Matt Lindner
Matt Lindner joined Mintel as Senior eCommerce Analyst after covering omnichannel retailing for a leading business publication.

The online holiday shopping season got off to a record-breaking start, as shoppers rushed to take advantage of deep discounts from online retailers large and small. Adobe projected Cyber Monday to hit an online sales record of $7.9 billion, a 20% increase in sales from last year. The large volume of online spending indicates two things:

  • The strategy of promoting Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales earlier and having them last longer is working.
  • The value-driven nature of online shopping is more pronounced during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, increasing consumers’ awareness that they are getting the best deals.

1. Black Friday and Cyber Monday were virtually indistinguishable from one another

Emails offering Black Friday deals started appearing as early as Halloween and Cyber Monday offerings are still hitting inboxes. What was once two days of intense deals has transformed into weeks of savings that blur into the holiday shopping season.

Because online retailers are willing to be flexible when it comes to discounting during the holiday shopping season, online shoppers don’t have to wait to get a good deal and there isn’t a sense of urgency to buy on a particular day or at a particular time. Additionally, deep Black Friday discounts weren’t limited to brick and mortar stores, as retailers showed an increasing willingness to give shoppers access to deals in-store and online.

Why this matters:

  • Shoppers have grown skeptical of online sales. Nearly four in 10 online shoppers think that if they wait long enough, they won’t have to pay full price for something they want to buy online (higher among more frequent online shoppers).
  • According to Mintel research on the US eCommerce industry, one-third of all online shoppers trust they’re getting a good deal when buying during a major online sale.

2. Marketing emails were focused on holiday and not product

Despite the blurring of the sales, marketing emails during the stretch from Thanksgiving through the day after Cyber Monday focused on trying to create a sense of urgency by using language around Black Friday or Cyber Monday and by stressing limited time only deals.

Why this matters:

  • Mintel data shows four in 10 online shoppers are more likely to open an email from a retailer featuring a product in the subject line compared to one-third that open an email that features a sale in the subject line, which is more pronounced among less frequent online shoppers.
  • According to Mintel, as less frequent online consumers are shopping during the busier promotional periods, retailers may have missed out on selling more to those shoppers by stressing sales in subject lines rather than specific products or product categories.

3. Retailers did nothing to stand out

Unlike Target’s offer of a free six month Shipt membership for shoppers who spent $100 or more on Prime Day, no retailer has offered a promotion in order to stand out and incentivize shoppers to buy more or even buy at all over the Black Friday/Cyber Monday time frame.

Why this matters:

  • Online shoppers are actively seeking out great values and products they can’t find elsewhere. Amazon usually dominates the headlines this time of year, but Amazon shoppers can be wooed away. Mintel data finds that more than two-thirds of all Amazon shoppers would buy from another retailer if that retailer offered a better price than Amazon, and nearly half would buy if that retailer offered products they couldn’t find anywhere else.
  • In other words, promoting hard-to-find products with a sweetener in the form of a future discount or an added service could be key to helping online retailers stand out over the final four weeks of the holiday shopping season.

4. Smartphones drove online sales growth

While most retailers took a similar approach to sales, mobile is one category that stood out. Online retailers that aren’t taking a smartphone-first approach to their marketing strategy run the risk of losing out on major potential revenue streams as online shoppers continue to spend on mobile devices. Adobe Analytics reported that online shoppers were projected to have spent $2.1 billion on their smartphones on Cyber Monday 2018, up nearly 50% from last year.

Why this matters:

  • Smartphone shopping is overtaking desktop among younger online shoppers. According to Mintel research, iGens are more likely to buy smartphones than desktops, and Millennials are nearly as likely, with women being the primary drivers behind the shift to smartphone shopping.
  • Mobile browsing continues to grow in popularity as shoppers spend more time on their smartphones. Seven in 10 of online shoppers under age 44 use smartphones to browse online, compared to more than half of all online.