Big department stores with healthy online operations and Amazon (AMZN -0.82%) led the way on Black Friday in part by getting a head start by kicking the shopping festivities off on Thanksgiving.
Digital Black Friday sales started at most major retailers when the calendar turned from Wednesday to Thursday. That was enough to keep some shoppers at home -- still buying stuff, but not venturing out to stores on either Thursday or Friday.
Online sales were the big winner of the two-day period, coming in at $5.27 billion, according to Adobe (ADBE 0.07%) Digital Insights. That's a 17.7% year-over-year increase, with Black Friday itself setting a new record by surpassing $3 billion for the first time, at $3.34 billion -- a 21.6% increase over 2015. Thanksgiving itself came in at $1.93 billion.
"The negative impact on online shopping we saw following the election has not been fully made up, but consumers are back online and shopping," said Adobe Digital Insights Director Tamara Gaffney in a statement. "As spending ramps up on Black Friday, we are back on track. We still expect Cyber Monday to surpass Black Friday and become the largest online sales day in history with $3.36 billion."
It's a big kickoff to the season after a nervous period caused by election uncertainty. That was very good news for some retailers, but not everyone was a winner. Here's a look at the winners and losers from what we know so far about the early part of the holiday season.
Winners: Amazon, Target, and Wal-Mart
Amazon was the obvious big winner with the notoriously secret retailer saying that Thanksgiving has now become one of its biggest mobile shopping days in the United States. Amazon said mobile orders on Thanksgiving 2016 exceeded those on Cyber Monday 2015, TechCrunch reported. The online leader also said that it was on pace to beat last year's Black Friday in terms of items ordered with its own Fire TV, Kindle, and Echo devices being among the top sellers.
Wal-Mart (WMT -0.39%) was also a bit secretive with numbers, but it acknowledged in a press release that Thanksgiving Day was once again one of the top online shopping days of the year. Target (TGT 0.24%) also released a preliminary statement reporting a strong start to the holiday shopping season.
"Shopping at Target has become an annual Thanksgiving tradition for millions of our guests, and we're thrilled at the response we've seen this year. We had a record-breaking day on Target.com and traffic to our stores was strong," said CEO Brian Cornell.
Winner: Mobile sales
WIth $1.2 billion, Black Friday became the first day ever to drive over $1 billion in mobile revenue, according to Adobe Digital Insights. That's 33% growth year-over-year. In addition, conversion rates (the percentage of people who look at an item on a mobile device and then buy it) increased as well. Smartphones converted at 2.4%, tablets at 4.6%, and desktops at 5.5% (compared to holiday averages of 1.3%, 2.9%, and 3.2% last year), according to this data.
Losers: Physical stores
More consumers are shopping online, which means fewer are going to stores. Malls were certainly not deserted, but the numbers were clearly down most places. Cowen & Co analysts forecast in a note before Black Friday ended that store traffic would likely fall 3% to 4% this year on Black Friday, Reuters reported.
"We expect negative (store) traffic given (the) earlier start this year of the holiday selling season and rise of mobile, which could be as much as 60% or more of all traffic, and consumer exhaustion from a saturated promotional environment," the analysts said, according to Reuters.
By opening on Thanksgiving, retailers have sapped some of the enthusiasm from Black Friday, making it less of an event. That could actually lead to a better in-store experience for people who choose to go out, but it makes the day less of a happening, which has a bit of a snowball effect on shopper enthusiasm.
Macy's (M 0.99%) has been struggling to find its footing in the current digitally driven economy and it has been investing heavily in its online operations. Those efforts might be fine on a normal day, but on Black Friday the worst thing that could happen did -- Macys.com crashed.
The chain's website went down in the morning and was still experiencing outages as of 2:30 p.m., according to posts on social media. It's hard to know the exact impact of the off-and-on outage, but it's likely the company took a hit. That could end up being a bigger negative for the long term as some of those holiday shoppers might have been first-time customers whose credit card and login info Macy's could have captured.