Black Friday and Cyber Monday online spending falls - but holiday season records are still broken

Online spending on Black Friday and Cyber Monday was down this year for the first time. That’s according to data from Adobe Analytics, which shows that the extended sales period led to more people shopping earlier in October and November, rather than limiting their purchases to just the Thanksgiving week.

Adobe reports that consumers spent $8.9bn on Black Friday. That’s a dip of 1.3 per cent compared to the year before. And it was a similar story on Cyber Monday, with consumers spending $10.7bn, down 1.4 per cent on the previous year. Adobe’s analysis takes into consideration over one trillion visits to retailer websites in the US, 100 million unique products and 18 different product categories.

The dip in consumer spending on both days represents a sharp change from the normal pattern, which previously saw Black Friday and Cyber Monday growing every year. In 2020, this trend was particularly pronounced as a result of the pandemic forcing retailers to move their Black Friday deals and Cyber Monday deals online.

Record-breaking shopping season

However, despite the drop on these two days, online spending in November was actually up to $109.8bn – that’s an 11.9 per cent increase over last year, and helps to demonstrate how elongated the holiday shopping season has become. Between November 1-29, 22 days in total exceeded $3bn in online spend, which sets a new record. Compare that to 2020, where only nine days had topped that figure in the same time period.

“With early deals in October, consumers were not waiting around for discounts on big shopping days like Cyber Monday and Black Friday,” said Taylor Schreiner, director, Adobe Digital Insights. “This was further fueled by growing awareness of supply chain challenges and product availability. It spread out e-commerce spending across the months of October and November, putting us on track for a season that still will break online shopping records.”

Increase in stock issues

(Image credit: ABACA/PA Images)

It seems many of the concerns around supply chain issues and stock availability were reasonable. According to Adobe, out of stock messages on Cyber Monday were up 8 per cent compared to the week before.

Looking back even further, during November as a whole, out of stock messages increased by 169 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels in January 2020, and were up a whopping 258 per cent vs November 2019.

It’s not clear how much weighting has been given to the PS5 and Xbox Series X in this analysis, though, which is bound to bump the numbers up given how hard it’s been to get a new console since launch.

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What did we buy, then?

Some of the most popular product categories on Cyber Monday were toys, books, video games and kitchen appliances. Spending in these areas was as much as 11 times higher compared to September 2021. As for specific items, it was Hot Wheels, Nerf, Paw Patrol, AirPods, Apple Watch, Nintendo Switch, Oculus Quest 2 and TVs that were the top sellers.

People packed their baskets full of these (and more big ticket items), with the total value of shopping carts up 19 per cent overall. Adobe suggests online inflation could also play a part in this, however, as prices of online goods have increased for the past 17 consecutive months.

This leads us fittingly onto the quality of the discounts we saw in 2021. According to Adobe’s data, discounts were weak overall compared to last year – and that’s certainly something we noticed while we were tracking this year’s offers. Electronics were reduced by only 12 per cent, compared to 27 per cent in 2020. Elsewhere, TVs fell by 13 per cent (compared to 18 per cent last year), and appliances dropped by 8 per cent (versus a 20 per cent drop last year).

A unique year, then, that shows people are still spending big over the holiday shopping season, but they’re spreading it out even more to ensure they get the products they want. There’s still an appetite to spend on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but these key days don’t have the same impact as they once did – and, as we can testify, they don’t necessarily have the best deals, either.

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