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Online shopping on Thanksgiving hit $4.2B, up 14.5% on 2018, 45% of sales via mobile

Ingrid Lunden
Thanksgiving setting

With popular social networks seeing some downtime, most shops closed, and many people off work for Thanksgiving, bargain hunters flocked online to start their holiday shopping. Sales for the day totalled $4.2 billion, according to research from Adobe Analytics.

That makes this year the first time that Thanksgiving Day online sales have passed the milestone $4 billion mark, with sales up 14.5% on last year's online sales of $3.7 billion. However, overall purchasing also actually just fell short of estimates, which had been $4.4 billion for the day. Now all eyes are on Black Friday spend, where some $600 million has already been spent online in the US during morning hours.

Smartphones and tablets continue to figure strong for both browsing and conversions: 45% of all sales happened on mobile for the day, said Adobe, a 24.4% increase on last year's figure of 33.5%.

“Thanksgiving soared past $4 billion in spend for the first time yesterday and has fast become a favored day by consumers for accelerating their holiday spending and shopping efforts," said Jason Woosley, vice president of commerce product & platform at Adobe.

"By stepping up discounts and awareness of Thanksgiving sales, large retailers were able to unlock a 3x boost in revenue that contributed to a total $4.2 billion (14.5% growth YoY) in spend. Don’t expect the momentum to slow down anytime soon; with $7.5 billion in online spend projected for Black Friday, it’s clear that the largest dollar gains for retailers and shoppers have yet to come.”

In terms of who reaped the spoils for the day. the big continue to get bigger, boosted in part by the fact that they simply have more items for sale.

"E-commerce giants" -- which make over $1 billion in annual revenues -- Adobe said, had a 244% rise in sales on Thanksgiving Day, and smaller retailers saw just a 61% increase. Part of that might have to do with the fact that big retailers usually have more efficient and flexible delivery options: 61% of online shoppers plan to take advantage of same-day shipping or in-store/curbside pickup this year. Options like these have so far this season generated 39.9% more in sales than last year, Adobe said.

Adobe Analytics tracks sales in real-time for 80 of the top 100 US retailers, covering 55 million SKUs and some 1 trillion transactions during the holiday sales period. Shopify, meanwhile, uses data from across the range of online retailers that use Shopify APIs to run their sales.

Both companies are tracking sales over the holiday period in real time, and earlier in the day Adobe had noted that $2.1 billion had been spent online as of 5pm in the afternoon Eastern time, up 20.2% on the same period a year ago. About 46.4% of all online purchases been made on smartphones, up nearly 13 percentage points on 2018's 33.5%. Smartphone browsing is also up: 63.4% of visits coming from smartphones compared to 56.6% for the month, Adobe said.

Prior to that, at 10am Adobe said $470 million had been spent online, a rise of 14.5% compared to sales figures from the same time last year. Overall, Adobe said that sales are largely on track to hit its prediction of $4.4 billion in total sales for Thanksgiving day.

Over at Shopify, the e-commerce backend provider has been running real-time visualizations tracking sales. At its peak, at 3:05PM Eastern time, it was seeing $671,000 in sales each minute. Its final numbers for Thanksgiving note that its merchants made $442 million on the day from some 5.3 million consumers making purchases. All told, sales were up by a 62% on a year ago.

Within that, Shopify's figures are largely similar to those of Adobe's. It noted that some 69% of all sales were being made on mobile devices, with apparel and accessories the most popular category, and New York the top-selling city. Average cart price crept up as the day went on and ended at $81.12 globally, with the figure closer to $82 in the US itself.

Thanksgiving appetiser

In the days before online shopping really took hold, Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) used to be seen as the traditional start to holiday sales: it was a day that many people had off from work to bridge the gap between Thanksgiving and the weekend, and made for an obvious start to Holiday Shopping season.

However, with the arrival of the internet, which has no opening times, and the sheer fact of increased competition for shoppers' attention, retailers have kicked off their strategies earlier and earlier to get a jump on sales. Consumers spending time at home on Thanksgiving itself are increasingly coming online -- on a day when most brick-and-mortar stores are closed -- to get the ball rolling with the holiday shopping, or just to cash in on special discounts.

This year, Thanksgiving is coming a week later this year than in 2018 (when it fell on the 22nd of the month), which will make for a more compressed, and potentially more frenzied, selling period.

As Sarah pointed out earlier this week, many retailers this year made an early jump on their Black Friday deals, and so far some $53 billion has been spent in the month of November up to today. This year's holiday sales overall are predicted to hit nearly $144 billion.

Thanksgiving Day saw some distinct patterns in terms of who was buying what. Frozen 2, L.O.L. Surprise Dolls, and Nerf were the most popular toy brands. Madden 20, Jedi Fallen Order, and NBA 2k20 were the most popular games. And Fire TV, Apple Laptops, and HP Laptops were the most popular gadget purchases.

Other trends it's picked up include how shoppers are being reached: paid search accounts for 24% of all purchases, while social (20%) and email (9.4%) are the second- and third-most popular way of reaching consumers. Social media influencers are guiding 1 in 10 shoppers to buy products, too. (The number goes up to 1 in 5 among GenZ.)

Adobe notes that in the $53 billion spent so far this month, all 27 days in November have surpassed $1 billion in sales. Eight days passed $2 billion, and yesterday saw $2.9 billion in sales. That was up 22% on a year ago, which either points to increased sales overall, or simply that the strategy of extending "holiday" shopping to start earlier and earlier is paying off for retailers.

Another interesting insight is that some $18.2B in purchases have been made by smartphones this month, which is up 49.5% compared to last year.

“The strong online sales performance to-date suggests that holiday shopping starts much earlier than ever before. Steep discounts on popular items like computers on the day before Thanksgiving indicate that many of the season’s best deals are already up for grabs. This has led to significant growth in online sales (16.1% YoY increase) so far. What will be important for retailers to track is whether the early discounts will drive continued retail growth overall, or if they have induced consumers to spend their holiday budgets earlier," noted Jason Woosley, vice president of commerce product & platform at Adobe.

Black Friday is projected to net $7.4 billion in sales this year.

Adobe notes that the holiday season is currently shaping up to have sales that are up 14.9% on last year.