HIGH POINT — Black Friday saw enormous growth in online activity. For the first time ever, digital shoppers exceeded 100 million, up 8% from 2019, according to the National Retail Federation.

“The five-day holiday Thanksgiving weekend was unlike any other we’d ever seen,” said Matthew Shay, NRF president and CEO. “We did see an impact in store foot traffic with shifts hopping online. But retailers large and small have been preparing for many months. They learned an enormous amount in the early days of the pandemic to help them prepare for this season and safely meet consumers when, where, and how they wanted to shop.”

With the backdrop of limited store hours and traffic compared to prior years, Black Friday digital sales set a new record for shopping during the holiday season. According to Salesforce, U.S. brands and retailers pulled in $12.8 billion in digital revenue on Black Friday, a 23% growth over last year.

Consumers dramatically increased time shopping online globally, too, according to Salesforce, spending 116.6 million hours shopping online on Black Friday, representing a 20% growth year-over-year.

“With the influx of online orders, retailers that planned for shipping constraints and instituted creative last-mile options will be winners,” said Rob Garf, Salesforce vice president of strategy and insights. “They’re leaning into curbside pickup and evolving the role of store associates by turning them into fulfillment and delivery experts.”

Furniture e-tailers

E-commerce home furnishing companies Coley Home, The Inside, Industry West and Article offered between 15% and 30% off sitewide for items over the Thanksgiving weeken, including Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Vancouver, Canada-based Article said revenue from this year’s Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale increased more than 50% year-over-year. The company puts products on sale when it has more stock on hand than planned for, using that as an opportunity to pass along additional value to the customer. The company said it saw increased sales of regular-priced items during Black Friday/Cyber Monday, even in cases where inventory was low or product was back-ordered, with the order-fill rate remaining consistent with pre-sale levels.

Shoppers on Article.com showed strong interest in dining chairs and tables over the holiday weekend, in particular the Svelti Grano Fawn Beige dining chair and Kirun Walnut dining table.

“While we were flat Black Friday over Black Friday, we did experience much more efficient returns on our ad spend than the previous year,” said Ian Leslie, Industry West chief marketing officer. “For November as a whole, we saw significant gains. November 2020, excluding Cyber Monday, exceeded all of November 2019 by 40%.”

Leslie said the Jacksonville, Fla.-based company was prepared with inventory, but was also more aggressive in allowing for backorders, with most people willing to accept four- to eight-week lead times. Industry West’s most popular items were the Compass armchair and the Cane Queen bed.

2020 is the first full year of business for DTC company Coley Home, based in Charlotte, N.C.  “We were pleasantly surprised by our sales this year. More times than not, we surpassed our monthly sales goal by a healthy amount,” said Coley Hull, company founder.

“While we faced a few minor shipping delays from a few of our vendors, our inventory-heavy model prepared us to continue to meet our five- to 10-business-day lead times, with our most popular item being our signature Crown Bed.”

Over at New York City-based The Inside, the Black Friday sale started on Nov. 22, resulting in overall sales that increased year-over-year with the most popular items being the X bench and the beds, which are available in more than 100 fabric options.

“We usually avoid sales and particularly Black Friday as they’re sort of a mismatch to our business model,” said Chris Stout-Hazard, co-founder of DTC site Roger + Chris, based in Omaha, Neb. “But this year we ran a small promotion. We’re running out of space in our factory and had a few in-stock pieces that we wanted to clear out, so we deeply discounted those.”

Hybrid shopping

Research from the NRF revealed that shoppers are going across channels more often, with more than 50 million participating both online and in-store, using a hybrid-shopping model, during the Thanksgiving weekend.

More than half of consumers, 51%, have indicated that because of the pandemic they are more interested in decorating and celebrating the home this season and plan to spend more by repurposing the funding from other categories such as travel and entertainment.

“Consumers looked online to find information about Thanksgiving weekend sales and used e-mails from retailers as top ways to gather information,” said Philip Rist, co-founder of Prosper Insights & Analytics. “It was a strong holiday weekend and is a positive indicator of where we are headed over next few weeks.”

The NRF’s Shay said that Black Friday has evolved over the years into a social day, but consumers aren’t able to socialize this year, due to the pandemic.

“I bet if we roll the clock to next year, we will be surprised that Black Friday could be the biggest in history since there will be an enormous amount of pent-up demand to socialize and be together,” he said.

“Retail continues to evolve based on changing customer needs, but Black Friday will always play a role as the kick off to the holiday season.”

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