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Online spending falls short of expectations on Thanksgiving, despite record days for some

As major retailers including Target and Kohl's raked in record online sales on Thanksgiving Day, it wasn't enough to lift industry-wide digital revenues as high as one forecast had anticipated.

Online sales rose 11.5 percent on Thanksgiving, to $1.93 billion, according to Adobe Digital Insights. That was just shy of the $2 billion the firm was expecting, as steep morning discounts and a larger-than-expected increase on Thanksgiving Eve revenue contributed to the shortfall.

Wednesday's online sales shot 19 percent higher year-over-year, to $1.57 billion. That was $92 million above Adobe's prediction, as retailers kicked off Black Friday sales early. Adobe Digital Insights measures 80 percent of online transactions from the top 100 U.S. retailers.

"Early morning Black Friday shopping is off to a strong start," Tamara Gaffney, principal analyst and director of Adobe Digital Insights, said in a statement. The day had brought in $490 million by 8:30 a.m. Eastern.

Adobe predicts Black Friday sales will hit $3.05 billion online, an increase of 11.3 percent. That would be the first time the day's sales topped $3 billion, though it's still seen coming in behind Cyber Monday. The firm anticipates that Black Friday will be the first day in history to exceed $1 billion in mobile revenue.

Several retailers entered what has traditionally been the largest shopping day of the year fresh off of record online sales. Target confirmed Friday morning that revenue and traffic were up double-digits, and helped the chain notch its biggest day for online sales in its history.

Kohl's CEO Kevin Mansell told CNBC Friday morning that the chain's online sales have been running up in the double-digits all the year, and increased "pretty dramatically" to a new record on Thanksgiving. The department store was on track to match Thursday's digital performance on Black Friday, Mansell said.

"That's a good signal that people are ready to buy," he said.

Bricks-and-mortar retailers have done a better job integrating their digital and physical assets this year, with companies including Kohl's for the first time offering their Black Friday deals on the web. Thanksgiving was likewise one of the year's top online shopping days for Wal-Mart, and mobile orders that day on Amazon exceeded last year's Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday.

But Mansell cautioned that people don't read too deeply into online sales numbers, as the majority of business is still done in stores. There, traffic at Kohl's was up over last Thanksgiving, Mansell said.

"It felt good to see more traffic in our stores," he said.

The Apple watch, which Kohl's recently began selling, was a "complete sellout," Mansell said. The company also saw strength elsewhere in electronics, as well as in active and wellness, toys and home. Now, the challenge will be to keep up the momentum through the season's lulls, which typically occur after Black Friday weekend and before the final push.

"The biggest priority we have in terms of growth is our loyalty program," Mansell said. "That will be the driver of our business in December."

The National Retail Federation predicts industry-wide holiday sales will increase 3.6 percent, to $655.8 billion. Online sales are expected to increase 11 percent to $91.6 billion, though Adobe cautioned earlier this month that it may need to revise its forecast following an unforeseen dip in spending after the election. If it decides to do so, the revision would happen after Black Friday weekend, the firm said.

In any case, 2016 is expected to be another record year for online sales, thanks largely to a lift in mobile shopping.