Businesses selling through the Shopify platform set a collective sales record over the 2020 Black Friday–Cyber Monday weekend, illustrating what the Ottawa-based tech company’s executives have dubbed a shift in retail’s “centre of gravity” amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Shopify’s merchants collectively made $5.1 billion in sales from Nov. 27 to Nov. 30, up 76 per cent from last year’s totals for the Black Friday-Cyber Monday (BFCM) stretch. Shopify recorded more than $2.9 billion in total sales on its platform during the 2019 BFCM, a figure its merchants reached this year by 5 p.m. EST on Saturday. (All figures in USD.)
The four-day period following American Thanksgiving has become something of a holiday for Shopify and its one-million-plus users, which it mainly touts as small and independent businesses but also includes a raft of large retailers and celebrity brands from the likes of Kylie Jenner and Drake. The company has also made a concerted effort to branch out from online-only stores to supporting brick-and-mortar retailers in recent years.
The Canadian commerce giant runs a live dashboard on its website detailing every transaction processed through its in-person and online platform, giving a near real-time view into the flurry of shopping activity over the four-day period and turning retail into something of a spectator sport.
Hourly BFCM sales peaked at 12 p.m. EST at $102 million, according to Shopify’s data.
The average BFCM shopping cart around the world held $89.20 worth of goods, Shopify said, though Canadian consumers outspent that with an average of $103 per order.
Apparel and accessories were the top product category for shoppers worldwide the past four days, followed by health and beauty and home and garden, according to Shopify’s stats.
Shopify was not alone in reporting a spike in sales over the weekend.
Consumers spent an estimated $9 billion on U.S. retail websites on Black Friday, according to Adobe Analytics, which tracks online shopping. That was a 22 per cent increase over the previous record of $7.4 billion set in 2019.
Amazon said Tuesday that 2020 has been the company’s biggest holiday shopping season to-date.
The commerce juggernaut said independent and small businesses selling through its marketplace surpassed $4.8 billion in worldwide sales, up 60 per cent from last year.
In the past, Shopify has been cagey about whether it is a competitor to Amazon. Shopify develops software and other tools to help retailers set up storefronts and run the back end of the business as opposed to operating its own marketplace, as Amazon does. The Canadian company prefers to say that it is “arming the rebels” rather than waging the commerce war itself.
Still, Shopify used this year’s BFCM to take a few potshots at the Seattle-based company on social media.
The ongoing pandemic also disrupted in-person shopping in the U.S. on Black Friday.
Traffic to physical stores plummeted as retailers tried to prevent crowds by cutting their hours and limiting doorbuster deals. U.S. store visits dropped by 52 per cent on Black Friday, according to Sensormatic Solutions, a retail tracker.
But in-person lineups and bargain-hunting remained in Ontario on Black Friday. Some shoppers even left the Toronto and Peel Region lockdown zones to shop at Vaughan Mills Shopping Centre or CF Markville — malls within the GTA but exempt from the harshest COVID-19 restrictions banning in-store shopping.
The Vaughn Mills mall was ticketed multiple times for violating COVID-19 protocols this past weekend.
Some elected officials from cities neighbouring Toronto and Peel discouraged retailers from holding Black Friday sales to limit the health risks associated with crowds during the pandemic.
Markham, Ont., mayor Frank Scarpitti, whose city is not in lockdown, still encouraged residents to shop online or use curbside pickup as a safer alternative to the in-person crowds that have come to mark Black Friday sales.
That’s a public health direction Shopify is more than happy to embrace.
Harley Finkelstein, Shopify’s president, said in a statement Tuesday that the COVID-19 pandemic has made 2020 a “transformative year for commerce globally.”
“With the centre of gravity in commerce shifting from in-store to online, the pandemic has accelerated a change we have long anticipated,” he said.
Shopify’s earnings reports during the pandemic have borne out this shift. With mom-and-pop shops relying on options such as curbside pickup and delivery to subsist during pandemic-related shutdowns, the Ottawa-based company has been a go-to partner for small businesses jumping into the digital waters for the first time.
In that way, the pandemic has knocked down barriers that were holding independent retailers from branching out from their brick-and-mortar businesses.
CEO Tobi Lütke said this past summer that he expects this need-based shift to e-commerce to stick around after the pandemic subsides.
Shareholders seem to agree, with Shopify’s stock price on the Toronto Stock Exchange rising 123 per cent since March, trading at $1,390 on Tuesday morning.
— With files from The Associated Press