Black Friday: May the Mobile Odds Be Ever in Your Favor

Social media may be touted as a way to win the hearts and minds of customers, but the Black Friday shopping numbers from the past few years present a different story. A survey done by IBM in 2012 shows that social media brought little if any sales during the 2011 and 2012 Thanksgiving holiday shopping seasons (.53% and .34% respectively). In fact, a writer at Marketing Pilgrim who reflected upon the IBM survey goes so far as to call Twitter a “zero…Not [even] enough to register.” The same was true of site traffic; social media failed to produce tangible results (.92% in 2011 and .81% in 2012). The real winner in 2012? Mobile.

Mobile Takes the Stage

The IBM survey shows that mobile accounted for almost ten percent of sales in 2011. The number jumped to 16 percent in 2012. A similar phenomenon occurred with site traffic; it nearly doubled from 14 percent in 2011 to 24 percent in 2012. Conversion and bounce rates remained similar both years.

The devices used to access information also depicts another interesting story. Android marginally increased (4.05% to 5.53%); iPhones increased by 19.15% (from 5.38% to 8.71%); and iPads increased from 4.75% to 9.75%. Customers also shopped “multi-screen”; that is, they shopped in the store, online, and on mobile devices simultaneously. The conclusion is clear: people were and are using their mobile devices more and more to access information about products that interest them.

More Odds in Favor of Mobile

The National Retail Federation’s 2012 survey tells the same story. According to it, 247 million Americans visited retailers’ stores and websites during the Black Friday weekend – an increase from 226 million in 2011. Of that number, 27 percent used their smartphones to research products and compare prices. Another 15 percent planned to purchase products via their phones, and another 15 percent planned to use their phones to redeem coupons.

The end result of all those numbers was increased sales. Holiday shoppers spent an average of $423 over the weekend in comparison to $398 in 2011. The increase might not have been a grand one, but total spending still reached an estimated $59 billion, up from $52.4 billion in 2011.

Another survey, a 2013 one from Sybase 365 and the Mobile Marketing Association, also favors mobile. The survey finds that 87 percent of U.S. adults’ holiday shopping behavior will be affected by a mobile device. Of survey participants, 50 percent said they plan to use their smartphones to make purchases either through mobile websites, apps, mobile POS systems, or SMS/text in the upcoming holiday shopping season.

Why the trend toward making purchases via a smartphone? One reason is the customers themselves and their expectations, but Michael Becker, Managing Director of MMA, North America, adds another. He says, “With mobile payment and commerce options expanding, marketers have an unprecedented opportunity to leverage mobile along the path to purchase and to turn awareness into preference and preference into transactions.”

Will Mobile Win the Game in 2013?

It’s impossible to make a proclamation about mobile at this stage of the game, but the odds seem to be in mobile’s favor. Social probably won’t make much of a showing; retailers have become attuned to the realities of trying to promote sales on social networks, are realizing the importance of owned content, and recognize the importance of creating an experience for their customers. They have to be able to track efforts to sales, and one of the best ways to do that is to keep all marketing efforts tied to their brands rather than to outside networks.

Thus, retailers will focus on developing experiences inside the store and online. They may supplement their core offerings – which may be offered via email, a mobile app, and the website and store – with social media, but they won’t gamble on it. They’ve learned their lesson from the 2012 sales numbers. They’ll focus on where the odds are leaning, and the odds are leaning toward mobile.