8 Things Small Businesses Can Learn from this Year's Holiday Retail Blitz

Date: December 03, 2015

Recent data from this year’s Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday highlight some important trends for small businesses going forward.

Move over, Black Friday. There’s a new trend taking hold among shoppers: mobile devices, which accounted for almost half of all online traffic over the weekend, according to Adobe Digital Index.

GET AHEAD THIS HOLIDAY SEASON: Use NFIB’s Holiday Small Business Survival Guide to finish off 2015 with a bang. 

Sales from this year’s Black Friday were less frenzied than in years past, dropping more than 10 percent, according to ShopperTrak, a consumer research firm. In fact, the number of online Black Friday shoppers surpassed that of in-store shoppers, according to the National Retail Federation. 

Meanwhile, more small business owners and entrepreneurs are taking advantage of the power of mobile’s reach, using hashtags and other social media tools to capitalize on the busiest shopping season of the year.

And though Black Friday sales stagnated, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday saw measurable growth in both traffic and sales. A record 95 million shoppers turned out for Small Business Saturday, shelling out $16.2 billion. That’s a 14 percent increase from the $14.3 billion spent last year.

Here are some other major takeaways from the recent Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday events:

Smartphones and tablets are drastically changing consumer shopping habits. On Cyber Monday, mobile users accounted for 28 percent, or $514 million in online sales. Overall, it was the biggest Thanksgiving weekend for e-commerce, with about $11 billion in online sales—a 15 percent increase from last year.

Big businesses (and social media) can be meaningful cheerleaders for small businesses. Big businesses played a minor part in the record success of the weekend’s Small Business Saturday. Hundreds of corporate sponsors, from AT&T to Hertz, expressed support for small businesses with efforts ranging from social media to in-store events.

And yet… popularity in social media doesn’t necessarily drive sales. Merely using social networking tools to reach potential customers isn’t enough, as data from Custora, a software used by retailers, showed. On Black Friday, social networking platforms like Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram drove a “meager 1.7 percent of total online sales.”

Brick-and-mortar stores are trying to keep pace with the 24/7 nature of e-commerce giants like Amazon. More and more retailers are pushing major discounts and offers earlier and longer. Matthew Shay, chief executive for the National Retail Federation, told the New York Times that “retailers are heavily promoting starting the day after Halloween.” In turn, close to 60 percent of shoppers have already started their holiday shopping as early as Nov. 10, according to the National Retail Federation.

Shoppers are willing to wait for exclusive deals. Based on its annual survey, the National Retail Federation concludes that shoppers are more willing to wait for better offers and are more sophisticated about their purchases. What’s more, a survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers reflects a rise in the number of shoppers who do their research before making purchases, which cuts down on impulse buys.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are becoming less relevant. The speed and ease of finding and closing deals from the palm of your hand has dramatically changed the retail landscape. Some industry observers see 24-hour holiday events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday losing their luster.

Sometimes bucking the trend can help the bottom line. Intentionally avoiding the mad dash for holiday sales didn’t hurt outdoor retailer REI. Its “Opt Outside” campaign closed business during the busiest shopping days. In fact, according to SimilarWeb, a digital analytics firm, REI saw a 10 percent jump in online traffic during Thanksgiving and 26 percent on Black Friday.

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