Member Exclusive   //   November 30, 2023

Amazon Briefing: Despite glitches, sellers report positive Black Friday weekend results

This is the latest installment of the Amazon Briefing, a weekly Modern Retail+ column about the ever-changing Amazon ecosystem. More from the series →

Most Amazon brands are breathing a sigh of relief after an overall positive Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend.

For the most part, the weekend intended to kick off holiday sales was a bonanza on the e-commerce platform. Amazon described the Cyber Week as its “biggest ever compared to the same 11-day period ending on Cyber Monday in previous years.” Numbers from Similarweb show that Amazon web traffic grew 3% on Black Friday compared to 2022, while overall web traffic on that day declined 7%.

The general sense from brands and agencies is that the weekend was an overall triumph for e-commerce sales. “I’ve been doing Amazon for over a decade,” said Fahim Naim, head of Amazon at Advantage Unified Commerce, a full-service agency that works with large brands on e-commerce strategies, “this was the best tentpole event I’ve seen [in terms of] year-to-year growth.” Most of Naim’s clients saw holidays sales jump north of 40%.

Below are some observations from brands and agencies about how the overall Black Friday and Cyber Monday events went.

Advertising taxes and technical glitches
While it shouldn’t come as a shock, the reported overall holiday sales growth did come at a price — especially for brands. On the advertising front, everything was more expensive. In a blog post, Pacvue wrote that advertisers spent “55% more on Sponsored Products and 61% more on Sponsored Brands compared to 2022.” Meanwhile, some brands said they hit hurdles with Amazon’s tech stack during the weekend — including minimum bids being raised by tens of thousands of dollars or having deals not running as they should.

Some of these issues were expected. Last year, for example, Amazon experienced a huge reporting outage during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. While this didn’t happen again this year, agencies said they were watching their dashboards manically, taking screenshots at regular intervals, to ensure they had proper visibility.

Still, one major issue brands reported was holiday discounts not being labeled as such. Amazon requires brands to have prices lower compared to a 30- or 60-day interval in order to receive a placement and a holiday deal badge. But some brands claimed Amazon was overzealous in the deals it didn’t count — some of which may have been related to the fact that the company held its Fall Prime Day in early October. Similarly, if a brand discounts at other retailers, Amazon requires the discount to be better in order for it to receive a Prime exclusive badge. So if a brand has an Amazon sale on Friday and then runs a discount on Ulta or Walmart on Monday, Amazon likely would detect the new sale and get rid of the badge.

“Now you’re going [to Amazon] to see, should I adjust it? How much more do I need to decrease it to get some of that badging?” Naim said. “This always happens but it felt like it was a little more this year.”

New popular categories
Diving into the sales specifics, there were a few surprises in the results. For one, while most think of Black Friday and Cyber Monday as the day families stock up on discounted electronics and toys for holiday gifts, other categories saw big gains.

“Beauty was a very strong category for us,” said David Katz, co-founder and CEO of the Amazon-focused affiliate marketing network Archer Affiliates. Similarly, Advantage Unified Commerce also saw triple-digit growth from its beauty clients.

Apparel demand was also high. Organic Signatures, which makes t-shirts and underwear from organic cotton, saw record sales. Cyber Monday, said founder and CEO Oren Barney, “turned out to be the best day we’ve ever had.”

This happened even though the company didn’t go all in on promotions. “I didn’t bump up the ads, I didn’t do any coupons,” he said. Even so, the company saw huge bursts in demand and sales, which Barnoy attributed to the overall increase in traffic Amazon saw during the period.

Sales throughout the weekend
Another pattern shift is the cadence of the sales. While both Black Friday and Cyber Monday are expected to bring in huge bumps, many brands reported seeing traffic increases throughout the weekend.

“On Sunday, we saw for many of our brands the same amount of demand as Black Friday,” said Naim. Organic Signatures also saw a huge sales jump on Sunday that had never been seen in previous years.

In some ways it points to a failed strategy most retailers have been trying to enact this year — early holiday shopping. Nearly every brand and platform had some type of early deals day, with Amazon leading the pack with its Fall Prime Day. And while many of these companies said they saw sales increases with these promotions, some they weren’t as pronounced as expected.

“Clearly a lot of customers were waiting,” said Naim. “I’m not sure the luring of customers ahead of time had a massive impact.”

Overall, the weekend highlighted the current state of the economy and retail. Nearly every brand said demand is largely driven by customers seeking out increased promotions. And while there were some glitches, brands said the overall sales boost made for a relatively more stable selling environment.

Compared to years past, said Naim, “some things were more difficult and some things were easier.”

Amazon news to know

  • Amazon has finally unveiled its ChatGPT competitor. Called Amazon Q, the new AI chatbot is focused on workplaces to help with everyday office tasks.
  • Amazon is finally the biggest delivery network in the U.S., the Wall Street Journal reports.
  • One of Amazon’s big areas of growth in the U.K. is refurbished items, writes Reuters. Refurbished goods sales grew by 15% this year compared to last year.

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