The 2018 holiday season is well underway, and this year it started off with a bang. November 26 – known as "Cyber Monday" – broke records to become the best day for e-commerce retailers in U.S. history, with an estimated $7.9 billion in online revenue.
In this article, we'll go over some of the key takeaways in the immediate aftermath: what worked, what didn't, and what lessons you can learn from these insights.
#1 – Mobile continues to rise
Perhaps the biggest success story of 2018 holiday e-commerce is mobile shopping.
On Black Friday, customers spent more than $2 billion using their mobile devices for the first time ever. In total, one-third of all Black Friday sales were made via mobile, which is up from 29 percent in 2017.
The news was even better for Cyber Monday, which focuses specifically on e-commerce sales. 54 percent of website visits on Cyber Monday this year were made from mobile devices, a sharp increase from 2017.
What's more, the dominance of mobile devices is expected to continue throughout the 2018 holiday e-commerce season.
Salesforce analysts estimate that mobile devices will make up 68 percent of all e-commerce traffic during the 2018 holiday season.
Mobile activity will reach a peak on Christmas Eve, when Salesforce projects that mobile devices will be used for 72 percent of all visits and 54 percent of all orders.
#2 – Amazon remains on top
According to Amazon, Cyber Monday 2018 was the website's biggest shopping day ever, even bypassing Prime Day 2018. Between Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday, shoppers on the U.S. Amazon site purchased more than 180 million items.
These record-breaking numbers are likely due in part to Amazon's announcement in early November that non-Prime members would also receive free holiday shipping. This year, Amazon also took the unusual step of mailing out a paper catalog of children's toys and games.
What exactly are Amazon customers buying on Cyber Monday? The Amazon Echo Dot smart speaker was the top-selling item, while other popular gifts included the AncestryDNA genetic testing kit and Bose noise-cancelling headphones.
In particular, smart home devices had a blockbuster weekend on Amazon, including the Ring smart video doorbell and the Roomba robot vacuum cleaner.
#3 – Physical retail declines
While holiday e-commerce numbers rise year over year, physical retail stores continue to lose their foothold.
The woes of physical retail are exemplified by Sears, which is in the midst of Chapter 11 bankruptcy and continues to shut down store locations.
Retail analytics company RetailNext reports that brick-and-mortar sales on Thanksgiving and Black Friday 2018 were down 7 percent, while in-store visits were down 5 to 9 percent.
This marks the fourth straight year that these statistics have continued to decrease. According to research analyst Chuck Grom, writing for Gordon Haskett, "Black Friday just isn't what it used to be."
Despite the decline, there is some good news for physical retailers. 151 million people in the U.S. visited a mall or shopping center over the four-day Thanksgiving weekend, visiting an average of 11 stores.
#4 – Multichannel shopping up
If Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2018 are any indication, customers and retailers alike seem to be moving toward a "multichannel" shopping model that includes both e-commerce and physical outlets.
For example, Amazon has already revealed its interest in physical retail with its $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods in 2017.
The company has also launched partnerships allowing customers to make returns at more than 100 Kohl's stores, and hopes to open thousands of cashierless "Amazon Go" convenience stores by 2021.
Conversely, physical retailers are looking to increase their online presence.
According to Walmart's Q3 2018 sales report, the company's e-commerce sales have increased by 43 percent in the past two years. Meanwhile, sales via the Macy's e-commerce mobile app grew by 50 percent year over year in the first half of 2018.
With the high costs of last-mile delivery, and customers impatiently waiting to receive their orders, more and more shoppers are opting to buy items online and pick them up in-store.
BOPIS orders (buy online, pick up in store) during the Thanksgiving 2018 record saw a record 50 percent increase year over year.
These arrangements are beneficial to physical retailers as well: 64 percent of customers who pick up an item in-store also purchase additional items.
#5 – Technical problems cause lost revenue
With online sales so strong this year, having unexpected technical problems with your website is the nightmare of every e-commerce retailer.
This year, the websites of companies such as J.Crew and Lowe's went dark during the height of Thanksgiving weekend, costing them untold amounts of revenue.
J.Crew, for example, may have been a victim of its own success. After announcing that all online orders would be 50 percent off, J.Crew's website was swarmed with traffic.
Customers were greeted with a screen telling them to "Hang on a Sec" – although the technical difficulties actually lasted for most of Black Friday.
The website of Lowe's also went down during Black Friday. Shoppers reported that the website was apparently "down for maintenance," which caused many of them to instead turn to Home Depot for their home improvement needs.