Black Friday: Tracking the payments data behind the annual shopping event

29 Nov 2019

Image: © Jo Panuwat D/

As Black Friday has shifted from US stores to worldwide websites, we speak to Mastercard about the payments data the shopping event generates.

Over the years, we’ve seen Black Friday evolve from a largely US-based bricks-and-mortar event to an international online shopping spree. As well as a casual observance of the trend, this growth is reflected in data from SpendingPulse, Mastercard’s market intelligence tool that provides insight into retail spending trends across all payment types, including cash.

“We have seen this [Black Friday] trend emerge in some markets outside of the US such as Ireland and the UK. The online sales have progressed significantly over the years turning the brick-and-mortar sales to an omnichannel event,” said Michael McNamara, who leads SpendingPulse.

“Increasingly, online sales are gaining share and providing consumers with more choices and retailers with more flexibility.”

We spoke further with McNamara about SpendingPulse and what the data tells us.

‘Black Friday is highlighting is the importance of providing the consumer flexibility to shop where and when they find it convenient for their schedules’

Briefly, can you explain SpendingPulse and how it works?

Mastercard SpendingPulse is a macro-economic indicator of retail sales across all payment types in select markets: Ireland, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Hong Kong, UK, United States and South Africa. The reports are based on aggregate sales activity in the Mastercard payments network, coupled with survey-based estimates for other payment types, including cash.

SpendingPulse is uniquely positioned as it is one of the only sources that can track sales through both the online and brick-and-mortar channels consistently. This holistic view enables SpendingPulse to provide both our issuers and merchants with valuable insights on the growth rates and progression of online sales so both banks and merchants can better serve their consumers through the channels they prefer.

What does SpendingPulse data tell us about consumer spending around Black Friday?

Black Friday has been a traditional kick-off day for the holiday shopping season in the US for a number of years. More recently, it has been an emerging trend in Ireland and the UK as a similar opportunity for retailers to kick-start the holiday season with special ‘door-buster’ deals that drive a tremendous amount of store traffic and sales volume. While it has traditionally been more of a brick-and-mortar event, increasingly it has been beneficial for both online and in-store sales volume.

In some sectors such as electronics, the Black Friday kick-off has traditionally been a larger event. In other sectors such as jewellery sales, the late-season surge remains the most critical time of the season. Overall, though, the event helps provide some structure to the holiday shopping season for both retailers and consumers.

Are there other major shopping events SpendingPulse has analysed?

Through the holiday season, the Saturdays as we approach Christmas are typically some of the top shopping days of the year. The Saturday before Christmas can rival Black Friday for the top shopping day of the year even in the US!

Online sales tend to have peak days during the week – Monday to Thursday – as we move through the season. The online season typically wraps up a few days before Christmas as shipping windows start to close before the holiday.

As we move throughout the year, major weather events can have significant impacts on sales as well as sector-specific events that can drive sales volumes around holidays. For example, Valentine’s Day can drive surges in restaurants sales as well as jewellery and gift items, while other holidays around long weekends can drive travel-related spending surges.

What can we learn from Black Friday, from a payments perspective?

In terms of payments, a key lesson that Black Friday is highlighting is the importance of providing the consumer flexibility to shop where and when they find it convenient for their schedules. Enabling commerce through a consistent omnichannel experience is becoming a key success factor for many retailers. Saving consumers time is becoming just as important as the traditional strategies of offering special sales and discounts.

Black Friday is showing us that the traditional strategies based on sales are still effective but the winning strategies also recognise the importance of enabling the consumer to choose how and when they would like to shop.