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Analysis of IBM’s Black Friday report

Analysis of IBM’s Black Friday report
By Mark Cameron

As the U.S. has emerged from the Thanksgiving holiday, the data and analysis of the Black Friday online sales are now coming in thick and fast. IBM has already released its initial analytics findings, which let us examine online consumer trends and identify some potential implications for my home country, Australia, in the coming year.

Overall, the Black Friday online sales rose by 20.7% over the 2011 figures. Unsurprisingly, mobile site visits and sales increased significantly. The continued rise in smart phone adoption saw mobile transactions exceed 16%, which is close to double that of the year before. At 10% of online sales, Apple’s iPad generated the majority of this activity, accounting for more traffic than any other smart phone or tablet device.

Following the trend of “Show-rooming”, or using a mobile device to compare prices, consumers utilised websites, mobile devices and apps simultaneously to get the best bargains, sometimes while in the actual stores. This behaviour led to a drop in the average order value by 4.7%, even though spending rose overall.

Interestingly, referrals that converted into sales driven by social networks decreased by 35%, and only generated 0.35% of sales overall. That is only part of the story though, as the social media sentiment expressed by shoppers on “promotions, shipping and convenience as well as the retailers themselves…” was extremely positive. This suggests that social media referrals played a much bigger part in the overall awareness of online sales than the raw numbers suggest. This isn’t surprising as people do not always behave in predictable ways, and good metrics can be difficult to pin down.

The industries that were the standout performers were department stores with 16.8% growth in sales over the previous year, health and beauty with 11%, apparel sales with 17.5%, and home goods which had a huge online lift of 28.2%.

Although the IBM report is useful in showing how shopping behaviour is changing at the digital checkout, it is missing insights into why this may be the case. This is common with these types of reports as they find it difficult to look at the entirety of a shopper’s journey.

What we can tell is that online shoppers are changing their behaviour.

The further down the purchase pathway they are, the more consumers rely on search.

The multi-channel approach that is emerging this year suggests that an increasing number of consumers are now getting online earlier. The online environment is increasingly becoming a space to browse and learn about products.

This is the key insight that retailers need to be aware of. Consumers are clearly becoming more comfortable with online shopping across many categories, and are not just browsing to find the best price. People are seeking out recommendations and trends. Social media behaviour is having a larger impact on shopping trends than ever. These trends are only going to become more prevalent. These will lead to an e-commerce tipping point—it’s only a question of when.


Mark Cameron is CEO and lead strategist of social media conversion and commercialization agency Working Three. While his agency is based in Melbourne, Australia, he works for some of the world’s most innovative and forward-thinking brands. As a regular speaker and writer on social media and digital strategy, Mark stays focused on customers and outcomes, not the technology, leading to simple strategic conclusions.

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