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Online Sales Boom On Surprisingly Successful Black Friday

Americans were shopping with gusto on Black Friday, just not in physical stores. Online spending jumped 22% on Black Friday from a year ago, hitting $9B for the day, The Wall Street Journal reports, citing Adobe Analytics data. 

But Black Friday foot traffic at U.S. physical stores this year dropped by more than half (52.1%), retail specialist Sensormatic Solutions reports. That particular perk of the storied consumer holiday, known in recent years for its shopper frenzy and strongly promoted retail bargains at physical stores, proved to be another victim of the coronavirus pandemic.


Shopper traffic was also down 45.2% for the week ahead of Thanksgiving (Sunday, Nov. 22, to Friday, Nov. 27), compared with the same period last year, according to Sensormatic.

That e-commerce surge put Black Friday at the second-best online shopping day ever measured by Adobe. Last year's Cyber Monday sales remain for now the strongest online sales day in history, at $9.4B, though Abode predicts that Cyber Monday this year will top last year by at least 15%, which would set a new record.

The 2020 rise in holiday sales has been fueled by online shopping, which the National Retail Federation predicts will increase this year between 20% and 30% compared with 2019. But even if total holiday sales grow this year in spite of the coronavirus pandemic, there will be winners and losers. Giant online retailers like Amazon and Walmart have done better all year, The New York Times reports, and seem likely to continue to do so.

Grocery stores, which have had a good year because of the pandemic, didn't see the usual rush of business on the day before Thanksgiving this year. At eight different grocery chains nationwide this year, according to foot traffic analytics firm, business was down that day.

Compared to the day before Thanksgiving in 2019, customer visits at grocery chains dropped an average of 19.8%. Foot traffic decreased the most at Wegmans, which suffered a decline of 29.2% year-over-year. Giant Food Store was down almost as much, by 28.1%. Winn-Dixie did the best among the eight chains, with foot traffic dropping only 12.1% compared with last year, while Albertsons was down 12.7%.

"Brands are seeing a customer base that is likely more prepared than normal, with mission-driven shopping pushing more visitors to require fewer visits," the report notes. "This makes many customers less reliant on a desperate last-minute dash to the supermarket the day before a major holiday."

Whether the growth in online sales will keep total holiday retail sales from dropping this year is an open question, though the National Retail Federation predicts that total holiday retail sales, including all of November and December, will increase between 3.6% and 5.2% compared with 2019.

That kind of growth would demonstrate consumer resilience in the face of job losses and other pandemic-inspired economic turmoil. Total holiday sales grew 4% in 2019 year-over-year but only 1.9% in 2018. The last time holiday sales contracted was in 2008, at the onset of the Great Recession, when they dropped 4.7% compared with 2007. Even in 2009, holiday sales still eked out a 0.2% annual gain.