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2021 Cyber Week Signals Shifts in Holiday Shopping Season, Purchase Behaviors, and Retailers’ Results

5 MINUTE READ | December 3, 2021

2021 Cyber Week Signals Shifts in Holiday Shopping Season, Purchase Behaviors, and Retailers’ Results

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Abby Long

Abby is PMG’s senior managing editor, where she leads the company’s editorial program and manages the PMG Blog and Insights Hub. As a writer, editor, and marketing communications strategist with nearly a decade of experience, Abby's work in showcasing PMG’s unique expertise through POVs, research reports, and thought leadership regularly informs business strategy and media investments for some of the most iconic brands in the world. Named among the AAF Dallas 32 Under 32, her expertise in advertising, media strategy, and consumer trends has been featured in Ad Age, Business Insider, and Digiday.

The 2021 holiday shopping season has proven just as unpredictable as the rest of the year, with relatively flat Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales figures representing a transformed retail environment. With the shift to digital shopping driving a longer holiday season and earlier promotions, the push for customers to shop early to avoid the holiday rush drove record-breaking sales during the first half of November, according to Adobe Analytics, but dampened the overall influence of big shopping moments like Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Cyber Week (Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday) delivered a total of $33.9 billion in online sales (down 1.4 percent year-over-year), building on a record $109.8 billion spent during November, an 11.9 percent increase over 2020. Adobe Analytics maintains that the best is yet to come, with the entire holiday season predicted to hit $207 billion in total online sales, a ten percent year-over-year increase, and a new record. The next two to three weeks hold nearly the same earning potential and value for brands as all of Cyber Week and the first half of the holiday season combined. 

  • Early-bird shoppers: The National Retail Federation (NRF) reports 50 to 60 percent of shoppers made holiday purchases before Thanksgiving this year, indicating an expanded holiday shopping season that begins earlier and extends past shipping cut-offs by taking advantage of the curbside pickup and buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS) opportunities ushered in by the pandemic. Nearly 180 million Americans shopped during Cyber Week, exceeding the NRF’s initial expectations by over 21 million. The figure comes under the 186.4 million shoppers who made purchases in 2020 but remains in line with the four-year average. 

  • Consumer spending: “Consumers spent $301.27 on holiday purchases this year, down from $311.75 last year,” according to the National Retail Federation. 

  • Foot traffic trends: Foot traffic to brick-and-mortar locations on Black Friday declined 28.3 percent from 2019 levels, although it was up 49 percent from last year, according to Sensormatic Solutions. The nationwide closures of Best Buy, Target, and Walmart brick-and-mortar locations on Thanksgiving Day likely contributed to reduced foot traffic throughout the entire Cyber Week as consumers were driven to shop elsewhere, online, local, or at a different time. 

  • Weaker discounts: Average markdowns among mid-range luxury fashion retailers declined to 28 percent from 55 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019, a low promotion cycle driven by a lack of inventory and higher prices, according to Business of Fashion.

  • Buy-Now, Pay Later (BNPL) adoption surges: Catering to convenience is paying off as consumer spending driven via BNPL was up 422 percent year-over-year with order volume up 438 percent year-over-year so far this season, according to Adobe Analytics. 

  • Shopping platforms: Amazon reported record sales during Cyber Week, Shopify merchants notched $6.3 billion in sales, and interestingly, Facebook Marketplace saw a 40 percent increase in Facebook users searching for gifts on the platform. Momentum Commerce’s Amazon Managed Brands saw a 13 percent increase in Amazon Product Page traffic and a 29 percent year-over-year increase in Amazon Ordered Revenue over Cyber Week, including Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, as the ecommerce giant maintained market dominance over the holiday weekend.

Some retailers in PMG’s portfolio recorded the biggest days in brand history during Cyber Week 2021, while others experienced softer days than in previous years, further indicating the unpredictability and volatility of the 2021 holiday season. Overall, the retailers that saw the highest traffic and sales figures during Cyber Week were those with product catalogs largely geared toward in-person activities, such as luxury fashion, beauty products, and make-up. The most popular product categories in PMG’s portfolio this holiday season have been shirts and tops, pants, and outerwear, with leisurewear coming in after shoes and accessories, signaling that customers are shopping for the return to more in-person activities. 

According to the latest data from PMG’s Q4 Consumer Outlook Survey in partnership with YouGov Direct, 49 percent of shoppers have completed less than 20 percent of their holiday shopping, while 71 percent reported being in the shopping mindset during Thanksgiving week. Price, availability, and delivery date remain the top three factors considered during purchase decisions. With the end of the season drawing near, 51 percent of shoppers say they won’t purchase a product — even if it’s within their budget — if delivery isn’t guaranteed before the holidays. 

The next two to three weeks hold nearly the same earning potential and value for brands as all of Cyber Week and the first half of the holiday season combined.

Consumers no longer subscribe to a single approach or timetable for holiday shopping, requiring brands to be prepared to capitalize across the entire season, beginning in November. While the larger retail industry remains subject to fluctuating macroeconomic conditions, brands that remain agile and continue to explore opportunities for maximizing investments across digital programs through the remainder of the year are best positioned to capture available demand.

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