Consumer awareness of supply chain shortages and even earlier deals may have contributed to a slight decline in U.S. e-commerce sales during Cyber Week — the kickoff to the holiday shopping season that runs from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday. Last year, U.S. consumers spent a record $34.4 billion during Cyber Week, up 20.7% from the year prior. But this year, that figure dropped by 1.4% to $33.9 billion in online spend, according to data from Adobe’s Digital Economy Index.
Adobe’s analysis comes from data from over one trillion visits to U.S. e-commerce websites, which feature 100 million individual SKUs across 18 product categories, giving it a comprehensive window into holiday shopping trends.
The company noticed the declines this year starting on Black Friday. This year, retailers pulled in $8.9 billion in Black Friday online sales, down 1.3% from last year’s record of $9.03 billion — its first-ever year-over-year decline. Cyber Monday 2021 sales also dropped 1.4% year-over-year to $10.7 billion — just $100 million shy of what consumers spent last year, at $10.8 billion. Meanwhile, Thanksgiving Day online sales stayed flat at $5.1 billion.
These declines, while relatively small, represent a reverse in the usual trend of holiday shopping sales that jump up with every subsequent year. For an industry supposedly accelerated several years by the pandemic, according to reports from last year, it’s a notable demonstration of how the long-lasting impacts of the pandemic — which now include supply chain shortages — may have played out in consumers’ psyches. Worried about possible shortages, consumers may have shopped even earlier this year, Adobe says.
The data seems to back this up. During the month of November (Nov. 1 to Nov. 29), consumers spent $109.8 billion, a significant jump of 11.9% over last year. That means 22 days of the month have exceeded $3 billion in online spending, Adobe notes. This is a new record, as only 9 days in 2020 hit that same milestone. Plus, consumers may have shopped last month, as well, the company points out.
“With early deals in October, consumers were not waiting around for discounts on big shopping days like Cyber Monday and Black Friday,” said Taylor Schreiner, Director at Adobe Digital Insights, in an announcement about the Cyber Week findings. “This was further fueled by growing awareness of supply chain challenges and product availability. It spread out e-commerce spending across the months of October and November, putting us on track for a season that still will break online shopping records,” Schreiner added.
In other words, sales aren’t necessarily going to be down in 2021 overall, they’re just not going to be as concentrated as before. In fact, the pandemic may have may online shopping such a regular habit that now consumers are placing their holiday purchases alongside their usual activity, instead of waiting for a big Black Friday or Cyber Monday sales event as in years past.
Despite the declines, the peak holiday shopping period otherwise looked a lot like it would have otherwise. Cyber Monday shoppers went for the usual categories in greater numbers compared with September 2021 sales, across categories like toys (sales were up by nearly 11x the pre-season levels in Sept. 2021), gift cards (up by 7x), books (up by 7x), video games (up by 6x), and baby and toddler products (up by 6x). Appliances, including microwave ovens and small kitchen appliances, were also up 9.6x and 7.1x respectively, leading to the category’s increase of 5.6x.
Smartphone-driven sales were also up this year, with Cyber Monday smartphone-driven sales up 8.4% year-over-year, for example. This actually represents a change in course, however. Pre-pandemic, smartphone sales were expected to top 50% of online sales. But consumers now working from home may not need to shop from their phones as much as before, Adobe noted.
Although the shopping patterns look different, Adobe says it expects the overall holiday season to break a new record. It forecasts that consumers will drive 10% year-over-year growth in sales to hit $207 billion from November 1 through December 31.