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Traditionally, Black Friday is the day consumers stay at home, sink into a sofa, fire up their laptops, and let their fingers do the walking while hunting for all those sweet deals online. Or is it Cyber Monday? Did I get something wrong?
This year's Black Friday marked the first billion-dollar shopping day of the holiday season for online retailers. As of yesterday, it was the heaviest online spending day of 2013. Is Black Friday losing its luster?
Based on the figures released by comScore, an expert in measuring all things digital, a record 66 million Americans shopped from the comfort of their homes on Black Friday, 16% more than did last year. They spent nearly $1.2 billion, representing a 15% year-over-year increase. Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN ) ranked as the busiest website followed by eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY ) .
On the brick-and-mortar retail front, research firm ShopperTrak reported that foot traffic plunged 11% compared to a year ago while sales dropped 13% to less than $10 billion. That's the second time in a row Black Friday sales hit the skids. Last year, sales on that day fell almost 2% to $11.2 billion. Overall, U.S. shoppers spent about $60 billion during the 2012 Black Friday weekend, but nearly half of that spending took place online.
What went wrong?
For starters, the recent trend of keeping stores open during Thanksgiving Day had a negative impact on Black Friday's sales numbers. Many consumers got a head start on their holiday spending, hoping to avoid the large queues and the frantic crowds associated with the Super Bowl of Shopping.
Secondly, the online marketplace cashed in on major retail chains' limited supply. Wal-Mart and Best Buy offered special deals on hot gifts like Xbox One and PS4 consoles, but they were sold out fast. Shoppers then turned to eBay, where such products are usually resold at a premium by people who wish to make a quick buck. E-commerce firm ChannelAdvisor mentioned that by noon EST on Black Friday, eBay saw its client sales skyrocket 35% compared to last year. For the same period, sales on Amazon jumped as much as 25%.
Moreover, Google gave online merchants a hand through Google Shopping, a product search service where sellers expose their items. As ChannelAdvisor CEO Scot Wingo pointed out, "the latest version of Google Shopping was launched last year, so more retailers are using the service now, which boosts growth numbers." It also enables them to give Amazon a run for its money since the online behemoth doesn't usually use this program. eBay, on the other hand, is pretty fond of it.
As of mid-Friday, some of the top trending gifts on Google Shopping -- apart from video game consoles -- included fashion items like Nike Air Jordan Retro sneakers and Ugg boots.
Last but not least, it wasn't just any Black Friday. It was also "Bitcoin Black Friday," a shopping extravaganza just for Bitcoin users. You've probably heard of the online cryptocurrency before and how it's slowly but surely stepping into the mainstream.
More than 400 online retailers tried to lure holiday deal-hunters with special rewards and discounts on pretty much everything, from electronic cigarettes and lollipops to a ticket to space on Virgin Atlantic. Taking into account that sometime during the hectic shopping week the digital currency broke through the $1,000 mark, tech-savvy shoppers had every reason to spend Bitcoins like water.
Are we headed for the end of Black Friday as we know it?
No matter how many aces brick-and-mortar stores keep up their sleeves, if these trends carry on then we should kiss goodbye to Black Friday as we know it.
And if Amazon comes through with its plans and starts using drones that will deliver packages within 30 minutes, then Black Friday won't be the day we brave the frantic crowds to grab the last PS4 available, but the day the sky turns into a labyrinth of little flying devices.
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