How the Pandemic Changed the 2021 Holiday Shopping Season | Economy

There was a time when online shopping was an inexpensive and effective way to find obscure merchandise and avoid a trip to the store. Then the coronavirus struck and turned the web into a way for homebound consumers to purchase life’s necessities.

E-commerce became a lifeline rather than a luxury and never more so than during the 2021 holidays. But as online shopping became ubiquitous, some of its earlier benefits disappeared, chief among them lower prices.

An analysis of online shopping trends during the 2021 Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday spending season by Adobe Digital Insights released Wednesday found that inflation has caught up with the web, as prices rose 3.5% in November from a year earlier and 3.1% annually in December. That was driven by demand, as consumers spent $204.5 billion during the 2021 holiday season, up 8.6% year over year.

Cartoons on the Coronavirus

“Everyone was in front of the screen, discounts were earlier and everyone was worried about supply,” says Taylor Schreiner, senior director at Adobe.

Meanwhile, curbside pickup accounted for 40% or more of orders. “That’s a sea change from the world of 2019,” he adds.

Top categories included toys, which saw a more than fivefold increase in sales from before the start of the season, video games that saw sales rise more than four times and gift cards up threefold.

Discounts, however, were smaller than usual, with electronics cheaper by just 8% compared to 21% in 2020. Sporting goods were off 6% versus 14% a year earlier and computers at 10%, down from 22% in 2020.

That was when consumers could find the goods they wanted. During the holidays, consumers were greeted by more than 6 billion out-of-stock messages, a 253% increase from the 2019 season.

Speaking of the season, it ran much longer than usual as buyers stretched out their purchases in fear of coming up empty finding presents for their loved ones.

A record 38 days saw sales that surpassed $3 billion a day. In 2020, that number was 25. Sales that occurred in the three weeks leading up to Thanksgiving rose 19.2% from 2020, and Black Friday and Cyber Monday saw weaker sales growth.

Nonetheless, online shopping “is how people want to shop,” Schreiner says.