Adobe: Black Friday spending in US falls to $8.9 billion as shoppers start earlier in November

Adobe's data said spending in the US either matched or fell below 2020 figures for Thanksgiving and Black Friday because shoppers and retailers are starting earlier.
Written by Jonathan Greig, Contributor

US consumers spent $8.9 billion on Black Friday, according to data from Adobe Analytics' Digital Economy Index. Adobe compiles its reports based on analysis of direct consumer transactions online, over one trillion visits to US retail sites, 100 million SKUs, and 18 product categories.

According to Adobe, spending was down or remained the same this year, both on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. About $9 billion was spent by consumers on Black Friday in 2020 and spending on Thanksgiving this year was $5.1 billion, the same as 2020. 

Salesforce -- which calculates its figures using data from more than one billion consumers through their commerce cloud and marketing cloud used by 24 of the top 30 US online retailers -- had different numbers for Black Friday, showing on their holiday hub that US shoppers spent $13.4 billion on Black Friday, up 5% year over year. Salesforce also predicted that $11 billion would be spent on Cyber Monday, representing no change compared to last year.

Globally, Salesforce said shoppers globally spent $63 billion on Black Friday, up 2% year over year, and projects about $43 billion will be spent on Cyber Monday.  

Adobe noted that their figures for Black Friday and Thanksgiving spending were on the low end of their expectations. They added that it is the first time they have seen decreased spending on one of the big shopping holidays, which have seen sizable growth rates since Adobe began tracking e-commerce spending in 2012. 

"For the first time ever, Black Friday saw a reversal of the growth trend of past years," said Vivek Pandya, lead analyst for Adobe Digital Insights. "Shoppers are being strategic in their gift shopping, buying much earlier in the season and being flexible about when they shop to make sure they get the best deals."  

Part of the reason why spending was down, according to Adobe, was because shoppers started earlier this year. Adobe researchers found that $99.1 billion was spent by US consumers from November 1 to November 28, an increase of 13.6% year over year. According to their data, 21 days this month have exceeded $3 billion in spending, whereas last year just 8 days topped $3 billion by November 28. Consumers spent over $2 billion every single day of November in 2021.

Adobe experts attributed the changes to concerns over US supply chains, which have faced issues in recent months as countries around the world continue to struggle with problems related to the COVID-19 pandemic

"Online sales on big shopping days like Thanksgiving and Black Friday are decreasing for the first time in history, and it is beginning to smooth out the shape of the overall season," said Taylor Schreiner, director of Adobe Digital Insights. "With 21 days in November driving over $3 billion in spend, what we know as Cyber Week is starting to look more like Cyber Month."

Adobe added that it was predicting up to $11.3 billion to be spent on Cyber Monday, which would make it the biggest online shopping holiday of the year. Last year, consumers spent about $10.8 billion on Cyber Monday, according to their data. 

Adobe is predicting spending between November 1 and December 1 to reach $207 billion, a 10% growth year over year. 

Part of why the numbers have dropped on the big holidays this year is the lack of discounts and sales being offered by retailers. Companies, according to Adobe, are passing on costs related to supply chain issues to customers themselves, delivering weaker discounts throughout the holiday season. 

"As consumers are navigating a 'one-two punch' of inflation and supply chain concerns, they've already spent almost 20% more year-over-year. It's clear that they're determined to forge ahead by spending earlier to get the items they want at the best possible prices. However, they will also compromise on buying gifts that weren't necessarily first on their lists as popular items like electronics continue to be out of stock," Schreiner added.

"We're on our way to a massive, record-breaking $207 billion holiday shopping season, and Thanksgiving weekend will continue to play a major role, especially online, as many physical stores have decided to close on Thursday." 

Despite the lack of sales, Cyber Monday still saw certain items being offered for less than usual. TVs are being offered at 16% less than their usual rate while apparel is being sold at 15% less. Computer prices are down 14% while appliances are down 8%, sporting goods prices are down 9% and furniture is down 4%. All of these discounts are less than last year's offerings. 

Adobe noted that out-of-stock messages were up 16% on November 27 and November 28, with baby and toddler products seeing the highest out-of-stock levels. Electronics, gardening tools, books, and toys also saw similar increases. 

This is being driven by increased spending on certain items like toys, which are seeing sales up by 565% compared to September averages, and books, which are up 370% compared to September. Gift cards are also being bought at higher rates than September, up 414%. 

The top toys sold include Barbie toys, Baby Alive, Rainbocorns, Legos, NERF toys, and Hatchimals, according to Adobe.

For technology, the PS5, Echo dot, Xbox Series X/S, Chromecast, Roku streaming sticks, and Nintendo Switch were the most popular, according to Adobe data. Air fryers, Oculus Quest 2, Acer and Lenovo laptops, HP laptops, AirPods Pro, MacBook Airs, Samsung and Vizio TVs, as well as Dell Notebooks, were also top sellers according to Adobe. 

Curbside pickup saw increases this year compared to pre-pandemic levels, growing 33%. It was used in 18% of all online orders, according to Adobe, which noted that it was used in 25% of all online orders last year. 

Adobe researchers explained that more than 41% of online sales have come through smartphones while smartphone visits to e-commerce sites reached 59.4%, meaning many shoppers may like to browse on their phones but still like to buy from their desktop or laptop. 

There were also increases in the number of people buying groceries online, with wine outperforming beer in many cases, according to Adobe. 

Pandya said the online spending momentum will now shift to Cyber Week as price-conscious shoppers try to tap into the best available discounts. 

"And despite a more inflationary shopping environment also marred by supply chain disruptions, consumers today can still expect to find great deals on seasonal categories such as toys, apparel, and computers," Pandya said. 

Consumers also increasingly turned to buy now, pay (BNPL) later platforms this year. Between November 1 and November 24, total spending through BNPL was up 435% compared to the same period in 2019. 

Salesforce found that BNPY usage grew 37% year over year, with more than $16 billion in holiday shopping financed through the platforms. 

Schreiner explained that during a holiday shopping season characterized by inflation, weaker discounts, and widespread product shortages, it's noteworthy that US online spending managed to reach more than $75 billion from November 1 to November 25. 

"However, even major shopping days like Thanksgiving Day are beginning to see their growth wane compared to previous years as consumers opt to open their wallets earlier and shop on their terms outside of the historically promoted, blockbuster sales days," Schreiner said.

But the declines did not cover everything. On Thanksgiving, spending on toys was still 527% more than in September while video games, up 648%, also saw increases. Jewelry sales were also up on Thanksgiving, with spending on charms up 300% and earnings up 207%. 

Like Adobe, Salesforce found that the average selling price is up 13% in the US and 6% globally compared to last year, with the average discounts coming in at 26% and 23% respectively. Both discount numbers represent decreases compared to last year. 

Rob Garf, VP and GM of retail at Salesforce, said that with the smoothing out of demand throughout the entire season, peak days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday have less of an impact than previous years. 

"It's been less about Cyber Week and more about Cyber November. It's always a retailer's dream to pull demand early in the fall, and with supply chain bottlenecks and fears of inflation, consumers did shop early and often," Garf said. 

"We saw moderate growth on Black Friday with consumers really responding to personalized offers. Redemption of personalized offers outpaced generic offers by two times on Black Friday. We expect retailers will continue to lean into digital marketing -- that leverages data and intelligence -- to encourage shoppers to get the best discount while inventory is [hopefully] still available on Cyber Monday."

Captify also had data on which e-commerce sites were the most popular, finding that Amazon saw a 260% increase in usage on Black Friday year over year. Amazon had 89% more searches this year compared to Walmart.

Searches for beauty products also beat those for electronics this year, with a 52% year over year increase in searches for deals on Black Friday according to Captify. 

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