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Four E-Commerce Lessons From Black Friday Weekend 2015

The mobile shopping era is here.

Stephen Chernin / Getty Images
Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

They browsed, they clicked, they bought. Here’s what the e-commerce industry learned this Black Friday weekend.

1. When they’re done with turkey and football, Americans will do a lot of online shopping on Thanksgiving if you make it worth their while.

According to multiple studies, e-commerce sales on Thanksgiving this year grew more than on Black Friday. Thanksgiving online sales rose 25 percent this year from the same period last year, compared with 14 percent growth for Black Friday, according to Adobe. One reason: Retailers offered more Black Friday deals a day earlier online than in years past, giving shoppers the impetus to log on and buy.

2. Shopping on smartphones is starting to become the norm.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: It’s officially time to freak out if your mobile shopping site or app suck. People shopping on mobile phones accounted for half of traffic to online stores on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday, according to one report, and more than a third of orders.

3. But conversion rates are still a big problem on mobile phones.

Five out of 100 visitors to an online store made a purchase on Thanksgiving, according to ChannelAdvisor, but just two out of 100 visitors to a mobile shopping site or app.

“[A]s an industry we need to solve this mobile problem as it’s clearly not getting better even though retailers have invested substantially in this area over the last year,” Scot Wingo, ChannelAdvisor’s executive chairman, said in an e-mail.

For now, Amazon with its one-click buying and shopping sites specifically designed for mobile phones are likely the ones benefitting the most from this trend.

4. Technical difficulties still happen to big guys and small guys alike.

In 2013, it was that suffered a big outage. Last year, it was Best Buy. This year, went down hard on Friday and the troubles resurfaced at times on Saturday, too, proving big retailers are still susceptible to being overwhelmed by Web traffic surges.

Some smaller online stores also lost out on some potential Black Friday sales, but this was due to problems with tax calculation software from a company called Avalara. Its customers, which include Food52, dealt with the problem by not charging shoppers sales tax and eating the cost themselves.

“Mistakes happen, but we’re big fans of making lemonade out of lemons,” a Food52 email said on Saturday. “When a technical glitch yesterday removed sales tax from orders, we figured, hey, let’s keep it off for an extra day!”

Correction: An earlier version of the story mis-spelled tax company Avalara as Alavara.

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