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Black Friday reports show a drop in online sales, as in-store traffic rebounds from last year but fails to reach pre-pandemic levels

Black Friday shoppers at a mall in Toronto, Canada, on Nov. 26, 2021.

  • Online sales reached $8.9 billion on Black Friday, slightly below 2020 levels, according to data from Adobe Analytics.
  • Meanwhile, physical store traffic rose significantly from last year, but was still well below pre-pandemic levels. 
  • According to analysts, the mixed performance points to shifting consumer trends like buying earlier, particularly amid the supply chain crisis. 

Another Black Friday has come to a close, and early reports show a mixed performance for the annual shopping holiday. 

While the impact of the coronavirus pandemic dampened 2020 sales, this year’s Black Friday faced a number of unique hurdles of its own, including a national labor shortage, widespread supply chain constraints, and the emergence of a new COVID-19 variant.

Though retailers made some gains — including in areas like in-store traffic and mobile sales — data shows the industry is still struggling to return to pre-pandemic levels. The findings also indicate a shift in consumer spending patterns, such as starting shopping earlier in the season and taking advantage of newer services like buy-now-pay-later. 

“Consumers have been shopping strategically this season: Buying early and taking advantage of deals retailers have been promoting since late October,” Adobe Digital Insights Director Taylor Schreiner said in a statement on Friday. “Black Friday still remains a major online shopping day, but the surge in online shopping is coming from the less marketed days of the season.”

We took a closer look at the key findings from Black Friday, below.

Shoppers line up outside a Lululemon store in Chicago on Black Friday.
People line up to enter a store during Black Friday shopping at Fashion Outlets of Chicago in Rosemont of Greater Chicago Area, Illinois, the United States, on Nov. 26, 2021.

In-store traffic rose, but failed to reach pre-pandemic levels

While some shoppers were met with traditional Black Friday scenes of lengthy lines and crowded malls, others reported sparsely populated and fairly quiet stores this year.

This mixed bag was also reflected in the traffic numbers: According to data from RetailNext, traffic at brick-and-mortar stores increased by 61% on Black Friday compared to 2020 levels. And while the boost is a marked improvement from last year, in-store traffic was still 27% below pre-pandemic rates in 2019.

Likewise, Sensormatic Solutions, a company that tracks physical store traffic, found that while there was a 48% gain over 2020, rates were still 28% lower than 2019. 

“While in-store shopping is still not back to 2019 levels, more shoppers felt comfortable visiting stores in person this Black Friday than in 2020,” Brian Field, senior director of global retail consulting at Sensormatic Solutions, said in a press statement. “One driver of this increased traffic could be ongoing supply chain challenges and shipping delays.”

Online sales dipped  

E-commerce sales reached $8.9 billion on Black Friday, slightly below 2020 levels of $9 billion, according to data from Adobe Analytics.

The number was at the low end of Adobe’s predicted range, and also came after disappointing flatline sales of $5.1 billion on Thanksgiving Day — marking the first time both days failed to boost year-over-year spending. 

The sales indicate “another sign that consumers started to shift their spending to earlier in the season, responding to promotions and deals from retailers that started in October,” Adobe said.

Shoppers at a Revolve x Afterpay event during New York Fashion Week in 2021.
A view of the Afterpay register during Revolve’s New York Fashion Week pop-up at Hudson Yards on September 09, 2021 in New York City.




Buy-now-pay-later usage surged 

Buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) services like Klarna and Afterpay have been on the rise, and in recent months several major retailers have opted to integrate the option into point-of-sales both in-store and online.

Thanks in part to its newfound ubiquity, BNPL usage is on the rise this holiday season: Accordng to Adobe, total BNPL spending and volume of orders in November is up 422% and 438%, respectively, from 2019 levels. 

Smartphone browsing is on the rise

Mobile shopping comprised 44.4% of online sales on Black Friday, an increase of 10.6% year-over-year, according to Adobe.  However, a majority of consumers prefer to browse deals on their phone before making purchases on desktop, with smartphone visits accounting for 62.2% share compared to desktop, an increase of 2.2% from 2020, the data shows.

Curbside pickup is still thriving

While some pandemic-era shopping habits have fallen away, one remains popular — curbside pickup. According to Adobe, curbside services were used in 20% of all online orders placed on Black Friday. For the month of November, curbside services were up 78% from pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

 



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