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Black Friday overtakes Cyber Monday for holiday traffic (and other lessons learned from studying 10B user experiences)

Black Friday overtakes Cyber Monday for holiday traffic

At SOASTA, we’re in the unique and fortunate position to be able to access a massive amount of historical user experience data. We recently analyzed almost 100 billion beacons worth of mPulse data (representing more than 10 billion user experiences) gathered via our customers’ sites. In this post, I’m going to share our three most interesting findings, and what they mean for retailers.

Finding 1: Black Friday has taken over Cyber Monday online

This marked the first year that Black Friday dominated holiday traffic, surpassing Cyber Monday by 21%. This is a huge trend shift.

Cyber Monday has historically been the biggest day for online traffic. As you can see in the graph below, from 2013 to 2015 the consistent trend was that traffic grew in the week leading up to Black Friday, with an initial spike on Black Friday and then a greater spike on Cyber Monday. That trend underwent a radical shift this past holiday season.

Cyber week traffic trends

While Cyber Monday definitely experienced a significant spike in traffic, it was overshadowed by Black Friday, which accounted for slightly more than 25% of all holiday weekend traffic.

Black Friday overtakes Cyber Monday

Why this seismic shift in consumer behavior? Some theories:

  • Overcrowded stores and malls. More and more shoppers are avoiding crowded stores and malls on the holiday weekend, and those shoppers are moving online in droves.
  • Shoppers are more savvy about where the deals are. Black Friday has become on online event as much as it is an in-store event, especially as consumers are getting more savvy about the fact that in-store deals aren’t always as good as they’re made out to be.
  • (Almost) everyone is on mobile. Roughly 97% of US adults have some kind of mobile device, meaning more and more shoppers are choosing to browse and buy via their phones and tablets than in physical stores.
  • The Amazon effect. It’s false optimism to believe that just because shoppers are moving online, that means they’ll come to your site. Amazon accounts for much of this change in buyer behavior. In 2015, just over one third of total holiday spending happened on Amazon. In 2016, almost half of consumers surveyed (46%) said they used Amazon for holiday shopping, and 43% bought at least half their gifts from Amazon.

Finding 2: Every Monday is Cyber Monday

Looking at the week before Thanksgiving all the way through to the beginning of January, Mondays were consistently the peak traffic days, outside of Thanksgiving weekend. It’s interesting to note that this trend persists even after Christmas. (In fact, the week after Christmas experienced more total traffic than the week leading up to it.)

Every Monday is Cyber Monday

This most probably reflects the growing number of people who do some or all of their online shopping at work, away from the prying eyes of family members.

Finding 3: The January Surge

When we looked at traffic patterns over the 2015 holiday season through till the end of January 2016, we saw that while traffic dips around Christmas and New Year, it recovers briskly. After January 2nd, traffic rises steadily, and by January 26th traffic has reached almost the same levels as mid-December.

Holiday retail user behavior trends

This “January Surge” is great news for site owners; however, they need to be mindful of the fact that peak days become more unpredictable and aren’t relegated to Mondays.

Click to download the 2016 Holiday Retail Insights Report

7 key takeaways

Some conclusions, plus action items, based on these findings:

1. Prepare for more consumer activity to move online in the not-so-distant future.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to retailers. Macy’s recent announcement that it’s closing 68 stores and laying off 10,000 workers is just one snippet of the writing on the wall.

2. Make sure your marketing campaigns encompass Black Friday.

If you wait till Cyber Monday to initiate promotions, you’re missing the boat.

3. Remember that consumer behaviour is unpredictable from year to year.

Patterns you saw in previous years may not hold. Building test plans based on one-year-old assumptions is unwise. A better idea would be to use RUM data to build tests that reflect actual user behavior on your site.

4. Plan for more traffic than you think.

Pyrrhic victories suck. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen sites go down because their promos or landing page campaigns were too successful.

5. Be ready for spikes throughout the entire holiday season, especially on Mondays.

You don’t know what will cause your next traffic surge. A massive weather event could keep people at home… and send them online. Political or economic events can also affect user behaviour. You need to be prepared every day. Make sure your site is ready for this Black Friday eCommerce season and prevent revenue loss by getting your site analyzed and following our eCommerce Black Friday tips.

Performance Testing Strategies for Seasonal Readiness

6. Make sure you plan with tablets and phones in mind.

Black Friday 2016 set a record as the first $1 billion mobile shopping day. This record will no doubt be smashed in 2017. Be ready. We’re still seeing abysmal performance on mobile devices, despite the fact that we’ve known for more than a year that the sweet spot for peak conversions is 2.4 seconds across all device types.

One of our customers, Fanatics, shared at IRCE that when they made a 2-second improvement to median load times, they almost doubled mobile conversions – which is a huge deal because more than half the company’s sales come from mobile.

7. Always remember that if you’re competing online, you’re competing with Amazon.

I can’t stress this enough. I know some retailers still have their heads in the sand about this, but it’s time to face the fact that Amazon is systematically eating up vertical after vertical. Over the holidays, department store sales stagnated or barely grew, while Amazon saw increases of up to 32% in departments ranging from clothing and beauty to home and furniture.

Try mPulse for 14 days of free real user measurement

Tammy Everts

About the Author

Tammy Everts

Tammy has spent the past two decades obsessed with the many factors that go into creating the best possible user experience. As senior researcher and evangelist at SOASTA, she explores the intersection between web performance, UX, and business metrics. Tammy is a frequent speaker at events including IRCE, Summit, Velocity, and Smashing Conference. She is the author of 'Time Is Money: The Business Value of Web Performance' (O'Reilly, 2016).

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