With Thanksgiving just around the corner, it’s time to talk turkey. In this article, we’ll go over some of the fascinating and surprising findings that we’ve learned about Thanksgiving through big data.

Table of Contents

  1. Travel
  2. Meals
  3. Shopping

1) Travel

According to the travel organization AAA, more than 55 million Americans traveled more than 50 miles away from home during Thanksgiving 2019, representing an increase of 2.6 percent (1.6 million people) over 2018. This figure includes 49.3 million people traveling by automobile (the highest number since 2005) and 4.45 million people flying, with trains, buses, and other transport methods making up the remainder.

What’s more, AAA has projected that Wednesday afternoon is the worst time to be on the move for Thanksgiving, with travel times up to 4 times longer than usual in major metropolitan areas. By analyzing data from the past few years, AAA has also revealed that the Monday before Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving Day itself are the best options for travelers, with average ticket prices the lowest on these two days.

Of course, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is likely to significantly reduce these numbers, making this year an anomaly. According to a survey by Cars.com, 47 percent of Americans are planning to travel for Thanksgiving in 2020, compared with 68 percent last year.

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2) Meals

According to a 2019 survey, U.S. consumers plan to spend an average of $186.05 on Thanksgiving every year. The bulk of this expense, 82 percent, is spent on food, drink, and other parts of the Thanksgiving feast, while just 18 percent is spent on travel.

Of course, turkey is the most common Thanksgiving food, and Americans eat a lot of it: 52 million turkeys are consumed every year on the holiday, with an average cost per pound of $1.20. Because it’s not logistically feasible to grow so many gobblers in time for the holidays, 90 percent of turkeys sold for Thanksgiving are frozen. The remaining 10 percent are fresh turkeys, which create their own logistical challenges to get them to consumers in time.

The U.S. spends a total of $2.98 billion annually on producing the most common Thanksgiving dinner foods, including:

  • 2.4 billion pounds of sweet potatoes
  • 1.32 billion pounds of green beans
  • 7.6 million barrels of cranberries
  • 2.66 million pounds of cherries

Hoping to have a civilized conversation around the Thanksgiving dinner table this year? USAFacts, a non-profit organization founded by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, has created a Thanksgiving fact sheet that gives access to cold, hard data about topics ranging from Medicare and military spending to education and the environment so that everyone can start off on the same page.

3) Shopping

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the holiday season, with many shoppers lining up hours before stores open for Black Friday. According to a 2019 survey by Deloitte:

  • 79 percent of Americans plan to do some holiday shopping over the Thanksgiving holiday period (i.e. from Thanksgiving Day to Cyber Monday), with an average expenditure of $415 per household.
  • The popularity of e-commerce continues to grow, with 94 percent of shoppers buying online (with an average spend of $234) and 87 percent buying in-store (with an average spend of $204).
  • Millennials ($446) and Gen X ($452) are the two generations who say they will spend the most during the Thanksgiving holiday period.

In 2019, online sales on Thanksgiving Day totaled $4.2 billion, increasing 14.5 percent from 2018 and passing $4 billion for the first time. What’s more, 45 percent of sales were made on devices such as smartphones and tablets, which makes mobile shopping an especially valuable method for retailers.

In order to identify valuable trends and insights, e-commerce retailers need to use ETL (extract, transform, load), a data integration method for combining information from multiple sources in a centralized data warehouse. For example, an e-commerce store could use ETL to collect data about how various products are performing in different regions of the world, and then use this information to customize and localize its marketing campaigns for different locations.

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