Did Social Fall Flat on Black Friday and Cyber Monday?

November 27th, 2012 by Search Influence Alumni

Black Friday & Cyber Monday Sales DataThe weekend after Thanksgiving was one of the most aggressive marketing blitzes in recent memory. News reports had three shopping holidays to choose from: the venerable Black Friday, which started around 1961 but didn’t gain the influence it now has until as late as 2005; Small Business Saturday, a American Express-backed venture that took advantage of a Twitter hashtag in 2010 supporting local brick-and-mortars; and Cyber Monday, coined by the National Retail Federation in 2005. These three days have only been increasing in search volume and clout, and are now at the forefront of the holiday business season.

The IBM Reports

In today’s Big Data world, it’s easier than ever to analyze huge data sets and IBM was one of the first to get out a report on the buying weekend. Their Black Friday and Cyber Monday Reports are troves of information, giving website analytics data for e-commerce sites across a wide swath of industries. We were hipped to this data by Mashable, who curiously reported that Twitter yielded no revenue to these clients. It seems that despite massively ramped-up social advertising spending this year, leading BIA/Kelsey to project a 19.2% compound annual growth rate to 2016, social media sites only offered .34% of referrers on sales on Black Friday and .41% on Cyber Monday. Representing a loss in revenue of 35% and 24% respectively, it might seem that social was a dud.

However, between the three shopping days, over 447,000 people used the related hashtags, and millions more used less tech-savvy terms to talk about the events. Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites have become utterly ubiquitous, combining with the adoption of social media by people who are wealthy enough to buy the majority of gifts for the holidays — that is, parents. Was all that marketing a waste? Or was social media part of a wider sales strategy that led to an annual e-commerce sales growth of 20% on Black Friday and 30% on Cyber Monday?

Black Friday & Cyber Monday Sales Data

Did View-Through Traffic Matter?

Black Friday & Cyber Monday Sales Data My immediate thought when looking at this data was that social media was being discounted, as it often is an intermediary step between product research and buying that product. Especially during sales, users will shop around, compare products, and come to the same retailer through a variety of advertising channels. Much like paid search and organic social media posts, the buying cycle can be particularly long, especially when all of your competitors are also vying for your customers.

But even clicks aren’t particularly valuable as a metric, as many saw these deals passively through advertisements and posts in their feed. Social media acts similarly to television ads, giving snippets of information to raise interest. This kind of passive brand-building is hard to track, but certainly affects users by letting them know that there’s a sale and they should check out the site for more deals, leading to businesses over-valuing direct rather than social media traffic. While this kind of analysis is difficult, businesses have to use impression-based attribution to track the ROI of social media.

The Power of Email

Also left out of IBM’s analysis is email. We’ve all seen our inboxes swell with bacn as the buying season approached, warning us of the deals to come on all the sites that have acquired our email at some point. Major retailers carpet-bombed our inboxes, leaving hundreds of subject lines for us to click or ignore. Many marketers champion email as a much more effective use of marketing spend that users prefer to social media advertising. Why did IBM choose to ignore the direct-mail campaigns in their study?

Did You Know?

Regardless of their flaws, the IBM reports are a wealth of data for marketers both in e-commerce and keeping track of the information to strengthen their own marketing campaigns. Some key takeaways:

Black Friday Year-Over-Year Stats

  • Average Order Value is down 5%
  • Average Session Length is down 10%
  • Mobile Sales and Traffic are up 66%
  • Sales Peaked at 8:45am PST (11:45 EST)
  • Secondary Sales Peak at 7:35pm PST (10:35 EST)

Cyber Monday Stats

  • Average Order Value is down 7%
  • Average Session Length is down 5%
  • Mobile Sales and Traffic are up 96% and 71%
  • Sales Peaked at 8:05pm PST (11:05 EST)
  • Secondary Sales Peak at 8:25am PST (11:25 EST)

A Quick Poll

Please take this quick poll to see an unscientific review of the data points from the IBM reports.