Black Friday and Cyber Monday; an Analysis

The weekend after Thanksgiving marks arguably the biggest annual retail event, with severed prices and the receipt of November wages marrying up to make for a whirlwind of budget shopping. The figures for both sales and social media traffic provide interesting insight into the landscape of online shopping, and on the efficacy of advertising on platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

The term Cyber Monday was introduced in the US to describe the first Monday after the final pre-Christmas wages are given to workers around the world, bookending the frenzied weekend of post-Thanksgiving shopping. Initially introduced as a uniquely online partner to the Friday, Cyber Monday is now not only being eclipsed in terms of mentions of social media, but also in terms of online sales, seemingly rendering it somewhere between a redundant equivalent to, or a simple extension of Black Friday.

2014 marks a landmark year for the UKís adoption of this initially American tradition of post-Thanksgiving shopping which has been steadily gaining traction since around 2010. Statisticians at IMRG estimated that Britons spent £810m on the Friday, roughly £300m over their initial estimate. IMRG also reported 181 million visits to online retailers, again significantly above their original prediction of 124 million.

Black Friday vs. Cyber Monday

Black Fridayís sales figures outdo the £650m estimated for Cyber Monday, something that is reflected both in social media, where discussions about Black Friday were around six times more prevalent over the weekend, and in comments from the general manager of Amazonís main warehouse in Peterborough.

Lucy Robertson stated that while Cyber Monday has always been their biggest day of the year for sales in the past (setting the record last year at 4.1 million products shifted); this year the record was beaten by the 5.5 million products sold on Black Friday).

With the rise of online shopping in general (which Spredfast reported makes up 5% more of total retail sales than it did last year) it seems that the need for Cyber Monday as a unique, separate, online focussed event has diminished. It is also likely down to the conflation of the two dates, indeed the whole post-Thanksgiving weekend in general, into one long celebration of budget consumption in the mind of the consumer. The prevalence of the key words ëBlack Fridayí and even basic terms like ëdealí and ësaleí over ëCyber Mondayí reinforces this.

Discrepancies between the two aside, both Cyber Monday and Black Friday were discussed significantly more this year than last year across social media platforms, with a 75% and 100% increase respectively.

The Impact of Social Media on Sales

Despite these figures though, the National Retail Federation in fact reported a drop of 11% in sales when compared with last yearís Black Friday weekend, raising interesting questions about the impact of social media on sales in general.

However this is likely down to people spreading out their shopping over the winter period, rather than simply buying less: a similar statistic was reported last year by Jim OíSullivan at High Frequency Economics who showed that while sales over the post-Thanksgiving weekend dropped from 2012 to 2013, the overall sales for November and December actually increased.

While the increase in social media chatter generally did not translate into an increase in sales generally over the weekend, those retailers who did best did so almost invariably due to successful campaigns on Twitter and Facebook. The American department store chain Kohlís was the only non-global brand to make the top 5 money makers this Black Friday (the others being Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Samsung); and they did so thanks to a Twitter sweepstake campaign offering significant money off certain products. Motorola made a similar play on Cyber Monday, with similar success rates.

And so while sales overall dropped despite social media discussion over the weekend increasing significantly from last year, those companies that did best did so thanks to social media campaigns.

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