With today’s consumers on the go, it’s no wonder shopping is becoming more digital and social than ever before. Mobile-first shopping is up 24% over the past year and more than half of consumers (58%) say social media directly influences their purchasing decisions.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday in particular dominate the social landscape during November and December, especially as traditional in-store events like Black Friday become more mobile. Research reveals over one-third of online Black Friday 2018 sales were made on smartphones while retail traffic from social grew by 41%.

And despite fears of economic uncertainty, early signs suggest retailers can look forward to strong sales in November and December to close out the year. The National Retail Federation anticipates 2019 holiday retail sales will grow 3.8-4.2% from 2018 and total between $727.9 billion and $730.7 billion.

Thanks to social media, retailers can claim a stake in their shoppers’ holiday routines every year by advertising limited-time deals, answering questions and communicating directly with customers. Given the prolonged and hyper-social holiday shopping season, retailers need to be ready for the influx of social messages this time of year will bring.

Sprout Social analyzed more than 144 million messages across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to find out how retailers fared in previous holiday shopping seasons and what brands can expect for 2019.

A look back at holiday 2018

It’s never too early for retailers to begin planning their holiday social media strategies. Compared to an average of 2,954 messages received per day by retailers from January through October 2018, retailers received an average of 3,719 messages per day in November through December 2018. This represents a 26% increase in average messages received per day during the 2018 holiday season compared to the rest of the year.

 

The sheer volume of social messages received during November and December is a good reminder for retailers of all sizes to remain present and active on all of their social platforms. This is especially true for small businesses, which saw a 62% increase in average social messages received over the holidays compared to the rest of 2018.

 

Facebook continues to be consumers’ go-to platform when it comes to interacting with retailers during the holiday season. In November and December 2018, retailers received 55% more Facebook messages, posts and comments per day compared to the rest of the year. 

 

As businesses prepare their teams for the surge in messages received, they also need to have a plan in place to maintain rapid social responsiveness. During the 2018 holiday season, retailers sent 53% more outgoing Facebook messages per month compared to the non-holiday months.

 

Gearing up for the projected 2019 holiday season

The 2018 holiday season posted strong numbers, with total retail spending up 5.4% and ecommerce growing 16.7% to $123.90 billion. And smartphones accounted for 31% of 2018 holiday revenue, a 34% increase over 2017. Thanks to mobile devices, the buyer journey has become less linear and more social, and today, 55% of consumers have made a purchase through platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

To no one’s surprise, retailers can expect an influx of messages during the 2019 holiday season—so get your social teams ready now! The Sprout Social data science team projects retailers can expect on average 40% more social messages per day this holiday season compared to the non-holiday months in 2019.

 

Growth expected across retailers of all sizes for holiday 2019

Breaking down the numbers by business size reveals a projected increase in messages received across the board for retailers during the 2019 holiday shopping season.

Regardless of business size, every retailer can take advantage of the increased visibility this holiday by leveling up their social strategy.

Small businesses, for example, should look beyond publishing just deals and gift idea listicles to better engage their audience and provide timely customer support on social. Interacting with customers, such as answering questions or resolving issues with a product or service, can help small businesses cultivate loyalty and encourage repeat purchasing behaviors.

In the mid-market segment, social marketers can deepen their connection with customers by creating educational, entertaining and inspirational content around the holidays. To stand out from the crowd, considering leveraging competitive analysis and influencers to fuel creative social campaigns that resonate with your audience.

As businesses grow from small to mid-market to enterprise, make sure your social team is prepared to handle the increased volume of messages by following social customer care best practices. And once the shopping season concludes, retailers can use social listening to learn from their holiday experience and apply those insights towards their 2020 social strategy. With listening, retailers can glean information that can inform product development and even improve the customer experience.

Social engagement is the key to holiday 2019 success

Retailers should expect to see a spike in messages received across all three platforms, but Facebook is expected to see the greatest growth during November and December. The Sprout data science teams projects retailers should anticipate 45% more Facebook messages per day on average in November and December 2019 compared to the rest of the year.

However, this doesn’t mean retailers can afford to ignore their other social platforms. In addition to growth on Facebook, businesses should expect to see a 12% increase in average Instagram messages and 11% increase in average Twitter messages received over the 2019 holiday season.

To further maximize their reach and drive engagement during the holidays, social marketers should consider a combination of paid and organic social strategies. Paid ads on Facebook, for example, give retailers the ability to build custom audiences and target consumers who have previously interacted with the business in the past. Retailers can also run an Instagram stories campaign to promote story-specific offers or tease special announcements, two creative ways for businesses to keep customers glued to a brand’s social feed. As retailers gear up for the 2019 holiday season, it’s important to tailor campaigns around where their audiences spend most of their time online and put consumer needs at the center of their social strategies.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday continue to attract social buzz

Without fail, Black Friday and Cyber Monday continue to be major tentpole events for retailers every year. From the last week of November to the first week of December, shoppers flock to social media to track and post about the best deals—or to simply update friends and family on their progress.

Using Sprout’s Listening tool to hone in on Twitter conversations during Black Friday and Cyber Monday for 2016, 2017 and 2018, Sprout found there’s no shortage of chatter around these special shopping days. But while Black Friday continues to drive significant volume, Cyber Monday experienced a slight decrease in mentions last year. The average daily message volume around Black Friday grew year-over-year, both message volume and average daily message volume around Cyber Monday dropped from 2017 to 2018.

Why the dip? Another trend we’re seeing around Black Friday and Cyber Monday is an extended shopping season, which could be influencing the drop in total day-of message volume. In 2018, Amazon launched its Countdown to Black Friday event on November 15, a full week before the actual Black Friday date. Listening data for 2018 reveals chatter around Black Friday beginning to pick up on November 18, five days before the actual Black Friday holiday. Likewise many retailers are getting a head start on Cyber Monday, often starting sales on Sunday instead of Monday. Our listening data shows mentions of Cyber Monday start to gain traction on the Saturday before the actual event.

Regardless, it’s clear that even though consumers are extending their shopping season, they’re still tuning in to these one-day events and retailers need to be prepared for significantly more social messages than usual.

And despite revolving around the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become global shopping events. When compared to 2017, mentions of Black Friday 2018 grew 80% in France while Brazil experienced a 72% increase in Black Friday mentions. The UK, Canada, France and Spain have all seen consistent Twitter engagement over the past three years for both Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

While Black Friday and Cyber Monday inevitably receive a fair amount of negative press each year, consumer sentiment still remains generally favorable towards both holidays. Of the Twitter posts analyzed on Black Friday, 17% had a discernible positive or negative sentiment and of those 65% of Tweets were positive. And for Tweets on Cyber Monday, 22% had a discernible positive or negative sentiment of which 59% were positive. It’s safe to say excitement for these sales isn’t going anywhere soon.

‘Tis the season to bring your social “A” game

The lead up to November and December is an important time for retailers as customers ready their wallets for an extended period of holiday shopping. For marketers in particular, now is the time to plan and execute marketing campaigns and promotions, and to leverage social to drive both offline and online sales.

But beyond sales, how marketers approach social engagement and customer care across various platforms is crucial. The holidays are stressful, and providing shoppers with the best experience possible goes a long way in building customer loyalty and affinity that lasts well beyond the holiday season. By putting customers at the center of their social strategy and utilizing a combination of entertaining content and real-time social responsiveness, retailers can indulge in a little holiday cheer themselves.

About the data

All referenced data on social messages received and projected is based on 29,546 public social profiles (13,049 Facebook; 9,418 Twitter; 7,079 Instagram) of active accounts between January 1, 2015 and September 30, 2019. More than 144 million messages sent and received during that time were analyzed for the purposes of this report. The 2019 holiday message volume was estimated via segmented year-over-year and year-to-date ratio projections.

The messages analyzed included Facebook posts and Tweets directed to a brand via tagging or @message, posts and business reviews on public Facebook pages, comments on brand-created Facebook and Instagram content, and retweets with comments.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday data was pulled from publicly available, global Twitter data using the Sprout Social platform. Learn more about Sprout’s social listening offerings.

For questions about the data, please contact pr@sproutsocial.com.