 festive season will also be the first time that mobile sales exceed those on desktop computers, accounting for 51.2% of purchases. This reflects the advances that marketplaces offer mobile users.

The arrival of artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI), a subject that broke out with a vengeance last year, is here to stay. AI can be used to personalise the user experience, automate tasks, produce content on a massive scale and increase productivity.

In fact, according to an article published by Forbes, small and medium-sized businesses can also benefit from this technology. “[S]mall businesses can also take advantage of AI to automate various jobs like customer service, data analysis and document management. In doing so, they can save time and reduce the risk of human error”.

AI can also help businesses cope with one of the most common characteristics of Black Friday: increased website traffic. According to the Forbes piece, AI can be crucial for better understanding customers and managing large amounts of data from a variety of sources.

What are the new trends?

There are several trends emerging in 2023 for the Thanksgiving season:

Buy on free credit!

Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL), which we already saw emerge in 2022, allows customers to use credit cards without paying interest. There are now several BNPL service providers, and consumers are happy to take advantage of them. 

According to Adobe, BNPL usage increased by 85% during the Black Friday-Cyber Monday (BFCM) week compared to the previous week in 2022. Similarly, BNPL revenues increased by 88%.

It is worth noting that BNPL is a proven conversion tool – according to RBC Capital Markets, BNPL can increase conversions by 20%-30%.

All the indications are that BFCM 2023 will be another record year. E-commerce sales rebounded in 2022 compared to 2021. Given this trajectory, we can expect 2023 to be the biggest BFCM ever.

Mobile purchases will be very important

Online orders made using mobile devices have increased at every successive BFCM, and 2023 is set to be no exception. Knowing that people will be shopping from their phones also presents an opportunity for marketing. 

In the run-up to the BFCM, businesses have been encouraging customers to sign up to receive SMS reminders or push notifications. In this way, they will be the first to be informed of offers and will be able to click to make their purchases immediately.

Marketing efforts start early

Many consumers are also starting to hunt for bargains well in advance of the major shopping events in November. Over 60% of consumers surveyed said that they start actively looking for deals very early, some as soon as October. What’s more, when starting to look for bargains, more than 70% of consumers said they were unsure of which brand or product to buy, giving retailers scope to influence purchasing decisions.

Bargain hunting

“November sales events are blurring into a whole season of bargain hunting. And this year, consumers are ready and willing to shop around to get the best value for their dollar”, says Julia Hohmann-Altmeier, an Associate Director in BCG’s Marketing and Sales practice department. “Retailers need relevant discounts and targeted ads based on product interests and key moments if they’re going to convert shoppers during what is sure to be a highly competitive shopping season”.

What do the markets/sectors do during Thanksgiving week?

You may have heard that Thanksgiving week is generally – but not always – a positive week for equities. Dow Jones Market Data has studied historical performance since 1951. 

Not counting this year, the S&P 500 rose 49 times out of 72 during Thanksgiving week. It rose 60 times between Wednesday and Friday.

Historically, the sectors that benefit from the holiday season are retailers, e-commerce, consumer discretionary and the technology sectors. Sectors suffering from inflationary pressures, such as energy, materials and utilities, could be the worst performers.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of the stocks that have historically performed best during this period:

  • Apple
  • Nintendo
  • Dell
  • Amazon
  • Walmart
  • Target
  • ASML
  • L’Oréal
  • Zalando

A global phenomenon

Black Friday and Cyber Monday originated in the United States, but the phenomenon has spread across borders. 

For example, according to an Opinion Way study, the average amount spent during the French Black Friday is expected to be €416. That’s 40% more than in 2021. Of course, not everyone in France will spend this much, as shown by the breakdown of spending reported by the consumers surveyed: 

  • 25% of them plan to spend between €100 and €199 
  • 22% plan to spend between €200 and €299
  • 19% plan to spend between €300 and €499 
  • 27% could spend more than €500 

And it is precisely in the €500-plus spending bracket that the change is most significant compared to last year (+4 points). Year after year, Black Friday is attracting more and more consumers, both in shops and on e-commerce websites. According to Opinion Way, 27% of French people are tempted by the good deals and discounts on offer during this event.

Ready-to-wear clothing, shoes and household appliances will once again be the big winners at Black Friday 2023. Toys and other products likely to be given as Christmas presents should also do well. And it’s safe to assume that, in this category, smartphones will shine.

In Switzerland, according to BlackFridaydeals, retail sales on Black Friday increased significantly each year until 2020. In 2021, sales stagnated at 500 million Swiss francs due to supply problems and the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic. In 2022, sales actually fell for the first time, to just 480 million Swiss francs. This was mainly due to low consumer morale and the rising cost of living. 

The football World Cup, which was taking place at the same time, and the tendency for retailers to offer more attractive deals in the run-up to Black Friday also contributed to the decline. It is still too early to predict whether this downward trend will continue in 2023.

Conclusion

Thanksgiving is a sacred time for Americans, combining family spirit with a frenzy of consumerism. However, it would be a big mistake to think that this is solely an American phenomenon. Indeed, Thanksgiving is becoming increasingly important in other countries, particularly in Europe. This year should mark a new record for spending, fuelled (above all?) by inflation.

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