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The Holiday Shopping Numbers: Big and Small Takeaways From 2015 Consumer Trends

28 Dec 2015 by Sally Clasen

The holiday shopping numbers are in — and consumers didn’t go home empty-handed. More than 151 million shopped (61.7%) in store or online over Black Friday weekend, according to the National Retail Federation, an increase from the 136 million predicted in its mid-November survey of shopping trends.

While many die-hard traditionalists hit the malls and physical retail establishments as part of the annual holiday shopping rite of passage, some even getting a jumpstart at stores that chose to be open on Thursday, others stayed put and ventured into virtual reality to snag a seasonal deal.

Shop ‘til your phone drops

In fact, Adobe Digital Index reports Thanksgiving Day online sales were a record $1.73 billion, up from $1.33 billion in 2014. Black Friday online sales were $2.74 billion, some 14% greater than last year.

Mobile devices, in particular, played a significant role in e-commerce performance, being the retail tool of choice for nearly half of all online traffic over the holiday shopping weekend. On Cyber Monday alone, mobile users accounted for 28% ($415 million in online sales) for the biggest e-commerce weekend ever that produced $11 billion in sales — a 15% increase from 2014. 

Experts suggests that the upswing in online shopping reflects the ease and ability of consumers to use mobile technology such as smartphones and tablets to get discounts on desired products. A longer shopping window, in which many retailers have extended deals well before and after the typical 24-hour timeframe on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, also is influencing the way consumers shop.

It’s a small world, after all

By most accounts, big business fared well during the 2015 holiday shopping weekend. For example, e-commerce giant Amazon, which is mum on actual sales numbers, reported it had a record year for Amazon-branded products.

Consumers opened their wallets for small businesses, too. Results from the Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey, released by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and American Express, indicate more than 95 million consumers shopped at small businesses on Small Business Saturday, an 8% increase from 2014.

The survey also revealed that total spending among U.S. consumers who were aware of Small Business Saturday, which is held the Saturday after Thanksgiving, reached $16.2 billion at independent retailers and restaurants on the day, an increase of 14% from $14.3 billion in 2014.

Make a seamless social connection

Social media was instrumental in attracting consumers to shop at independent businesses on the Saturday event. NFIB reports that in November, there were 85 million social media engagements in support of Small Business Saturday.

Kimber Lanning, founder and executive director of Local Fist Arizona, the largest small business alliance in the United Sates, believes that small businesses have the retail advantage on social media sites to build a brand following at any time of the year.

“Social media channels allow small businesses to respond to and engage customers in way that big box stores can’t do,” she says. “Plus, social media helps customers take on the personality of the owner. Small businesses really thrive in that space.”

While posting on Twitter, Facebook and other online feeds such as Instagram provide an opportunity for small businesses to interact with customers in a unique way, it’s just as important that they develop an online marketing strategy to drive sales, according to Lanning. “Many independent businesses are crushing it and do this well, but some just create a website, cross it off their list and think they have an effective marketing plan in place,” she says.

In Search of an online presence

Despite an Internet economy, only about half of small businesses are involved in online initiatives. The Score Association, a Herndon, Virginia­­­-based nonprofit organization of small business counselors and mentors supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration, released figures early in 2015 suggesting only 51% of small businesses have websites, though 97% of consumers search for products and services online.

Part of the problem is that some smaller businesses believe they don’t have the bandwidth, budget or inventory to create a seamless online retail environment the likes of Amazon, but the holiday shopping behaviors of customers prove that without some type of tech strategy in place, retailers are missing out on the festive fiscal rewards of the busiest shopping season.

“It actually costs less for smaller companies to build an effective website than spend money on older, traditional sources of advertising. It’s more affordable now to develop an online presence, and small business can reach more people than ever before,” says Lanning.

“When you amortize the cost of developing a solid brand identity and website over a year, or even a season, the site ends up paying for itself,” says BlueMetal’s Amanda Lasser, UX designer strategy and design. “Couple your beautifully designed website with some free advertising via social media that has your brand smothered all over it, and think about how many more people you have the potential to reach, which translates into new business.”

Crushing it on the Web

Small businesses can also take a cue from big business by designing responsive websites that are mobile-friendly, especially for savvy online shoppers who expect to easily navigate a retail Web store, swipe and buy, and be on their merry way without delays or hassles.

And just like the big guns, smaller organizations have the opportunity to build customer engagement and brand awareness by developing a dedicated, custom app that puts all of the company’s information right at the fingertips of mobile users — a direct marketing tool for customers to access coupons, discounts and even loyalty reward points.

“Small businesses need to take the time to learn about technology, and to understand things like SEO and mobile apps,” says Lanning, whose organization’s main mission is to teach locally owned companies about technology and how it can help them successfully compete in the marketplace. “Independents need to have the mindset to do it and be diligent. It has to be a part of doing business today.”

Another thing for small businesses to keep in mind is that most people are too busy and don’t have time during the day to shop. “Any way to make the seemingly arduous task of shopping more convenient and accessible is an immediate win, so it’s not surprising that the e-commerce route would be a consumer’s preference,” Lasser says. “And as technology improves and the impossible becomes possible, it’s becoming easier and easier for people to shop from anywhere. What’s more, retailers are offering additional incentives, discounts and coupons specifically for shopping online verses in-store, all the more reason to make going mobile a priority in the new year.”