Retail sales during the holiday ended up being better than expected. Data from the National Retail Federation (NRF) finds that retail sales, including online and other non-store sales, for the November through December 2021 holiday season grew by an impressive 14.1% over the same period in 2020, reaching $886.7 billion.

The NRF had predicted that holiday retail sales would grow by somewhere between 8.5 and 10.5%. Instead, the actual growth of 14.1% is about three times the average holiday sales increase (4.4%) seen over the past 5 years. 

Online and other non-store sales accounted for $218.9 billion of total sales, a year-over-year increase of 11.3%, which is on par with the 11-15% growth forecast earlier in the season.

Sales at clothing and clothing accessory stores saw the largest increase, growing by 33.1% over 2020, while sporting goods stores sales were up by 20.9% year-over-year. Meanwhile, health and personal care stores (+9.6%) and grocery and beverage stores (+8.6%) saw significantly lower year-over-year increases.

Here are some highlights and results as reported by various sources.

Mastercard

Mastercard SpendPulse data reveals considerably slower growth in holiday sales than the NRF. Its data shows that during the period between November 1 and December 24, total retail spending (excluding automotive) increased by 8.5% in 2021.

E-commerce sales experienced a gain of 11% during the traditional holiday season, per Mastercard. SpendPulse data also reveals that online shopping continues to grow, with online retail sales accounting for 20.9% of total retail sales during the period. 

Much like with NRF, the apparel category saw the most growth, up 47.3% over 2020. The jewelry (+32%) and department store (+21.1%) categories also saw impressive growth. 

ICSC

On the other hand, data from ICSC shows even higher growth in holiday sales than the NRF. The survey of more than 1,000 consumers reveals that retail sales during November and December grew by 17% year-over-year, with consumers spending an average of $1,011 during the holidays.

Half of the consumers surveyed say they spent more during the 2021 holiday season than they did in 2020, spending an average of 21% more than they did a year ago. These consumers cite higher costs of holiday items, an increased number of people to buy gifts for, and wanting to have a more celebratory atmosphere, as reasons for spending more during the 2021 holiday season.

Adobe Digital Insights

Figures from Adobe Analytics, which analyzed more than 1 trillion visits to US retail sites, indicate that US online sales reached $204.5 billion during November and December, representing a year-over-year increase of 8.6%. The data also shows that a record 38 out of 61 days surpassed $3 billion in revenues. 

Sales via smartphones accounted for more than two-fifths (43%) of e-commerce sales, totaling $88 billion. Although the majority of online sales still occurred via laptop or desktop computers, smartphones accounted for more than half of sales on 6 days during the analyzed period, including Thanksgiving, Super Saturday, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Salesforce

On a global scale, online sales during the holiday season surpassed the $1 trillion mark, once again, per data from Salesforce. The analysis of shopping data from more than 1 billion shoppers on the Salesforce Customer 360 platform, as well as commerce, marketing and service data activity, reveals that global online sales tallied $1.14 trillion during the season.

The data also shows that there was a 40% year-over-year increase in those US online shoppers who used Buy Now, Pay Later services. There was also an increase (15% year-over-year) in US online shoppers that used payment forms such as PayPal, Apple Pay and Google Pay.

Previously Published Research

Adobe Cyber Week 2021 E Commerce Spend Dec2021

Cyber Monday saw the most online spending during the key shopping days between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, per data from Adobe Analytics. 

Consumers spent $10.7 billion online on Cyber Monday. Spending was significantly higher on Monday than what consumers spent on e-commerce sites on Black Friday ($8.9 billion) or on Thanksgiving Day ($5.1 billion). These figures are about on par with what was spent on the same days last year, breaking years of growth in e-commerce though coming after year in which much more had been spent online.

Here’s a look at the latest data from other sources concerning the period between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday:

  • Staying with online spending, Salesforce data shows consumers spent $44 billion online, globally, up 3% year-over-year (y-o-y). An analysis of online shopping activity in the US for Cyber Monday shows that online orders also grew by 3% y-o-y.
  • Global figures show that online store visits during Black Friday and Cyber Monday were down 7% over last year. Per data from Nosto, although mobile accounted for the largest share of online store visits (69%), online sales (53%) and orders (56%), desktop had the higher conversion rate (4% vs. 2%).
  • New shoppers made up the bulk of buyers online. This can be seen in buyer data from Bluecore which shows that first-time buyers made up 52% of online buyers across all analyzed retail categories on Black Friday.
  • A total of 178.8 million unique US shoppers took advantage of the Thanksgiving weekend to shop in-store and online this year, according to data from NRF. This is down from the 186.4 million adults who shopped over the holiday weekend last year. The survey of more than 5,700 adult consumers reveals that shoppers spent an average of $301.27 each on holiday-related purchases over the 5 day period, down from $311.75 spent per person in 2020.
  • Additional data from RetailNext shows that although in-store foot traffic and sales decreased during Thanksgiving and Black Friday weekend (by 21% and 5%, respectively) compared to what they were pre-pandemic, there was an increase for both (56% and 41.9%, respectively) over what they were last year.
  • Other data from Sensormatic Solutions echoes the news that in-store shopping during Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday has not quite recovered to the levels they were in 2019. The data indicates that shopper visits decreased by 28.3% on Black Friday this year compared to two years ago. That said, there is hope for brick-and-mortar retailers as traffic increased by 47.5% over 2020.

More Highlights From Other Research

Here’s an update on more general data gathered since our last update. Links to the research are provided at the end of each bullet point.

  • Pre-Black Friday/Cyber Monday data from The Integer Group showed that the majority (41%) of consumers planned to start their holiday shopping before Thanksgiving, while 20% planned to start their shopping on Black Friday. Younger adults were more likely than older adults to say they planned to start shopping on Black Friday, while shoppers 45+ were more likely to start sometime in December. (Link)
  • Data from the National Retail Federation (NRF) indicated that more people planned to shop in-store over Thanksgiving weekend than did last year. Some 65% of shoppers planed to shop in-store on Thanksgiving Day and 64% planned to shop in-store on Black Friday this year, up from 50% and 51%, respectively in 2020. (Link)
  • The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) has released its projections for consumer spending on tech products and services during the holiday season (spanning October-December). Spending on these products is expected to see minimal growth (0.5%) over last year to reach $142.5 billion, with approximately 191.3 million US adults spending an average of $541 on technology gifts this season. (Link)
  • An Airship survey of more than 9,000 consumers spanning seven countries shows that close to half (48%) expect to do the majority (75% or more) of their holiday shopping online, with a similar share (47%) saying they will do most of that shopping via smartphones. The same survey found that, while in-store, US respondents say they might use their smartphone to visit the retailer’s website (68%), use the retailer’s app (64%) and compare prices (via other sources like Google and Amazon; 68%). (Link)
  • However, a survey from FullStory finds that while one-third (34%) of the 1,600 US consumers surveyed use a smartphone as their primary online shopping channel and another three-fifths (58%) use their mobile phone for at least half of their online shopping, many are experiencing problems when shopping on their phones. Some 4 in 10 mobile-first consumers say they have had problems with pages that fail to load (42%) and difficulties in finding information on products or sizes (41%). (Link)
  • Some 7 in 10 US adults surveyed by Cordial in early November say they are concerned about online orders not arriving on time. This is of most concern to younger adults, with 82% of 18-24-year-olds and 77% of 25-34-year-olds expressing concern. (Link)
  • Data from Jungle Scout shows that about two-thirds of consumers shop on Amazon for gifts. Its nearest competitor is Walmart.com, which enjoys visits from about half (48%) of online shoppers. Surprisingly, the survey reuslts indicate that when searching out specific brands, consumers are more likely to head to Walmart.com than Amazon. (Link)
NRF Planned Holiday Spending Nov2021

It’s hard to believe but it’s that time again — the holiday season has begun. This means that an array of studies are being released, forecasting spending trends, retail destinations and shopping attitudes. The latest annual data hub (which will be updated periodically during the holiday period) highlights key points from holiday-related research.

[Editor’s Note: as with last year’s holiday data hub, this year’s article will highlight one or two unique findings from each piece of research. Readers interested in more data are encouraged to follow the links provided to access the studies.]

Forecasts

Before getting to the list of research highlights, let’s have a look at the broad forecasts for this holiday season.

  • In its holiday spending forecast, NRF estimates that spending will grow by 8.5-10.5% over last year, reaching between $843.4 billion and $859 billion. A survey of more than 7,900 US consumers also reveals that consumers plan to spend roughly $998 on gifts ($648), holiday items ($231) and other non-gift items ($118). This is about on par with what they planned to spend during the holidays last year.
  • In a slightly more modest forecast, Deloitte projects that holiday sales will increase by 7-9% to roughly $1.28-$1.3 trillion. The increase, which includes projected e-commerce sales growth of between 11% to 15%, is well above the 1-1.5% growth forecast last year.
  • The International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) predicts a similar year-over-year increase in spending (8.9%). Once again, this is a notable increase over the very modest increase of 1.9% in sales ICSC estimated last year.
  • Factoring in low unemployment, rising wages and a thriving stock market, which have contributed to a strong consumer economy even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, eMarketer’s forecast for US holiday retail sales is at the high end compared to other forecasts on a total sales basis. With an estimated 9% growth, sales are expected to reach $1.1 trillion overall. eMarketer also estimates that e-commerce sales will rise by 14.4% and account for 18.4% of total retail sales. At the same time, in-store sales are expected to grow by 7.9%.
  • The consulting firm AlixPartners projects holiday spending growth of 10-13%, perhaps the most optimistic of all forecasts. Of note, its holiday period stretches from October through December.
  • Expecting slower than usual growth this year, NetElixir forecasts that e-commerce sales will climb by a relatively modest 6-7%. They believe that mobile shopping will be the primary e-commerce sales channel during the holiday period and account for more than half (52%) of total online sales.
  • For its part, Adobe predicts that e-commerce spending will grow by 10% y-o-y, to hit $207 billion — that’s less than a third of the growth projected for last year (33%), which was of course heavily influenced by COVID-19.

Other Key Holiday Data

The following list highlights key points from the studies cited above, along with others. We generally disregard data regarding top gifts and shopping times, as the surveys can disagree with respect to these. (You can follow the link to the research to find each one’s results on those.)

Likewise, we’ll largely avoid shopping destinations data for the same reason, unless there are noteworthy results to highlight.

Data from Deloitte contains a prediction worth noting. The survey of more than 4,000 shoppers found that while health and safety anxiety has decreased it hasn’t gone away completely. Some 40% of shoppers report being anxious, compared to 51% last year. Nevertheless, 62% of holiday spending is expected to happen online, compared to 33% that will be spent in-store (up from 28% in 2020. However, PwC reports a somewhat less pronounced gap between the share of spending being done online (57%) versus in-store (43%).

Here are some highlights from the myriad surveys and research pieces that have been released in recent weeks. Links to the research are provided at the end of each bullet point.

  • Although Adobe Analytics reports that shopping via smartphones has plateaued, it predicts that online spending using smartphones during the holidays will reach an estimated $86 billion. (Link)
  • While cost remains the most important consideration when buying gifts this year, Bazaarvoice reveals that with growing concerns about global supply chain issues, availability (46%) is also a consideration. (Link)
  • A majority of US consumers belong to at least one traditional loyalty program. Salesforce predicts that the share of online orders redeeming loyalty points will increase strongly during the holiday season. (Link)
  • A study from Convey shows that close to 9 in 10 (88% of) consumers say that on-time delivery is important to the overall shopping experience. Additionally, more than half (56%) are more likely to complete a purchase if the estimated delivery date is visible in the shopping cart. (Link)
  • With the use of buy now, pay later programs growing over the past year, it stands to reason that consumers will be using this option during the holiday season. A Tinuiti survey finds that 14% of respondents will use buy now, pay later to purchase holiday gifts, half (51%) of whom are Millennials. (Link
  • Some 3 in 10 shoppers say they will start their shopping earlier this year than they did in 2020. Likewise, a survey of more than 1,000 consumers by RetailMeNot also found that two-thirds of shoppers say they prefer to complete all their holiday shopping as early as possible. (Link)
  • As for those consumers who tend to put their shopping off, a global survey by Oracle finds that more than half (55%) of consumers say they are likely to use or might use an on-demand service such as DoorDash to order last-minute gifts. (Link)
  • Data from Redpoint Global illustrates that personalization goes a long way. Some 8 in 10 consumers surveyed say they are more likely to shop with brands that demonstrate they personally understand them by sending relevant, personalized offers this holiday season. (Link)
  • Older shoppers are the least likely age group to shop during the holiday season. A global survey from MiQ found that fewer than half (47%) of adults ages 65+ planned to shop during the season compared to 72% of those ages 25-34. (Link)
  • A survey from Adtaxi finds that 7 in 10 consumers intend to shop at small businesses (down 4% over last year), while some will try to shop at socially conscious businesses (27%) and/or minority-owned businesses (26%). (Link)
  • Social media ads stand to play a role in holiday gift inspiration. Per Smartly.io, about half (52%) of consumers surveyed have found inspiration for a holiday gift from a social media ad, while more than two-fifths (42%) have purchased a gift directly from a social media ad. (Link)

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