The New Realities of Christmas Shopping (UPDATED)

If you had any doubt the realities of post-Thanksgiving shopping are changing, you have already missed the big change.

The data from IBM’s U.S. retail survey (Tech.pinions subscribers can see Ben Bajarin’s analysis of the IBM Black Friday survey here) shows the change in consumer activity. The 11% decline in Black Friday was likely the result, at least in part, of a major shift of purchase activities from brick-and-mortar stores to online ordering.

The big change is the availability of mobile shopping. Based on IBM’s data until noon EST on Monday, total online sales have risen 9.2%. But mobile traffic was 39.9%, a 28.4% increase from 2013. Mobile sales were 23%, a 28.7% increase from last year. Note that shows 60% of the total traffic still comes from PCs, but the mobile share continues to rise.


 There are three big lessons in the news about Thanksgiving data:

Android May Dominate Phone Sales, but iPhones Dominate Shopping

Android phones outnumber iPhones in the U.S. The advantage is nowhere near as impressive as in most of the rest of the world, but Android holds about 10% more of the total U.S. phone share. But according to IBM, iOS accounted for 27% of all online traffic vs. 12.4% for Android. The iOS sales advantage was even greater — 17.8% of online sales verse a paltry 5% of Android sales. The average iPhone sale is $127.85 per order, 22% more than the average Android sale.

There doesn’t seem to be any good statistics explaining this gap, but it’s not hard to come up with some speculative ideas on what is responsible. Probably the most important is a considerable percentage of Android acquirers are moving from traditional, and disappearing, feature phones. But these customers do not have online experience of mobile device purchases. Although the top of the line Androids phones may equal or even exceed the price of an iPhone, many Android competitors are filling the bottom of the market, where mobile purchases are smaller and less common.

Forget About Black Friday

The notion of Black Friday has always been an invention of retailers to help draw customers to stores the day after Thanksgiving. But the decline in a general strong economy this year is a good sign the Black Friday is no longer is what it used to be. One reason for the weaker sales is definitely the growing volume of online selling. Online shopping, whether it’s mobile or desktop, is available day or night, seven days a week. The affect is likely to be a spreading of holiday shopping from Thanksgiving to the day shippers cut off Christmas deliveries. The relatively slow start to post-Thanksgiving shopping should probably not be viewed as a slow market.

Forget About Cyber Monday, Too

There once was a real reason for Cyber Monday. Those who wanted to buy right after Thanksgiving needed a chance to get onto the internet and, for many, that was the first time back to the office. But of course, nearly all of those customers now have desktops or tablets at home and mobile devices nearly everywhere. If they want to whip out their phones and order presents during Thanksgiving dinner, they could. So the expectation for Cyber Monday to be a specific day for shopping no longer exists.

PCs Aren’t Dead for Shopping

The growth of business over mobile devices is taking attention away from laptop and desktop computers. But, as IBM puts it, “Even as mobile shopping continues to grow, many consumers chose a more traditional online experience. Desktop PC traffic represented 59.9% of all online traffic, and 77% of all online sales. Further, consumers spent more money on their desktops with an average order value of $141.14 compared to their mobile devices at $122.04, a difference of 15.7%.”

Of course, one alternative I know well myself is to shop on a mobile device and then make the actual purchase on a PC. The alternative here is to use a tablet. I’m not fond of shopping on the phone because I simply can’t see enough on the screen.

But my iPad is often a very good alternative to the PC, especially with well-designed shopping apps effectively using the display. For example, Amazon has a much broader shopping app for the iPad than it does for the iPhone. Of course, this is likely to become much more of an issue as the largest phones bump against the smallest tablets.


UPDATE: By the end of the day, IBM found that online sales were up 8.5% from last year, although orders were down 3.5%. Mobile traffic accounted for 41.2% of all online traffic, up from 30.1% in 1983. New York led the market, followed by Washington, Atlanta, and Chicago. iOS continued to outpace Android: Traffic of 28%, more than double Android. iOS sales 17.4% of all online sales, more than four times Android. And average sales of $114.79, 18.5% more than Android.

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Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.

1,204 thoughts on “The New Realities of Christmas Shopping (UPDATED)”

  1. It seems to me that one of the reasons Black Friday sales may be down is because online sales can now occur at any time. Retailers had “Black Friday” sales on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday and some were open on Thanksgiving. I’d be more interested in seeing if overall sales were down. Black Friday may fade away because every day is a shopping day on the internet.