Urban Airship Holiday Retail Study Finds Big M-Commerce Gains for Both Brick-and-Mortar and Online-Only Retailers

Fifth annual study highlights mobile’s growing impact on an ever-extending holiday shopping season whether shoppers are online or in line

PORTLAND, Ore., — November 28, 2017 — As holiday shopping results are tallied from the Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday time period, Urban Airship today released preliminary results of its fifth annual Mobile Retail Trends study of more than 100 retailers’ apps that reveal year-over-year increases in every major statistical category related to apps and notifications. In addition, Cyber Monday was the biggest sales day for online and mobile ever in the U.S. with purchases made on mobile devices reaching a record-breaking $2 billion, according to Adobe.

Top-level results show Cyber Week has become Cyber Month. Retailers significantly ramped up holiday promotions in early November, compared to just two weeks before Thanksgiving last year. This year marks the fourth consecutive year of growth in retailers’ notification send volume (up 27 percent over 2016), average notification engagement rates (up 17 percent) and average notification opt-in rates (up 3.2 percent).    

However, comparing brick-and mortar retailers versus online-only retailers shows more dramatic differences impacting the future of retail as digital’s influence continues to grow. For example, the distribution of notification sends and sheer volume show brick-and-mortar retailers’ full integration of mobile into their holiday marketing mix.

Notification Volume: Brick-and-Mortar vs. Online-Only Retailers

Notification Volume: Brick-and-Mortar vs. Online-Only Retailers

Brick-and-mortar retailers maintained a steady cadence of holiday notifications beginning in early November with dramatic increases on key shopping days versus only slight “day of” increases for online-only retailers.

Consumers Are Adopting Singles’ Day Faster than Retailers

Throughout November, notification engagement rates exhibited a similar pattern as past years, where shoppers were most engaged with messages in advance of big shopping days. The one exception is Singles’ Day for online-only retailers, where notification engagement rates spiked even while their send volume that day remained flat, suggesting consumers are adopting Singles’ Day more rapidly than retailers.

Notification Engagement Rates: Brick-and-Mortar vs. Online-Only Retailers

Notification Engagement Rates: Brick-and-Mortar vs. Online-Only Retailers

For both brick-and-mortar and online-only retailers, shoppers are most engaged with push notifications in advance of key shopping days illustrating the importance of mobile in pre-shopping research.

While all retailers saw the greatest notification engagement rates earlier in the month, brick-and-mortar retailers grew Thanksgiving Day notification engagement rates by 50 percent year-over-year. Black Friday notification engagement rates were even higher, but down slightly (-2%) year-over-year. This “day of” engagement growth is especially significant considering massive spikes in send volumes on those days and growing receptivity toward engaging with notifications while actively shopping.

That said, the general notification engagement rate trendline between brick-and-mortar and online-only retailers is surprisingly consistent (less a few peaks unique to either set). The real difference, considering send volumes, is the much bigger audiences that brick-and-mortar retailers reach. In addition, while brick-and-mortar retailers have improved their overall average notification engagement rate by 38 percent year-over-year, they still trail online-only retailers whose overall average notification engagement rate is 29% higher.

New App Installs: Brick & Mortar vs Online-Only Retailers

Brick-and-mortar retailers see above average app downloads throughout the holiday shopping season, doubling average daily new app installs on Black Friday, while online-only retailers see a peak right before Thanksgiving Day.

The frequent holiday marketing cadence of brick-and-mortar retailers, and their greater visibility, drives bigger gains in new app users throughout the holiday shopping period. Online-only retailers added new app users at a slower but steadier rate with one significant peak leading up to Thanksgiving Day. Similar to last year, new app installs for brick-and-mortar retailers peaked on Black Friday at nearly double the typical daily rate seen in October 2017, demonstrating their strength in offering omnichannel experiences, loyalty programs and in-store promotions that encourage new app downloads during the holidays.

“Whether it’s the growing percentage of online sales completed on mobile devices, or mobile’s broader influence on all offline sales, it has never been clearer that mobile is changing how retailers market and how consumers buy,” said Brett Caine, CEO and president, Urban Airship. “Our data findings hold many valuable cues for what’s to come, as brick and mortar retailers place greater emphasis on leveraging mobile and other connected digital strategies to amplify holiday strategies, and it’s working. They’ve narrowed the lead online-only retailers have with better average notification engagement rates by 3X in just the last year.”  


To ensure a focus on larger and active retailers, analysis included retail apps that had at least 10,000 monthly active opt-in users and 10,000 monthly notification sends in October 2017. For a comparative year-over-year view, this focus was further narrowed to apps with both 2016 and 2017 mobile app engagement data for the 30 days leading up to Thanksgiving through to Cyber Monday. This resulted in more than 100 apps included in the study, of which 60 percent were brick-and-mortar retailers and 40 percent were online-only. Fifty-five percent of apps hailed from the U.S. and 20 percent from the UK, while the median app’s monthly active opt-in audience was 120,012 users with 1,268,803 monthly sends.

Urban Airship’s full Mobile Retail Trends report will be released in 2018, including additional data on the long-term impact of holiday mobile engagement. 

About Urban Airship

Urban Airship® is trusted by thousands of businesses to drive growth with mobile. Every day, marketers and developers depend on Urban Airship to deliver billions of digital moments through personalized, interactive notifications that inspire interest and drive action. Urban Airship is used by many of the world’s most admired companies, including Adidas, Alaska Airlines, The Home Depot, NBC Universal, Sky plc and Zillow.

For more information, visit www.urbanairship.com, read our blog and follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn.