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Adobe: Online spending sets records for holiday, and for full year 2021

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U.S. consumers spent over $200 billion online during the 2021 holiday season.

Online holiday sales hit a new record, fueled in part by higher prices on a wide range of goods.

U.S. consumer spending online during the 2021 holiday season (Nov. 1- Dec. 31) grew 8.6% year-over-year to a record $204.5 billion, according to the Adobe Digital Economy Index. Consumer spending online for all of 2021 increased 9%, to a record $855 billion.

Adobe also found that consumers spread their shopping outside of big days like Cyber Monday and started earlier. A record 38 days surpassed $3 billion in daily spend (25 days in 2020 by comparison).

[Read more: Three ways early Black Friday is shaking up retail]

Online sales grew 19.2% year-over-year the weeks before Thanksgiving (Nov. 1 to Nov. 24). Sales were down 1.4% year-over-year the five days from Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday) was down 1.4% year-over-year. Sales rose 5.6% year-over-year in the following weeks (Nov. 30 to Dec. 31).

Higher Prices

The increase in holiday spending was partially driven by higher prices. In December, online prices increased 3.1% year-over-year and 0.8% month-over-month, according to Adobe, which noted that December marked the 19th month of online inflation.

In December, 12 of the 18 categories tracked by Adobe saw year-over-year price increases, with apparel rising faster than any other category. Apparel prices increased 16.6% year-over-year and 0.6% month-over-month.  

Grocery prices saw their highest annual increase in more than a year, up 4.9% year-over-year and 0.7% month-over-month.  Price drops were seen in six categories: electronics, office supplies, jewelry, books, toys and computers.

“Inflation online is showing no signs of easing, as durable consumer demand is being met with the same, persistent supply challenges that produced over six billion out-of-stock messages online this holiday season,” said Patrick Brown, VP of growth marketing and insights, Adobe.

Shoppers also found fewer discounts this holiday season.   In electronics, discount levels were at -8% compared to -21% in 2020; Computers at -10% (vs -22% in 2020); Appliances at -4% (vs -14%); Sporting Goods at -6% (vs -14%); Furniture/Bedding at -2% (vs -4%). Discount levels for televisions were unchanged YoY (-11%). Consumers did see bigger discounts in apparel and toys.

Additional 2021 holiday season insights from Adobe are below:

  • Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) revenue grew 27% year-over-year, while orders were up 10% year-over-year. On average, consumers are spending $224 using BNPL (per order), with roughly three items in the shopping cart. When indexed to 2019, BNPL revenue was up 475% and orders were up 479% over two years. 
  • For retailers who offer curbside/in-store pickup, the fulfillment option was used in 23% of all online orders this season. The day before Christmas Eve (Dec. 23), curbside usage peaked at 40%. On average, curbside orders amount to $91 and roughly two items in the shopping cart.
  • 43% of online holiday sales came via smartphones, coming in at $88 billion overall. There were six days where over 50% of sales came via smartphones: 11/25 (Thanksgiving), 12/18 (Super Saturday), 12/19, 12/24 (Christmas Eve), 12/25 (Christmas Day), and 12/26. In 2020, only one day (Christmas Day) exceeded 50% mobile sales share.
  • Online spending was driven by categories including toys (5.4 times more online sales, when compared to pre-season levels in Sept. 2021), video games (4.5x more), gift cards (3.6x more) and books (3.0x more). Other categories of note include groceries (2.7x more, driven by holiday meals), jewelry (2.2x more), electronics (2.2x more), baby/toddler products (2.1x more) and appliances (2x more)
  • During the holiday season, consumers saw over six billion out-of-stock messages online. This represents a 253% increase over the 2019 holiday season (prior to the pandemic) and a 10% increase year-over-year.

“This holiday shopping season was the first time where big promotional moments like Cyber Monday and Black Friday took on less of the spotlight,” said Taylor Schreiner, senior director, Adobe Digital Insights. “Like we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic, e-commerce has become a ubiquitous daily activity and a flexible way for shoppers to navigate product availability and higher prices.”

Based on Adobe Analytics data, the Adobe Digital Economy Index analysis covers over one trillion visits to U.S. retail sites, 100 million SKUs, and 18 product categories.

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