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Early Black Friday promos, supply chain fears impact holiday shoppers

The online holiday shopping season is already well underway.

New data from Adobe reveals consumers aren’t waiting to begin their online holiday shopping.

The first set of online shopping data for the 2021 holiday season released by the Adobe Digital Economy Index indicates that U.S. consumers spent $72.4 billion online during October 2021, representing 8% growth from October 2020. The spend is being driven by categories including toys (sales up 50% from September 2021 average), groceries (up 34%), video games (up 20%), and gift cards (up 20%).

Adobe cites a large amount of unusually early holiday deals as a primary driving factor.

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

Year-to-date (Jan 2021 - Oct 2021), U.S. consumers have spent $680 billion have been spent online, up 9% year-over-year and up 57% from the pre-COVID-19 year of 2019.

In addition, as e-commerce demand picks up, Adobe finds that the prevalence of out-of-stock messages has risen 250% in October 2021 compared to the final pre-pandemic month of January 2020. When compared to October 2019, out-of-stock messages are up 325%.

During October 2021, consumers saw over 2 billion out-of-stock messages online. Of the 18 categories tracked by Adobe, electronics has the highest current out-of-stock levels, followed by jewelry, apparel, home & garden, and pet products.

Despite many holiday deals being released earlier in the season, Adobe analysis finds that discounts are weaker across several categories. This includes electronics, where discount levels are at 8.7%, compared to 13.2% at this point in 2020; sporting goods at 2.8% (vs 11.2%); appliances at 4.6% (vs 10.2%). The tools/home improvement category is seeing no discounts at all, with prices up 1.2%, compared to a 6.8% discount in 2020.

Discounts for TVs are at 7.4%, near 2020 levels of 7.7%, with a similar result in the furniture category (1.1% vs. 1.4%). Toys are currently seeing bigger discounts than 2020 at 15.9% compared to 7.5 percent, as are computers at 12.4% (vs 11.9%).

Additional insights include:

  • Usage of buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) services dipped year-over-year in October 2021, with revenue down 14% and orders down 15%. Adobe expects BNPL to pick up further into the holiday season, when consumers begin to make larger purchases.  
  • In October 2021, curbside pickup was used in 18.4% of all online orders from retailers who offer the service. This is on par with October 2020 levels and 6% higher compared to October 2019 levels). Use of expedited shipping grew 5.6% year-over-year in October 2021. Adobe expects both fulfillment options to pick up in coming weeks, as consumers begin to worry about shipping delays.

“With over 2 billion out-of-stock messages last month, consumers are beginning to understand the real impact of the supply chain challenges,” said Taylor Schreiner, director of Adobe Digital Insights. “Some have begun to adjust their holiday strategy accordingly, with parents shopping for toys earlier and some settling for gift cards this season. For those who have not yet started their holiday shopping, they will need to be prepared to be flexible.” 

The Adobe Digital Economy is based on analysis through Adobe Analytics that covers over one trillion visits to U.S. retail sites and over 100 million SKUs in 18 product categories.

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