US eCommerce sales rake in a record $204.5 billion, despite stock shortages, increasing prices, diminishing discounts, and the surprise return of in-store shopping.
According to January 12th’s Adobe Digital Economy Index report, US eCommerce sales during the 2021 holiday shopping season hit a record high of $204.5 billion, up 8.6% year-over-year (YOY) and +61.4% in comparison to 2019’s pre-pandemic figures. Consumers also broke the record for exceeding $3 billion in sales per day; 38 days during the 2021 holiday season versus 25 days in 2020. In-store shopping also experienced a surprise return. 2.4% of this year’s seasonal earnings came from brick-and-mortar retailers. During Thanksgiving weekend (Friday, 11/26 through Sunday, 11/28), US shoppers boosted retail sales up +14.1% year-over-year with in-store and eCommerce sales growing +16.5% and +4.9% year-over-year, respectively.
But contrary to those numbers, eCommerce’s success during the 2021 holiday shopping season wasn’t without challenges. Practically all goods-producing industries were affected by impediments in the supply chain; sporadic closures of manufacturing plants, overloaded cargo ports, and shipping transportation delays severely hindered production during all of 2021. Adobe Analytics reports that 6 billion out-of-stock messages were seen during November and December, an alarming increase of 256% more out-of-stock messages when compared to 2019. Adobe had initially reported that 2 billion out-of-stock messages were seen by shoppers during the month of October.
In January 2021, Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights surveyed over 1,000 online shoppers. 25% of the participants said that they noticed many items that were out-of-stock. 37% only noticed some items out-of-stock. 30% of shoppers saw more out-of-stock messages than in the previous year and 25% said that they paid more attention to stores that had available in-stock inventory and were ready to ship for the 2021 holiday season.
Shoppers that were unable to buy due to their items being out-of-stock had simply substituted them with available in-stock alternatives. Low inventory had little effect on eCommerce as sales continued to climb 8.6% year-over-year, says Adobe.
Online retailers also were less keen on offering large discounts over the holiday shopping season. Trends in shopping behavior and marketing changed since the onset of the pandemic; shoppers who were cautious about the uncertainty of available stock began spreading their holiday purchases throughout the year. Retailers began offering Black Friday-like discounts during random months and the rise in popularity of buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) helped attract sales during traditionally slow periods. Consumers that waited until the typical holiday shopping rush showed no real objection to the higher prices and decreased availability of discounts. The two categories with the sharpest decrease in holiday discounts were electronics and computers (perhaps, as a result of the overall shortage of silicon chips) while the two with the deepest discounts were toys and clothing/apparel.
According to Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights, only 29% of consumers didn’t think promotions were more limited this year. 18% of consumers paid full price for products and 17% admitted to spending less and buying less because of higher prices and the scarcity of holiday discounts.