Not surprisingly, and as early indications suggested,  2021 was a big holiday season for e-commerce. Despite consumers’ year-round online spending increase since the start of the pandemic, people spent big in both physical stores and e-commerce this year.

People started earlier than usual, meaning shopping patterns were more spread out and less reliant on specific “hot” days of activity like Black Friday Cyber Monday, but however you slice the data, the 2021 holiday season was a huge success for most e-commerce merchants – especially in the B2C space. This is not a surprise but there were important shifts in behavior and some of that behavior we believe has not been documented yet as more e-commerce-conditioned shoppers used their phones and e-commerce sites to assist with shopping more than ever.

The Most Important Numbers

Black Friday & Cyber Monday

Accoring to TechCrunch, Black Friday sales fell slightly from $9b to $8.9b.

But as noted by Digital Commerce 360, the $8.9 billion in sales in 2021 was is still a 19.8% increase when compared to $7.43 billion in online sales on Black Friday 2019, demonstrating an ongoing shift in holiday purchasing to the web.

Cyber Monday sales fell slightly as well from the previous year but were also up considerably from 2019 10.7b down a bit; -1.4% from 2020.

Thanksgiving Weekend

The Thanksgiving holiday weekend was a boon for brick and mortar retailers; sales were up 14% compared to 2019 – indicating that people were more than happy to get back into physical stores this holiday season. We haven’t seen a survey result yet that focuses on much of this in-store activity was influenced by online shopping but our guess is that it was MASSIVE. This is an important shift and an area where credit to e-commerce work during the pandemic is almost certainly due!

But what might have started slow, ended up being a holiday season that exemplifies the massive shift to e-commerce from retail over the last two years, accelerated by the pandemic. The New York Times and Mastercard reported massive growth, especially compared to 2019:

“Sales in stores were up 8.1% compared with last year, while e-commerce sales were up 11%. Compared with 2019, before the pandemic brought about an explosion of online ordering, e-commerce sales jumped over 61%. Online sales made up 20.9% of all retail sales this year, according to the Mastercard report. In 2019, online sales accounted for just 14.6% of all retail sales, underscoring how the pandemic has accelerated the shift to e-commerce.”

The below table from the Mastercard Spending Pulse report on holiday spending in retail and e-commerce provides the best illustration / supporting graphic if anyone is in need of more justification for an increasing spend in e-commerce:

mastercard SpendingPulse US Holiday Retail Sales Data 2021

Our Analysis

These important numbers tell us that there were less peaks, higher volume spread out over a longer period of time. As expected, supply chain issues and long term consumer conditioning to e-commerce flattened the activity but in aggregate serious growth in e-commerce continued.

We are increasingly interested in the interaction between online and in-person shopping (omni-channel). We haven’t yet seen a report that is current and that includes this year’s shopping and / or holiday data but Chicago-based INVESP has studied it in recent years and their data and research indicates that the level of interaction was already high.

And not just what may seem the obvious correlation (e-commerce activity leading to in-store purchases). This writer has witnessed 3 instances of shopping in-store, finding desired items out of stock or delayed, only to see the store associates help customers buying the item “online” on the store’s own e-commerce website, promising a delivery date when available.

From a sales attribution point of view, the question we have is: at what point is a sale ”e-commerce” versus “e-commerce-influenced”, or indeed “bought in-store” versus “in-store influenced”?

The Bottom Line

Clearly we saw different consumer buying patterns in 2021. In the mind of the consumer, the holiday season started earlier, but growth in e-commerce continued; fueled by natural adoption and the continuation of the pandemic (and no doubt a strong economy).

The line is blurring between “brick and mortar” and “online” shopping and we will look for (and share) additional data and research that corroborates this point of view.

We will share a follow-up with more data as soon as it becomes available! Subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to know.