9 trends from Black Friday-Cyber Monday 2021

December 21, 2021

Tina Donati

There’s no doubt about it, ecommerce is still growing rapidly. And even after the big spike in 2020, it’s not slowing down, especially around high-traffic periods like Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

While data from this Black Friday weekend is showing a decline in sales from the previous year (2020 saw a record $9 billion in online sales in the US over the Black Friday weekend, while 2021 saw just shy of that at $8.6 billion), it’s important to understand what trends stood out and what they mean for the future of ecommerce.

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To explore these trends, we dove into data from Bolt and teamed up with experts at Ordergroove and Salesforce. This information will show what consumers expect in 2022, and what you need to stay ahead of the curve by the next Black Friday season.

Let’s uncover the top 9 trends from Black Friday and Cyber Monday together, right here.

1. GMV was up 28% for all of November

According to Bolt data, GMV over Cyber week was down 9% year-over-year. But compared to the entire month of November and Q3 2020, GMV actually went up by 28%.

How can that be?

Two reasons: sales started earlier and consumers were worried about shipping delays.

Sales started sooner

A theme across all industry verticals for Black Friday is that sales started much earlier this year, leading to a prolonged shopping period where buyers were purchasing even weeks before Black Friday officially started.

“This speaks to the fact that people weren’t waiting for Black Friday. Cyber Monday sales started earlier, and this shopping season really never ends,” said Ian Leslie, Sr. Director of Retail Advocacy for Bolt.

Shipping delays had customers concerned

Aside from Black Friday sales starting earlier, another big reason why shoppers purchased in the weeks before Black Friday is likely due to the supply chain and inventory issues.

Many brands have been transparent with their customers about these issues, so shoppers that normally use Black Friday to purchase holiday gifts would have been concerned about their orders arriving on time to put under the Christmas tree.

To avoid this conflict, consumers took advantage of the pre-Black Friday sales to get their holiday shopping done.

2. Customers want alternative payment methods

Payment-option paralysis is a myth; customers actually prefer alternative payment methods (APM), including PayPal, Apple Pay, Google Pay, as well as options like buy now, pay later where customers pay for their purchase in installments.

According to Bolt’s data, this year 20% of all transactions utilized an APM, which was an increase of 26% year-over-year.

Buy now, pay later also had a big win over Black Friday by driving more GMV for merchants than expected. Caila Schwartz, Consumer Insights and Strategist at Salesforce, found that 6% of all transactions during the Black Friday weekend utilized a buy now, pay later option—an increase of 12% YoY.

“This actually beat out services like Apple Pay, so installment payments are more popular right now, representing a 30% year-over-year increase for this particular payment option,” said Caila.

What can you take away from this? Customers want payment methods that offer optionality and convenience. And, when you offer alternative payment methods or buy now, pay later options, you may see a significant increase in average order value.

3. Passwordless checkouts led to customers converting more

Removing friction for customers at checkout is the fastest way to increase your conversion metrics.

Over the Black Friday weekend, Bolt’s data showed that brands using a passwordless checkout saw a rise in all metrics across the conversion journey. In fact, those who were utilizing Bolt’s network and its one-click checkout saw an increase of 64% year-over-year.

What does this tell us? Ian explained how customers crave convenience when shopping online:

“Long story short, it’s all about convenience. If you’re able to check out with just one click, without a password, or with an amazing mobile checkout experience, people are more willing to convert.”

4. People shopped less but spent more (higher AOV)

While transactions over Black Friday were down, GMV jumped by 9% and AOV jumped by 26% across Bolt’s network.

“People are buying bigger ticket items—items such as furniture and electronics. There is a general sense that discounts were lower from what we’re seeing, which would lead to the rise in AOV,” explained Ian.

With access to more payment options, brands discounting less, and optimistic consumer spending, the conditions were ripe for brands with loyal customers or higher value items.

5. Subscription sign-ups increased significantly

Subscription enrollment increased so much in 2020 that it was hard to imagine 2021’s numbers would beat it.

And yet, enrollment stats from the Black Friday and Cyber Monday week beg to differ.

Even though the Black Friday weekend is a highly promotional period where shoppers are interested in finding the best sales, many consumers actually signed up for subscription programs over the weekend.

In fact, Ordergroove’s data showed a 37% increase in subscription enrollment from 2020 to 2021, which is even higher than the previous year’s growth (from 2019 to 2020, subscription enrollment increased by 17%).

This increase is likely due to two reasons:

  1. Over the past year, brands spent more time educating customers on the benefits of a subscription program and used better promotional tactics.
  2. More brands are aware of subscription best practices and used the Black Friday weekend to create enticing offers for consumers who sign up.

Let’s break it down by industry

  • The beauty industry saw a 47% increase year-over-year in subscriber creation.
  • The pet industry saw a 48% increase YoY.
  • Food and beverage saw a 62% increase YoY.
  • Neutraceuticals saw a 12% decrease YoY.
  • Home goods saw a 12% decrease YoY.

So, why the major increases and decreases?

For the beauty industry, as people started to head back to in-office jobs and come out of COVID, they were interested in stocking up on cosmetics and beauty products.

Pet products saw a spike because many people adopted animals while they were stuck at home during the pique of COVID. Especially as many people moved to work remotely on a full-time basis, they felt comfortable adopting a pet to stay at home with.

“The majority of my friends adopted a pet during Covid. As a result, the pet vertical is growing like wildfire for all accessories, and more specifically, pet food,” said Kyle Beldoc, Senior Relationship Manager and Strategic Client Director at Ordergroove.

As for the food and beverage space, this vertical has brought many niche products to the market that consumers can order directly to their door. Since these have a shelf life, it makes sense to get a subscription program so they continuously show up just in the nick of time.

So why the decrease in supplement and home goods brands? Well, November isn’t a popular time for shoppers to purchase these items.

Supplements do best in January when people have New Year’s Resolutions, whereas home goods subscriptions are more popular in Spring and Fall when people are purchasing more home goods items because they’re doing house cleaning and renovations.

How do subscriptions fit into BFCM?

Oftentimes, subscriptions are left behind in highly promotion periods like Black Friday. Kyle said it’s important to understand that there’s a value to promoting your subscriptions and creating unique offerings around them to drive more sign-ups:

“Subscriptions help offset cash or the cost of acquisition and ultimately increase customer LTV, making them more valuable than the one-time purchases you might be driving during a highly promotional period.”

6. Supply chain stifled discounting

This year—even more so than last year—many brands were held in the grip of supply chain challenges.

According to Caila of Salesforce, there was a significant decline in SKUs, which impacted how deep brands were running discounts to offset the issue.

“We saw that discounting was soft—an 8% year-over-year decrease in overall discount rates. And this was for the global average. Consumers definitely were not getting the same type of discounts that they saw in 2020,” she said.

7. Large inflation led to less discounting

With inflation rising more than expected, prices for consumers were impacted.

Salesforce’s data found that globally for Cyber Week, consumers paid about 5% higher prices. And in the US, the growth was a lot more aggressive at around 11% year-over-year.

“Consumers were seeing lower discounts, higher prices, and this led to fewer orders,” said Caila.

With prices slightly increased, and less discounting from brands due to supply chain issues, it’s easier to make sense of the decrease in Black Friday purchases when compared to 2020.

8. Consumer’s splurged on new categories

Moving on from their “pandemic hobbies,” consumers’ interests shifted to surprisingly different categories this year.

Last year, the highest growth verticals recorded were food and beverage, sporting goods, electronics, toys, and beauty. This year, the top-performing vertical for online sales during Black Friday and Cyber Monday was luxury handbags, followed by furniture and footwear.

“I think this really speaks to the current state of the real estate market. Consumers are still buying houses because of low-interest rates, and that’s why higher value items like furniture continue to be strong despite having quite significant inventory challenges and supply chain issues for the past year and a half,” explained Caila.

9. Emerging tech helped drive sales

Innovative brands were able to stay above the Black Friday sales dip by leveraging emerging technology. Specifically, brands using the fulfillment options that allow customers to buy online and pick up in-store saw a positive impact.

According to Salesforce’s data, U.S. retailers offering this service to their customers saw a 50% greater growth during Black Friday compared to U.S. sites not offering a fulfillment option on their site.

This data supports the idea that more consumers headed back to in-person retail stores this year.

“Perhaps consumers were starting their shopping journey online, making a purchase, and then going to the store to browse and complete their holiday shopping. For brands that offered this service to their customers, they certainly saw quite the benefit.”

Caila Schwartz, consumer insights and strategist at Salesforce

Stay ahead of the curve by listening to your customers

Black Friday for ecommerce brands may not have seen the same major spike in conversions that it did in 2020, but Caila said this means the numbers are aligning back to 2019’s trends.

“The thing to keep in mind is that this growth was on top of that massive growth that we saw last year. The numbers we’re seeing this year are actually more in-line with 2019 figures, so we’re definitely entering into a rebalancing stage.”

We may be rebalancing the ecom ecosystem, but these trends can help you prepare for next year’s Black Friday a little better. And not to mention, this information tells you what technology and shopping experiences customers are expecting from brands in the new year.

No matter what kind of growth this industry sees in the new year, listening to your shoppers and making your tech stack more robust to align with what your customers are expecting will always help you stay ahead of the curve.

ThinkShop by Bolt does not constitute professional tax or financial advice. Contact your own tax or financial professional to discuss your situation.