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Is Cyber Monday the New Black (Friday)?

posted on: Mon Nov 13 2017

By: Josh Johnston, Manager of AI Science at Kount

Or is it the other way around?  Cyber Monday was created as a complement to Black Friday, a day of deals online to follow in-store discounts before the weekend.  As the convenience of eCommerce expanded at the expense of physical store sales, the idea of braving the crowds at 5am to snag a doorbuster advertised in a newspaper circular also lost currency with a younger generation.  With many deals matched online, Black Friday is no longer just a brick and mortar affair.

This year I’ve read lots of stories that Black Friday is merging with Cyber Monday to form a solid weekend of eCommerce shopping.  Others suggest merchants and consumers aren’t waiting until Thanksgiving to kick off the season, resulting in a month of deals and increased transaction volume.  We’ll see below that the first is true, but the second may still be aspirational.

Reading these pundits, it’s hard to separate truth from opinion.  Fortunately, we don’t have to take their word for it.  Kount’s business is knowing customers and we have the best data set to do it in the world.  I decided to see what our numbers say to expect this holiday season.  You can skip to the pictures, or read on to see how the sausage was made.

  • Discounting, pricing, and promotions are worth an analysis all their own, but I’m interested in customer traffic. So I considered eCommerce transaction volume rather than dollars or sales price.
  • Next, I limited the transactions to carts that contain physical goods for shipment or pick up in store across a representative cross-section of consumer market verticals, thereby excluding purely digital goods.
  • Since these are primarily American shopping events, I further limited to products destined for US locations.
  • Finally, the number of merchants Kount protects and the transactions handled by those merchants increase exponentially every year. I represented each year’s transactions as the percent of mean daily transactions in October, when the holiday shopping has not started.  A 100% day had the same number of transactions as the average October day.  A 200% day had twice the transactions as the average October day. 

Daily TransactionsWow!  Black Friday and Cyber Monday are not a fiction.  After rolling through October right near the average volume, each year shows a slight but statistically significant increase in transactions through early November.  Black Friday and Cyber Monday post 3-5 times the average daily transactions, with Saturday and Sunday about twice the average.  Put another way, those 4 days clear around 2 weeks of October’s transactions.  December powers along well above October’s levels, especially during the shortened shopping seasons of 2013 and 2014.

The charts don’t provide much to support claims that the holiday shopping season starts at the beginning of November.  The sales and advertising may come out Nov 1, but customers have largely been waiting until after turkey to get serious about crossing items off their lists.

I also wanted to measure the relative scale of Black Friday versus Cyber Monday for eCommerce transactions.  For that, we zoom in on these two days and use one of my favorite tools from Edward Tufte: the Slopegraph.  These are useful representations when comparing trends in pairs of numbers.  From this graph, there’s clear evidence that Cyber Monday is still more important for eCommerce, but the action on Black Friday isn’t limited to the store.  These two days will be most online merchants’ biggest days of the year.

Black Friday/ Cyber Monday

The consistently high volume of these days is particularly impressive when you consider that the overall share of eCommerce has grown so much.  A day 4x the average in 2011 was nowhere near as significant to most businesses as the same ratio in 2017.

In summary, this data provides support for claims that Black Friday remains as important for eCommerce as Cyber Monday, merging into the busiest weekend of the year.  There’s less support for the idea that “Black November” sales are getting traction even earlier in the month of November.

There’s also helpful information here for merchants.  Kount always recommends merchants consider impact and update policies before promotions begin to make them go smoothly.  This data suggests merchants should be prepared not just for a long weekend after Thanksgiving, but for well above-average traffic through the end of the year.

This year, Kount’s holiday preparedness support includes the new Boost Safety Rating to reduce the fraction of transactions that need reviews and focus effort on the ones that do.

Prepare your business even more for the upcoming holiday season (and increase in both transactions and fraud) with our eBook "eGift Card Fraud: The Gift That Keeps On Taking".

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