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Cyber-Weekend’s Untold Story: Bricks + Clicks Dominate Commerce

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We’re fresh off “cyber weekend” and the data continue to pour out. So-called Cyber Monday was the largest single e-commerce day in US history (though it’s considerably smaller than China’s Singles Day). According to Adobe e-commerce sales on Monday were roughly $3.4 billion, beating Black Friday’s $3.34 billion.

The standard narrative being peddled in the stories being written is: e-commerce is growing at the expense of traditional retail stores — bricks vs. clicks. Not only is that inaccurate, it obscures what’s really going on. It’s not really about how e-commerce is killing stores — although the relationship between stores and online needs to evolve — the real story is about the synergies of bricks and clicks.

There’s conflicting data about whether fewer or more people actually showed up in stores on Friday. Early reports argued that Black Friday crowds in stores were thin because of online sales. Other sources reported in-store traffic growth. Interestingly, Google reported big gains in Black Friday in-store visits.

In showcasing this data, Google is highlighting its capacity to monitor and measure store foot traffic:

Store foot traffic jumped 65% on Black Friday, compared to an average weekend day in November. Clothing, toy, and electronic stores were all popular destinations. Clothing stores and toy stores saw more than double the foot traffic on Black Friday compared to an average weekend in November.

Google also said that shoppers spent more time, on average, in stores on Black Friday:

Shoppers also spent more time in stores. For example, in electronics stores, they typically spent between 35 minutes and 1.5 hours on Black Friday compared to 25 minutes on an average weekend day in November. Shopping malls showed a similar increase in visit duration compared to the average day in November.

While Amazon and eBay are dominant online retailers, they are among a small number of pure-play online standouts. Most of the e-commerce being discussed is coming through the sites of traditional retailers such as Macy’s Walmart, Target, Nordstrom, Gap, Kohl’s, HomeDepot and others. Macy’s website, for example, was overloaded with traffic on Black Friday, as an indication of demand.

We now have truly “omnichannel” consumers, who are buying in stores and online equally and using mobile devices to research and shop for products. And mobile traffic now dominates visits to retail sites. Retailers are slowly adapting to these consumer patterns and doing a better job as they become more agnostic about whether consumers buy online or from their stores.

Consumers are more confident about buying from the online stores associated with familiar retail brands than they are pure e-commerce sites (save Amazon). Physical stores take the inconvenience and risk out of online shopping — when it comes to returns.

Just as the distinctions between the individual shopping days and their themes are breaking down, so are online and offline shopping. Bricks + clicks are winning vs. clicks alone. Even Amazon, which now has a few stores of its own, recognizes this.

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