2020 Holiday Shopping Just as Strange as the Rest of the Year

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

By SPESA

Just like everything else in 2020, this year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping experiences were not what we’re used to. Overall, the holiday shopping so far seems to be more spread out than usual in terms of timing and retailers, and, of course, Covid-19’s influence can be seen at every turn.


Starting Early & Online

A survey conducted by the National Retail Federation (NRF) confirms the 2020 holiday shopping began earlier than in past years, with 59% of shoppers starting their holiday purchasing by early November, up from 49% at that point a decade ago. So far, most of that shopping has been online, for obvious reasons. NRF predicts ecommerce sales will grow by as much as 30% over last year’s holiday season. According to Adobe Analytics, which scans online transactions across the top 100 U.S. web retailers, consumers spent about $5.1 billion online this Thanksgiving Day, up from $4.2 billion last year.

Interestingly, many retailers chose not to open their stores on Thanksgiving Day this year, breaking from the trend of recent years to actually start Black Friday on Thursday. Visits to physical stores on Thanksgiving Day decreased by 94.9% when compared with traffic data in 2019, according to Sensormatic Solutions. Sensormatic’s data also indicated that shopper visits saw a 52.1% decline in traffic on Black Friday, compared with 2019.


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Amazon Loses Market Share

Amazon’s decision to launch “Prime Day” in October this year also helped kickstart the holiday shopping season earlier than normal and spurred similar early sales among physical and online retailers including Target and Walmart. In doing so, it provided a sneak peek at how consumers might shop for the following two months.


For starters, they aren’t flocking to Amazon. Analysis of online retailer web traffic shows Amazon accounted for a smaller share of total traffic than during its 2019 Prime Day event. In addition, Digital Commerce 360, a media and research organization focused on ecommerce, estimates Amazon represents 32% of all U.S. ecommerce growth in 2020, down from nearly 44% in 2019. The organization made the conclusion: “It’s clear that while the pandemic pushed many more consumers online, they’re not all going to Amazon. At least some are shopping on other large online retail sites — and will do so for their holiday shopping this year too.”


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Apparel & Footwear Lagging on Black Friday

While ecommerce overall is increasing in 2020, apparel and footwear did not see the same boom as other categories this Black Friday (not surprisingly as many consumers continue to work, go to school, and do so many other things from home). Apparel rose only 7% and footwear slipped 10% from 2019 sales. In comparison, sales for beauty, technology, home, and jewelry all experienced 38-46% increases over 2019.


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Cyber Monday Breaks Records & Strategies

A record $10.8 billion was spent online by the end of Cyber Monday, a 15.1% year-over-year increase, making it the largest online shopping day in U.S. history, topping last year’s then-best $9.4 billion.


Cyber Monday also saw a 30% increase in curbside pickup orders compared to last year, an alternative for consumers wanting to avoid crowds but still receive their purchases quickly. Sourcing Journal reports that U.S. retailers that offered curbside, drive-through, and in-store pickup options increased digital revenue by 29% on average compared to last Cyber Week. Retailers that didn’t offer these pickup options only saw 22 percent average growth.


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Less Inventory, Fewer Sales

As always, Black Friday and Cyber Monday (and everything in between) launched sales to lure consumers. However, they weren’t quite as plentiful or quite as dramatic as they have been in recent years. According to CNBC “That was due, in large part, to retailers keeping a tighter check on inventories throughout the pandemic. It wasn’t the case early on. In March and April, companies were faced with piles of merchandise that consumers weren’t buying and had heavy markdowns in the summer. They canceled and cut back on future orders, so they wouldn’t risk a similar situation during the holidays.”


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