Black Friday 2021: Roundups and Benchmarks

December 2, 2021 Sorcha OBoyle

Black Friday?

Completed it, mate.

2021 was always going to be an interesting year. The bumper performance of 2020’s locked-down Black Friday weekend would be a hard act to follow and, to make things even trickier, recent changes in Apple’s privacy requirements have made bidding in paid search and social channels more competitive than ever.

So how did Black Friday (and Cyber Monday) play out? And what are the implications for retailers and ecommerce businesses?

In a nutshell: overall online and retail channels were down compared with 2020 but revenue was up, mainly driven by higher average order values.

Headline average order values were up 20% over the 8 days from Monday 22nd to Monday 29th November, enough to drive a 3% increase in overall revenue despite lower online and offline sales. Looking at the big picture, this translates to a month-on-month revenue increase in November and an increase of approximately 10% versus 2019.

In simple terms, it’s good news.

But, as we know, the devil is in the detail so let’s take a more granular look at discounting trends and see how 2021 compares to 2020 and 2019 across online and offline channels.


Who was discounting and by how much?

Discounting trends continued in a similar vein to recent years as very few brands opted for site- or store-wide blanket discounts. In a sample of over 100 retailers, 61% had a Black Friday promotion on the homepage of their website while 35% did not. Interestingly, 4% of brands surveyed chose to support charities with donations instead of offering discounts to customers, a relatively new phenomenon which is worth keeping an eye on.

Where brands did choose to run Black Friday promotions, most ranged between 20% and 50% off but only on selected products. More restrained discounting ranges indicate that brands are implementing more sophisticated discounting strategies and are focussed on maintaining margins during the period. Anecdotally, some brands have reported a reluctance to discount heavily as they manage stock levels over the Christmas period.


Online sales performance

As was expected, online sales trended 11% down 2020 figures as customers had the option of shopping instore instead of being corralled online by lockdowns. Although sales were negatively affected by lower traffic and a drop in conversion rate, this was offset by a healthy 11% increase in average order values which will leave Finance teams very happy.

Comparing against 2019 figures, online sales are still posting healthy growth: 2021 revenue was up by 25% compared to 2019, a trend that seems likely to continue as consumers become increasingly comfortable with online channels.

Interestingly, online performance was relatively low on Black Friday itself but picked up over the weekend. Saturday and Sunday tracked only 3% below 2020 and while Cyber Monday actually jumped to hit a 3% revenue increase on 2020’s performance, supported by a healthy 17% increase in average order values. Revenue was also up 26% on 2019 with again a strong AOV lift of 16%.


Offline sales performance

And what about physical stores? How did stores perform in their first Black Friday since the pandemic began way back in March 2020?

In short, it was mixed. The week leading up to Black Friday was relatively strong with only a small drop in retail sales compared to 2019. On Black Friday itself, however, stores traded 31% down and continued to drop on Saturday. Some of this will have been driven by announcements of new restrictions and bad weather which resulted in a 17% drop in footfall over the weekend compared with 2019. Interestingly, average order values posted double digit growth throughout the weekend, indicating that those shoppers who braved the bad weather were ready to spend.


In conclusion

While sales performance overall trended down on previous years, healthy double-digit growth in average order values meant that average revenues during the Black Friday period remained strong. Most brands will be pleased with their performance, particularly as less reliance on big discounts means better profit margins. Customers recruited through discounts are unlikely to buy at full price so high average order values for first-time buyers are good news for brands – and a sign that your marketing team is doing a great job.

A strong performance during Black Friday is a good way to start the Christmas period. There are still just over three precious weeks before the big day so now is the time to make the most of those customers in your database. If a customer bought with you for the first time last week, make sure they know how important they are to you – after all, a great customer experience is the best way to make sure someone becomes a repeat customer!


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