Black Friday online sales surge, as consumers spend big to kick off the holidays

Cyber Monday e-commerce spending in the US is expected to shatter the one-day record.

Ben Fox Rubin Former senior reporter
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Ben Fox Rubin
3 min read

Just another Black Friday spent loading four TVs into the back of a pickup truck.

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The kickoff to the holiday shopping season is going pretty much as expected, despite plenty of potential problems that could've pushed it off course. Tariffs, anti-Amazon sentiment, worries about the economy -- nah, consumers are spending a whole lot to nab all those deals.

Black Friday turned out to be the second-largest online sales day ever -- shy of last year's Cyber Monday -- reaching $7.4 billion, according to Adobe. That's up 19.6% from last year. Thanksgiving sales jumped 14.5%, to $4.2 billion, though the biggest online sellers enjoyed much bigger sales increases than their smaller rivals, Adobe said.

Both those figures are a little lower than Adobe's forecasts, but the software giant reaffirmed its expectation that total online holiday sales will still hit $143.7 billion, up 14.1% from last year. The National Retail Federation expects overall retail spending to rise between 3.8% and 4.2%, well above the 2.1% growth from last year.

"There's nothing really shocking about the numbers, which I guess is a good thing now," Forrester e-commerce analyst Suchartia Kodali said Saturday.

Still, while things are going well during the heaviest shopping days, which run between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, retailers will have to try to keep consumers' attention for the next few weeks to make sure their sales don't slow down, Kodali said. Added to that, the shopping season between Cyber Monday and Christmas is six days shorter than last year, making each day of sales that much more significant for retailers.

Online holiday sales keep hitting fresh records as consumers for years have shifted their spending to phones and laptops and away from brick-and-mortar stores. So far, that's been a huge benefit for Amazon, the biggest online seller in the world, which currently takes in 38% of all online spending in the US, eMarketer says. Walmart is fighting back with an aggressive e-commerce push, while traditional retailers are working to match Amazon with the help of the option to buy online and pick up in store.

For Black Friday, those click-and-collect orders were up a healthy 43%, a boon for physical retail.

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Amazon on Friday afternoon said it was "on pace to surpass Black Friday 2018 worldwide, in terms of items ordered." It's expected to offer more details about its sales around Cyber Monday.

Adobe said Cyber Monday is expected to become the new biggest US e-commerce sales day on record, hitting $9.4 billion, up 18.9% from a year ago. Meanwhile, as of Saturday morning, Small Business Saturday sales were also up 18.1%.

Despite all these sunny numbers, Forrester's Kodali said several retailers are expected to get left behind as they continue to struggle to adapt to the new world of digital shopping. Those merchants include department stores like Macy's and JCPenney and specialty retailers like The Gap and J.Crew. Meanwhile, she said, those doing well are athleisure brands like Lululemon, cosmetics sellers like Sephora, and mass merchants like Target and Walmart.

The best-selling products so far, Adobe said, include Paw Patrol and Frozen 2 toys, the Madden 20 video game and the Nintendo Switch. Top electronics include Apple laptops and AirPods, and Samsung TVs.