The issue of what happens to retail sales on Super Bowl Sunday is a fascinating one. While “Super Sunday” has not typically been thought to be a big day for retailers, with the exceptions of grocery stores early in the day and take-out food in the evening, new data from internet advertising experts Criteo show that the Super Bowl drives big sales in several product categories. I had a chance to interview Jaysen Gillespie, Criteo’s Head of Analytics and Data Science about data fresh from this year’s Super Bowl, which is compiled from companies doing about 30-50% of web commerce (excluding Amazon). I took away what I think are three deep insights in web shopping on the day of the big game.
1) Early on Super Bowl Sunday, desktop sales are strong, but as the Super Bowl goes on, mobile sales take over
Based on Criteo’s data from 625 U.S. retailers, compared to an average Sunday, 2019 game day sales were significantly lower before the game started. However, online sales surged in the second quarter and peaked at 10 pm, after the game as Sunday shoppers caught up on shopping. Interestingly, before the game, desktop sales over-indexed, but in the second half of the game, mobile sales took off and essentially never looked backed.
As shown in the chart below, there is a big spike in sales at the end of the game in both mobile and desktop, but it is skewed even more toward mobile.
As Gillespie states, “At this year’s Super Bowl, the dominance of mobile in the shopper journey was clear. Starting in the second quarter of this year’s game, at 7:10 PM EST, mobile usage out-indexed desktop usage in every single retail category. At 10:25 PM EST, post-game mobile usage peaked at 247 percent above average as consumers translated pent-up demand into transactions after the game.”
This pattern of results suggests that the Super Bowl may have difficulty in holding consumers’ attention as the game moves on, leading some to shop from the couch using their phones, and ultimately making it a good day for many retailers. Not surprisingly, sales of sporting goods, and especially team merchandise skyrocket at the end of the game. More on that later.
2) Mobile apps perform quite well on Super Bowl Sunday, before, during, and after the game
As shown in the chart below, mobile apps account for more sales before the Super Bowl and still over-index compared to a typical Sunday during the game. While mobile app sales get overtaken by mobile web sales during the game and spike dramatically in the middle of the game, this is not surprising given the limited number of apps the average shopper has on their phone. The strong performance of mobile apps throughout the day is suggestive of it being highly important for retailers to convince their regular customers to download their app and to make sure that it is easy to use. As Jaysen Gillespie observes, “Apps locks you into preferred retailers. They result in 2 x 3 times the conversion rate.” As mobile sales are affected very positively during and after the game, if the data is broken out by retailers with and without apps, those that have them end up with a big advantage.
3) More categories than one would expect experience a spike in sales on Super Bowl Sunday, with a surge in late game and after-game sales more than making up for slow sales early in the day.
As alluded to earlier, sporting good companies see dramatic sales increases after the game. For companies that sell only sporting goods, the period just 9:55-10:30 see a sales increase by a multiple of 20. Importantly, however, it is not just sporting goods that see this spike. Gillespie’s take is as follows:
“When consumers see their sports heroes on TV, it drives demand for sporting goods. At this year’s Super Bowl, right after the game finished, shopping for NFL accessories and gear rocketed to 1,823 percent above average. Shoppers didn’t just stop with sports gear, however. Many retail categories experienced a surge in transactions during and immediately following the game, including clothing and jewelry.”
While fashion purchases are slow at the beginning of the game, they tick up in the second quarter before skyrocketing by 127% just after the game. Skirts, dresses, earrings, hair accessories and shorts all do very well after the game. Some of the jewelry sales are likely driven by the proximity to Valentines Day and men thinking about the category, making one wonder why we did not see a single jewelry ad (at least not nationally) in this year’s Super Bowl. Clearly, however, there are some female shoppers driving increases in some of the categories as well.
Criteo’s study reinforces that mobile phone sales continue to grow in importance and that retailers increasingly have to promote their apps and make sure they are effective. They also show that Super Bowl Sunday as a shopping day is about much more than beer, potato chips, and pizza.
Charles R. “Ray” Taylor is the John A. Murphy Professor of Marketing at the Villanova School of Business and Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Marketing and Consumer Insights.