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The rise of the midnight shopper: How marketers should adapt to changing online shopping habits

Pushing and shoving gave way to clicking and collecting in 2015 as the Black Friday phenomenon moved decisively online.

Following the chaos of the previous year, many prominent retailers opted to play down the discount shopping day in-store, while e-commerce giants threw themselves into the event, achieving impressive results.

Internet retailers see Black Friday not simply as an opportunity to make sales, but also as a chance to attract new prospects that can subsequently be converted to loyal customers. To take full advantage of the event many stretched out the Black Friday trading period, starting offers up to a week before the day itself and extending them through until Cyber Monday.

To understand how online shoppers behaved around Black Friday and the festive period as a whole, HookLogic analysed more than 80m transactions representing nearly £4bn in sales on its network of top retailers. Both traffic and conversions were analysed between 1 October 2015 and 3 January 2016 to gain valuable insight into today’s online shopper.

So, what major trends emerged over the festive season and how can marketers use these to boost online sales around key shopping days in 2016?

Shopping happens throughout the day

One of the chief surprises of the season was the rise of the midnight shopper. Waiting up for the first deals to be released – pyjama-clad and hot chocolate in hand – the midnight shopper was poised for action, with Black Friday 2015 seeing a peak of 12am traffic 33 times higher than is typical for that time of day. A 1am peak in conversion followed this traffic surge as midnight browsers quickly made their purchases.

A second trend to emerge was the Black Friday gifting hour – the busiest online shopping hour of the entire year. It occurred between 8am and 9am, when shoppers logged on to check out the deals and conversions reached their highest level. When planning advertising budgets for 2016, marketers should be aware that online retail spikes now occur throughout the entire day, not just at traditional peak times, with the early hours essential to success.

Additionally, efficiency of shopping – the time shoppers spend on websites before purchasing – saw a significant increase on Black Friday, suggesting consumers researched their purchases in advance to speed up the buying process later on. Therefore, it is critical for brands to ensure their products are visible to consumers throughout October and November – when research activities are taking place – to gain the full benefit of Black Friday profits.

Boost budget to bookend Black Friday

While Black Friday itself emerged as the clear champion of the season, as both traffic and conversions throughout the day rose to around five times the daily average for October, retailers’ efforts to spread the impact of Black Friday across a longer trading period were successful: both traffic and conversions remained strong throughout Black Friday weekend and into Cyber Monday.

Spikes in the UK were not as large as those in the US, where the event is more established, but this may well change as this key shopping date becomes increasingly popular in future years. Retail marketers need to be prepared for both a multi-day shopping spree and the intense peaks of Black Friday.

Maintain the merry momentum

The last days before Christmas, which may once have seen a decrease in e-commerce sales, are now prime online shopping periods in the UK due to well-established click-and-collect services, and significant improvements in delivery and fulfillment. In fact conversion in the days prior to Christmas Eve was as strong as Black Friday weekend.

Following a predictable dip on Christmas Day itself, sales were strong on Boxing Day as shoppers took advantage of discounts, used gift cards, or purchased items that lingered on their gift lists. Browsing was also a key leisure activity, with the traffic increase on Boxing Day morning exceeding that of Black Friday Saturday by over 50 per cent. Marketers might not be feeling very energetic post-Christmas but their campaigns should still be running at full speed.

While overall retail sales for the festive period were mixed, online retailers had their best year to date, demonstrating a marked shift to online shopping, particularly around Black Friday. When planning for 2016, marketers must budget for the whole season rather than individual days or times to maximise their reach and capture holiday shoppers regardless of the date or time.

Ben Cooper is managing director, Europe, at HookLogic

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Ben Cooper

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