There's no doubt Black Friday isn't what it used to be. US consumers spent a record $109.8 bln online across November, a nearly 12% increase YoY. However, reports of online traffic causing fashion sites to crash and blockbuster days of trade that used to define the event were few and far between.
While Black Friday is still crucial to driving sales, it's fizzling out. Profits are down and for the first time in history, Cyber Monday failed to live up to its usual hype, with sales dropping 1.4% YoY. On top of that, retailers have to contest with supply chain disruptions, year-round discounting, environmental concerns and a new COVID variant on the block.
Savvy retailers are already thinking ahead to 2022's event. They know the unpredictable landscape calls for strategies to be backed up by data instead of guesswork. To help these trailblazers, EDITED has crunched the numbers to unpack the most notable insights in our Black Friday and Cyber Monday post mortem report.
EDITED's Key Takeaways
- Though Black Friday remained the most lucrative trade day, it and Cyber Monday showed signs of a slowdown, with profitability impacted by more products discounted earlier in the year plus, fewer orders and sell outs. Though accounting for the lowest sales out of the analyzed dates, the most orders were placed on Thanksgiving as physical store closures drove ecommerce profit on this day up 5% YoY.
- A macro trend across retailers in 2021 was a subtler approach to discounting. The average reduction depth across both the US and UK was between 32-48% - either the same or lower than pre-pandemic levels. The sweet spot for sell outs was between 50-60% for the US and 30-40% for the UK.
- In the US, footwear was the category with the most discounts. However, retailers avoided reducing styles too heavily as sneakers are one of the items most directly impacted by supply chain struggles. In the UK, retailers used the event to target struggling categories such as workwear and clear through winter tops and outerwear in anticipation of new season drops.
- Instead of enticing new shoppers, brands tailored their promotions to reward VIPs and reengage previous customers with early access offers and in-app deals. This led to a decline in the proportion of new shoppers online over the main sales days, despite being the most profitable consumer segment, highlighting the need for brands to diversify their audiences during this promotion-saturated period.
Now, let's dig into what went down...
The Global Themes
More full price orders were placed
Across each major event, the proportion of sales using a promotion remained flat YoY, noting a YoY rise on Cyber Monday from 66% to 68%. In contrast, the amount of full price units sold each day was up YoY, with Black Friday recording the highest percentage increase at 48%.
Shopping days were less profitable YoY
With a 16% increase in profit per order and the highest average selling price, Black Friday was the most successful sales day for brands. However, fewer orders were placed YoY overall, bringing profitability down for Black Friday by 3% and Cyber Monday by 9%. Despite generating the lowest sales out of the three days, more units per order were placed on Thanksgiving as store closures directed consumers to ecommerce, increasing total earnings for the event by 5% YoY.
Stradivarius Email UK - Nov 24, 2021
Fewer new customers shopping the events
From the aggregated brands analyzed, the proportion of new customers shopping online dropped ten percentage points on Thanksgiving and Black Friday and six percentage points on Cyber Monday. Despite this cohort spending more, brands shifted their strategies to cater to their VIPs or reactivated customers. The percentage of both groups shopping saw a YoY increase for each sales day, a result of the slew of promotions sent with member-only offers.
Shipping times were compromised
Global supply chain bottlenecks squeezed retailers' ability to fulfill orders as rapidly as in previous years. The average number of days to ship orders across Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday increased to 1.96 from 1.46 in 2020.
UGG Email UK - Nov 24, 2021
How 2021 Discounts Differed
With bullish discounting falling out of favor and ongoing supply chain bottlenecks challenging future deliveries, 2021's Cyber events marked a return to more conservative reductions to ensure ample stock levels over the festive period. At 52% of assortments, the same proportion of products were advertised as marked down on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the lowest amount in two years. Meanwhile, an average discount of 48% registered slightly deeper than 2020, in alignment with pre-pandemic discounting levels.
The proportion of assortments reduced over Thanksgiving and Black Friday in the UK was lower than in 2020, but higher than in 2019, with a similar average depth. Cyber Monday stood out as the exception, as retailers selected this date to reduce the greatest selection of their ranges. Retailers pulled back on their discount depths to help keep margins intact within the sea of markdowns - the average advertised discount on Cyber Monday was 32%, the lowest over sales days in two years.
The Impact On Sell Outs
US retailers favored the 40-50% off bracket when marking down products exclusively between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday. 39% of products reduced were within this threshold. However, steeper promotions resonated with American consumers, with 20% and 19% of products selling out over the period sitting within the 50-60% and 70-80%. As offers trickled into Saturday, this date experienced 15% higher product sell outs than Black Friday. Overall, sell outs across the major sales days outpaced 2020 by 16%, yet fell 18% vs. 2019.
Though not a British holiday, as retailers use Thanksgiving as a warm-up to Black Friday, sales are increasing on the Thursday - this year up by 60% YoY and 83% vs. 2019. Cyber Monday generated the highest number of sell outs, exceeding Black Friday by 26%. Despite discounts being more pared back, customers still sought out bargains. 20-30% off was the most popular advertised reduction at UK retailers, while the greatest proportion of sell outs occurred within the 30-40% off intervals.
The Categories Targeted
At 25%, footwear was the category that had the most products discounted over the sales period. However, US retailers protected this range from being reduced too heavily - only 2% of products were discounted above 60%. Instead, accessories were marked down the deepest, with retailers targeting items without strict sizing - like jewelry, bags and scarves, which also serve as optimal gifting items - to help minimize returns. Following accessories, tops and outerwear accumulated the next deepest discounts as retailers looked to clear through heavy winter styles to make way for new season products.
In the UK, tops had the highest proportion of styles discounted, with T-shirts, sweaters and shirts attracting the highest markdowns. While accessories made up 16% of reduced products, it only equaled 4% of products discounted upwards of 60%. A greater proportion of bottoms and outerwear styles were marked down within this bracket, driven by reduced trousers and blazers. This suggests UK retailers used Black Friday as an opportunity to sell through more formal styles, which have struggled to fully return to their pre-pandemic glory.
Did Retailers Shake Up Strategies?
Macy's, H&M, J.Crew and Madewell ran their most conservative sitewide reductions to date, with both discount proportion and depths at a two-year low. The latter two retailers included discount codes in their emails. Though often used to create exclusivity around discounting and preserve product margins, this strategy doesn't always equal pared back reductions as noted at LOFT, which had its deepest discounts as well as a code in its communications. Markdowns more conservative than 2020, yet more aggressive than 2019, were actioned at Ann Taylor, Bonobos and adidas, though the sporting giant pulled back its average discount percentage.
ASOS, Zara and H&M ran their lowest reductions in the past two years, though the latter brand concentrated on rewarding members with exclusive offers rather than slashing prices sitewide. Despite Monki opting out of Black Friday in its communications, products were still advertised as discounted on its site with an average depth of 52% - a deeper discount than boohooMAN, which registered its highest reduction rate since 2019. Debenhams also ran steeper markdowns than previously, though a smaller proportion of items were included in sales.
Did Actual Discounts Match Up?
In the lead-up to sales, consumer group Which? investigated over 200 of last year's Black Friday offers across retailers, including Amazon, Argos and John Lewis & Partners. It concluded 92% of products were the same price or cheaper six months before the blockbuster shopping event.
Comparing the actual discounts of products taken each month across US retailers indicates October and November have the deepest average discounts at 43%. However, the most significant proportion of ranges were marked down in September as retailers cleared through summer goods ahead of fall drops. Retailers blurring discounting events year-round is a key contributor as to why mass sales events like Black Friday are losing their impact.
Analyzing the actual average discounts taken in the UK revealed that the highest markdowns occurred in June aligned to Mid Season sales. Though, with retailers bundling Singles' Day and Cyber promotions, November had the greatest proportion of assortments discounted.
The earliest 2021 mentions came from INDOCHINO on February 3rd, with sales described as "better than Black Friday." Retailers like Crate&Barrel used the event to promote sales around Memorial Day, while in July, Belk and Macy's communicated summer Black Friday offers.
Moving into fall, retailers were communicating Black Friday earlier than in 2020, kick-starting customers holiday shopping amid supply chain slow down. With more retailers opting out of in-store trade on Thanksgiving, Cyber Week offers ramped up. Continuing a pattern from previous years, more emails containing the word "sale" were sent out on Cyber Monday than Black Friday.
Previous years have indicated Black Friday communications will bleed well into December. Unlike in the US, January and February 2021 remained free of communications in the UK. Beauty Bay and Boots communicated "bigger than Black Friday" deals in April. The first fall email referencing the event came a week earlier, with ASOS mentioning delivery times may change within busy periods, like the golden quarter.
This was swiftly followed by New Look adding a countdown and a checklist for online and in-store shopping, and early access emails encouraging customers to sign up for sale notifications at Nasty Gal, Pro:Direct Soccer and Simply Be. Across the main shopping days, Black Friday saw the highest mentions of emails containing sales, outpacing Cyber Monday by 14%.