November 29, 2013, 1:25 PM

A strong online Black Friday

After shopping heavily on Thanksgiving, consumers headed back to the web today.

Thad Rueter

Senior Editor

Lead Photo

     Shoppers today were taking to the web and their mobile devices in search of holiday deals, with online sales up 9.7% as of 6 p.m. Eastern today compared with the same day last year, IBM reports. Another report late Friday afternoon put the sales jump at 7%.
    
     Online shoppers today were spending an average of $131.54 per order today, up slightly from $127.59 on Thanksgiving Day, IBM says. Much of that spending stems from mobile devices. Nearly 21% of all web sales today were coming from smartphones and tablets.
    
     Mobile traffic today was accounting for about 37.6% of all online traffic, up 40% from the day after Thanskgiving in 2012, IBM says. Smartphones account for 24.7% of traffic, with tablets at 12.4%; the balance come from e-readers. But tablets owners were spending more on Black Friday: $136.45 per order on average compared with $117.90 per order for smartphone owners. Tablets accounted for 13.2% of all online orders on Black Friday as of 6 p.m. Eastern, versus 7.6% for smartphones, IBM says.

     Tablet shoppers were spending more than smartphone consumers today at web-only luggage and handbag retailer eBags.com, No, 149 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide. As of 2 p.m. Eastern time, the average order value for tablet shoppers stood at $93.54 compared with $80.51 for consumers using smartphones. The average order value for purchases made from PCs was $95.17.

     Holiday shoppers also turned to social networks today to find deals and product recommendations, IBM says. Shoppers referred from Pinterest were spending $95.56 per order compared with $77.61 per order for shoppers referred from Facebook. “However, Facebook referrals converted sales at a rate 2.8x that of Pinterest referrals, perhaps indicating stronger confidence in network recommendations,” IBM says.

    Sales on Amazon and eBay increased on Black Friday for retailer clients of online marketing firm ChannelAdvisor Corp. Same-seller sales jumped 24.7% on Amazon and 34.8% on eBay compared with last year’s Black Friday, as of noon Eastern time. ChannelAdvisor CEO Scot Wingo also reported that Amazon.com Inc., No. 1 in the Top 500, was “having a slower start on Black Friday than Thanksgiving.” Amazon yesterday had growth of about 31%. He adds that eBay may be profiting from retailers’ products shortages, including on video game gear, with shoppers heading to the online marketplace.

     There were signs today that heavy retail marketing activity hit a lull by midday today. Between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m, today, e-mail marketing volume dropped 4% compared with the previous hour. “We may be starting to hit the mid-day nosedive in e-mail traffic though I'm hoping we see retailers switch things up in the afternoon,” says Jim Davidson, manager of marketing research for e-mail marketing firm Bronto Software Inc.  “I mean, with Thanksgiving taking some of Black Friday's mojo and Cyber Monday cementing the other side of the weekend, the afternoon is clearly a slow traffic opportunity to get your message seen.

    Some 25% of online orders today could be attributed to e-mail marketing messasges, according to Custora Inc., a web and mobile analytics firm that specializes in retail. By late afternoon, Custora reported a 7% year-over-year increase in Black Friday online sales. Its measure of the 50 fatest-growing e-commerce operators shows a 19% year-over-year increase.

     As Black Friday progressed, more estimates emerged about Thanksgiving Day shopping.

     Adobe Systems Inc. says online sales yesterday hit $1.062 billion, with 20.9% of that spending coming from consumers using mobile devices. Apple Inc.’s iPad tablet led the way on mobile, accounting for $130 million worth of e-commerce sales on Thanksgiving. Web sales on Thanksgiving jumped 19.7% over last year, with many shoppers heading to e-commerce sites late in the day, IBM reports. A report from Custora Inc. shows that online sales increased 15% year over year on Thanksgiving, with online traffic to retail stores increasing 20%. That indicates “heightened interest and engagement in online shopping, possibly at the expense of shopping in brick and mortar stores, and potentially aided by the cold weather in the Northeast,” a Custora spokeswoman says.

     Thanksgiving will likely continue to gain more importance as a big holiday shopping day with more retail chains removing “barriers” to online shopping, says Fiona Dias, chief strategy officer at e-commerce delivery company and Amazon Prime competitor ShopRunner. Fewer retailers are reserving “doorbuster” type sales for bricks-and-mortar stores, and are getting rid of minimum orders for free shipping as more online consumers come to expect free shipping promotions. “Shopping on Thanksgiving has become so easy,” she says.

     Indeed, retail chains in the last few years have responded to more consumers going online, including from tablets, agrees Bernard Luthi, chief operating officer of Rakuten.com Shopping. Knowing it faces more online competition and hoping to capture more of those Thanksgiving shoppers, the web-only marketplace prepped for this year’s holiday by running a series of promotions, including one for Dyson Ltd. home appliance products, which are typically pricey. Rakuten.com Shopping offered 25% off the product price and 25% of the purchase price refunded via the e-commerce operator’s loyalty points. Such promotions helped to push the gross value of merchandise sold on site on Thanksgiving to about 110% more than last year, he says. Page views and mobile traffic each increased by 30% to 40% year over year.

     Some online retailers had a less-than-smooth introduction to the heart of the holiday shopping season, however. Cabelas.com went down three times on Thanksgiving night between 6:50 p.m. and 8:32 p.m. Central time, with the total outage of more than hour, according to a spokesman for web monitoring firm Panopta. Then on Black Friday, the e-commerce site for the sporting goods chain, No. 45 in the Top 500, went down for 19 minutes between 8:20 a.m. and 8:40 Central. Cabela’s offered no immediate comment, though its site appeared to be working normally this afternoon. Panopta monitors 132 major retail sites and reported no other problems today.

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