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What really happened with Cyber Week 2021? Analyzing the trends of the year’s biggest shopping week IBM Supply Chain and Blockchain Blog


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Person holding shopping bag and using phoneSupply chain chaos did not deter holiday shoppers during Cyber Week, but it did shift shopping patterns and a few long-lived holiday shopping traditions.

Black Thursday disappeared…

In recent years as Black Friday grew, deep discounts and increased customer demand pushed stores to open earlier and earlier, until eventually they technically opened on Thanksgiving eve, coined “Black Thursday.” But due to the pandemic and the rise of COVID variants, Thanksgiving Day shopping saw a dramatic decline. Many big brands like Kohl’s, Walmart and Home Depot chose to close their stores on Thanksgiving Day, following an #OptOutside movement pioneered by REI. And even though brick-and-mortar stores saw 66 million customers on Black Friday, in-store sales dropped to a 15-year low. Meanwhile, online shopping continued to grow, with some merchants increasing their Black Friday online sales 22% from last year.

Cyber Monday grew…

Cyber Monday emerged from the trend of employees going back to the office after Thanksgiving break and shopping online with faster internet speeds than their home networks. Now, with fast internet available everywhere and millions still working from home, Cyber Monday has evolved into Cyber Week, and is fast becoming an even more extended Cyber November. This year, ongoing fear of missing out on discounted products due to anticipated inventory shortages drove consumers to start holiday shopping earlier than usual. October saw a 10.2% increase in online sales and November followed suit with a 9% increase. Without doorbuster deals and with limited supplies propping up prices, average prices were 11% higher than 2020.

While customers expected faster…

The pandemic has changed how shoppers buy and receive goods. IHL’s 2021 Order Management Market Research Study calls out a 4.5x acceleration in the timetable to deploy new customer journeys: buy online pickup-in-store (BOPIS), same-day delivery, and curbside pick-up. These are now widespread, permanently adopted fixtures for retail. IDC reports 58.9% of consumers said they will likely select another retailer if BOPIS is not offered. Merchants quickly unified their online storefronts with their brick-and-mortar stores, and they can now service customers with more granular information on product availability, location and shipping fees. Companies are developing innovative models to reach customers, like fulfilling from well-stocked stores serving as mini-distribution centers, or collaborating with their partners in stockless drop-shipping, as we saw earlier this year with The Very Group partnering with Adidas and Rebook for D2C distribution.

And retailers delivered with innovative ideas

Walmart has been an early adopter of new digital initiatives, testing 15 online shopping events this year, including a collaboration with Twitter for their first shoppable livestream during Cyber Week. The “Cyber Deals Sunday” event attracted shoppers with celebrity musician Jason Derulo as host.

Twitter is new to e-commerce and currently testing initiatives in the market. Predictions for the future of integrated shopping see mobile, virtual assistants and livestream shopping channels growing. Driven by inventory constraints and fear of loyal customers not getting their sneakers, Nike created new hype by limiting their highly desired Air Force 1 sneakers to two online orders per person, lighting up social media for avid sneaker fans.

During Cyber Week 2021, while some companies asked corporate employees to volunteer for shifts at retail locations, many companies used ingenuity to overcome staff shortages to boost topline sales, optimizing orders direct to stores to relieve pressure in short-staffed warehouses.

How merchants can prepare for 2022:

Intelligence, transparency, and flexibility are the building blocks for the future of retail.

  1. Reinvent supply chain management — Build intelligent workflows, increase company agility, and integrate smart order orchestration to build a modern supply chain.
  2. Inform the customer — Embrace information transparency. Customers expect and want to know as much as possible about product location, cost comparisons, expected delivery dates and accurate available inventory.
  3. Flexible order operations — Use adaptable, extensible technologies to connect, automate and optimize order, promising and inventory visibility processes to maximize omnichannel customer engagement and responsiveness to market changes.

This year was fraught with challenges, but we are seeing an overall positive outcome from Cyber Week with the longer shopping period and enhanced shoppable events. Our technology enables unified commerce, where integrated online and in-store experiences deliver a seamless customer journey. Is it time for brick-and-mortar’s Black Friday to synthesize into online shopping’s Cyber Monday? Maybe this is the arrival of Black November as predicted by IHL’s Jerry Sheldon — or with e-commerce leading the way, Cyber November. Perhaps now is the time to consider making new holiday shopping traditions.

Learn more about changing consumer behaviors and the what’s next in retail when you visit IBM at NRF in New York City beginning January 16th, 2022. Have fun shopping and happy holidays!

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