Mobile, in-store pickup helped drive record-setting Black Friday weekend, but will profits shine?

It’s been a record-breaking several days online, and the holiday season is tracking at 14.5% growth in online sales compared to last year, according to Adobe Analytics, which tracks transactions at 80 of the top 100 retailers in the U.S. Online revenue for November was up 16.5% year-over-year, reaching $68.2 billion, Adobe Analytics reported.

Online-to-offline drivers. Meanwhile, in-store sales were off 6.2% on Black Friday according to ShopperTrak. A bright spot is “buy online, pick up in-store” (BOPIS) and curbside pick-up services. Since November 1, these online-to-offline orders have grown 43.2% year-over-year, according to Adobe. “These services are breathing new life into physical stores, and we expect growth to climb as we get closer to Christmas,” the company predicts.

Black Friday topped expectations. Retailers generated $7.49 billion in online sales on Black Friday, Adobe Analytics reported. That exceeds the company’s prediction of $7.4 billion for the day and is an increase of 19.6% over last year when consumers spent $6.22 online on Black Friday.

Looking at the impact on smaller e-commerce sites and direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands, Shopify reported the 1 million+ merchants on the platform generated more than $900 million on Black Friday, with sales-per-minute peaking at $1.5 million at 3:01 PM ET.

The mobile impact. Smartphone traffic has eclipsed desktop in traffic for a few years now and continues to make gains in conversion impact. Smartphones are also changing when consumers buy. “Digital buying on Black Friday was more evenly spread throughout the day, with shoppers less inclined to take a break in the mid-afternoon, thanks to the convenience of their phones,” Salesforce reported.

While Salesforce and Shopify both reported mobile sales surpassed desktop, Adobe Analytics reported desktop accounted for 60.4% or $40.3 billion in online sales in November while smartphones generated 34.5% of online sales.

Shopify merchants saw 69% of sales come from mobile and 31% from desktops on Black Friday. And Salesforce reported 60% of Thanksgiving Day online orders came from mobile. This perhaps highlights performance and consumer differences of DTC and merchants that have come up in the mobile-first era compared to more legacy retailers that have had to go through digital transformation.

Smartphones accounted for 41.2% of e-commerce revenue on Small Business Saturday, up 22.2% and higher than the overall seasonal trend, according to Adobe Analytics.

For the retailers captured by Adobe Analytics, desktop conversion rates continue to be significantly higher than on smartphones. On Black Friday, for example, desktop conversion rates were 6.9% compared to 2.9% for smartphones, Adobe Analytics reported.

Discounts and rising CPAs. The profit story may not look as rosy as the revenue picture painted in the latest reports from Adobe Analytics, Salesforce and Shopify, however. All those discounts come at a cost: Salesforce reported the average online discount was 28% on Black Friday and expects discounts to be even steeper on Cyber Monday. Salesforce data represents the activity of more than 500 million shoppers globally.

Over 45% of retailer marketing investments went to paid social over the holiday weekend, generating nearly 33% of all revenue, according to digital marketing agency PMG. That’s an increase from just 16% last year. Stiffer competition on digital advertising platforms, and social in particular, is driving up the cost-per-acquisition for many advertisers.

While many reported great revenue numbers from Facebook campaigns over the weekend, ROAS may look quite different. David Hermann, a paid social media buyer who works largely with direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands, said competition on Facebook has cut deeply into profits even as revenue appears to be growing.

Profits are way down, spends way up. FB is a competitive mess racing to the bottom.

— David Herrmann (@herrmanndigital) December 2, 2019

Cyber Monday predictions. Today is expected to be another record-breaker at $9.37 billion in online revenue, up 18.9%, according to Adobe Analytics. That would be an increase from $7.9 billion spent online last year.

Salesforce pegs U.S. sales for Cyber Monday at $8 billion, up a more modest 15%. Globally, online sales are expected to reach $30 billion, according to Salesforce, an increase of 12%.

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