Black Friday trends 2021: Billions of API calls show holiday shopping culmination rather than commencement

Black Friday has become a bellwether for commerce trends as consumer habits fluctuate with the ebb and flow of a lingering global pandemic. As McKinsey forecasted in mid-2020, behavior changes from the pandemic will not be linear but dependent on consumers’ satisfaction with new experiences. The 2021 holiday shopping season has given us a better understanding of which of these trends and behaviors are here to stay.

When we first analyzed the holiday shopping season in 2020, there were three trend indicators that caught our eye. 

  • First, there was a decrease in overall Black Friday sales by 20% from 2019. This was notable, yet not downright shocking given the state of lockdowns and uncertainty around the pandemic. 

  • Second, we saw an increase in online sales by 21.6%, with shoppers spending more than $9 billion through ecommerce channels. This was big and indicated an acceleration in consumer adoption — and reliance — on online shopping. 

  • Third, mobile shopping accounted for 39% of revenue on Black Friday 2020. So not only were customers growing more focused on online shopping but mobile devices and experiences were a preferred method to browse and buy.

Continuing through to 2021, we now have more consumer behavioral data to filter these trends through. 

The most publicized data point was $8.9 billion – this was total ecommerce spending during the 2021 Black Friday weekend, coming in just shy of 2020 results. 

Comparing apples to apples, it looks like ecommerce buyer habits plateaued in the second year of the pandemic. However, taking a step back, we can see larger market trends at play.

Shopping season extends forward

Supply chain warnings came loud and early in 2021. Fearing holiday gifts wouldn’t arrive on time, consumers started their gift buying much earlier in the season. According to a McKinsey survey, 45% of respondents started holiday shopping in early October.

Similarly, brands got a jumpstart on their holiday promotions to accommodate consumer expectations and better manage unpredictable inventory due to supply chain issues. For instance, Amazon released “Black Friday-worthy” deals the first week of October with other large retailers following suit shortly thereafter.

Looking at the tens of billions of API calls that Contentful served this holiday season, we saw a definitive peak in activity on Black Friday, but also a persistent increase in activity throughout the full month of November. 

480% increase in GraphQL API requests for Black Friday 2021Over Black Friday 2021, Content Delivery API requests increased by 79%

Over the Black Friday weekend, Contentful served 1.3 billion GraphQL API requests, a dramatic 480% increase from 2020, and Content Delivery API requests increased 79% to 4.2 billion. 

550% increase in GraphQL API requests throughout November 2021

Content Delivery API activity for the full month of November 2021 grew by 73%

Looking at the full month of November, we saw a 550% increase in GraphQL requests from 2020 and a 73% increase in CDA activity. 

While year-over-year activity was up significantly, daily activity in November was up 65% on average compared to the rest of 2021. This suggests that Black Friday is still the holiday shopping peak, but one in an extended, earlier shopping season.

The growing demand on Contentful’s APIs also shows us that content is becoming a bigger part of the commerce experience for brands and consumers. 

Mobile only gets more important

In 2020, mobile accounted for 39% of revenue on Black Friday. Throughout the 2021 holiday shopping season, mobile-generated revenue is pacing at 42%. Mobile ecommerce, even outside of the holiday season, is clearly becoming part and parcel of modern shopping.  

According to Contentful’s 2021 ecommerce insights survey, 80% of respondents use their smartphones for online shopping. And it’s not just the device but the experience brands need to accommodate for. Nearly 50% of respondents said they feel frustrated or confused when the shopping experience is different on a mobile app vs. the store’s website.  

This is encouraging more and more brands to turn to a composable approach to commerce to support scalable and consistent content experiences across customer touchpoints.

Hybrid shopping fills the “now” need for shoppers

The line between online and in-person shopping continues to blur. Referring to our ecommerce survey once again:

  • 78.7% of respondents say they browse in-store but make actual purchases online sometimes or often

  • 34% have purchased an item on a store’s app or website while standing in the physical store

Comparing these results with Black Friday trends, we get more color on what the hybrid shopping experience looks like when timeliness is critical.

As Retail Dive wrote in 2020, “curbs” were the big winners when in-store and curbside pickup increased 52% over 2019. In 2021, curbs won yet again with in-store and curbside pickup increasing 70% from 2019. 

This is forcing brands to understand the full context of commerce, and develop digital systems that ensure in-store and ecommerce data communicate to one another to support the demand for hybrid shopping experiences. 

Summing up

We learned a lot from the 2021 holiday shopping season, as well as from the Contentful customers using our content platform to build the digital experiences of the future. The growing volume of GraphQL API and Content Delivery API requests, for instance, demonstrates how nimbly Contentful is able to scale with the needs of our users. 

If you want to learn why the world’s biggest brands rely on Contentful, watch our Black Friday webinar, Conquering the ultimate traffic peak with Contentful.

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