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Black Friday 2016: Foreshadowing Retail's Every Day Reality in 2017?

"Mobile, mobile, shop on mobile;

Shoppers churn as retail struggles,

To master the cauldron omni-channel...

On this, the biggest shopping annal."

William Shakespeare would certainly roll over in his Stratford-upon-Avon grave should he ever see my feeble attempt to twist the iconic "Song of the Witches" from Macbeth into something mildly relevant to Black Friday 2016. However, be it the Macbeth Witches' prophecy that "Fair is foul and foul is fair" or the prologue of Romeo and Juliet where he describes the young protagonists as star-crossed lovers, Shakespeare - as a master of foreshadowing - is indeed relevant to the conversation today.

Because, you see, I believe what we saw last week portends many of the trends we will see throughout 2017. And so, in keeping with the literary theme, here is a "CliffsNotes" version of some of the lessons we learned over the weekend that I believe will impact retailers' success next year.

Mobile's Billion Dollar Day is a Sign of Things to Come

We have all known that the inflection point for mobile commerce has been coming for a while. As more shoppers spend more time on their mobile devices, it was inevitable that the day would come when they would shift meaningful chunks of their shopping journeys to these always-at-hand gadgets.

Well, it appears that day was Friday, November 25, 2016:

  • According to Recode, US shoppers spent $1.2 billion via phones and tablets on Black Friday.
  • Walmart reports that 70% of online traffic during the Black Friday event was driven by mobile.
  • Mobile devices accounted for a third of all total payment volume on the PayPal network.

The significant growth of mobile shopping was accompanied by equally significant declines in desktop shopping. According to Yahoo, desktop shopping conversion rates fell 36% on Black Friday and 9.1% on Thanksgiving compared to year-ago totals. I therefore think it fair to say that the time has officially come to think "mobile first" when designing digital shopping experiences. No more afterthoughts, no more "accommodation" strategies.

Those who wait will suffer far too many missed opportunities.

Experiences Will Matter More

Yes, mobile grew like crazy. Yes, traffic was way up. And yes, mobile accounted for more than 35% of total online sales. But despite these impressive results, we still left so much more on the table. Adobe reports that while mobile devices accounted for 55% of all online shopping visits on Black Friday, mobile only accounted for 36% of all purchases. Smartphone visits converted at just 2.4%.

Why the drastic drop-off? That one is easy: experiences. It seems that so many of our challenges today have roots in the quality and consistency of the experiences we deliver.  As an industry we still haven't cracked the code to making buying experiences consistently frictionless in any channel, but especially not in the mobile channel. Studies show that people still struggle with product comparisons, in-depth product evaluation and (believe it or not), usability, when shopping on mobile devices.

We simply must do better, in every channel, and on any device. The time is nigh.

Success in 2017 will require a renewed focus on experiences that convert. In short, we simply must work together to eliminate all friction from every journey – not just mobile journeys. We have to identify opportunities to build trust and streamline every experience on every device in every channel. And we must become better able to adapt to shifting preferences, expectations and behavior patterns.

As the bard himself once wrote, "To be (mobile) or not to be (mobile), that is the question."

Success next year will surely lie in your answer.