Holiday 2020 may have forever changed our shopping behavior. The online acceleration, the inventory shortages and the pandemic pushed us in many new directions that deserve exploration this holiday season. Digital Commerce 360 in conjunction with Bizrate Insights surveyed 1,113 online shoppers in the holiday home stretch just after Cyber 5 wrapped up. Our year-over-year analysis provides perspective on that behavior and what it portends for future years.

How many people have their shopping done?

The numbers indicate that shoppers were slightly more aggressive in 2020 vs. 2019, where 65% versus 57% have at least half of their shopping completed. Another interesting sidebar is that all 2020 shoppers suggest they have some of their holiday gift buying complete vs. 84% of 2019 shoppers. Promotions and expected delivery challenges likely pushed shoppers to get their gift buying done earlier than ever.

More people holiday shopping online

Online shopping is the beneficiary of the many challenges associated with COVID-19. Shoppers are spending a greater share of their holiday budget online. Our results reveal that 65% of those surveyed have done at least half of their shopping online vs. 58% in 2019. This shift is a behavior that will have ramifications in 2021 and likely for years to come.


Shopping during the Cyber 5 increases every year

All major holidays are now shopping days with a barrage of promotions giving shoppers even more freedom to buy simply when it is convenient. Just over half of shoppers take advantage of Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Thanksgiving weekend activity. Cyber 5 year-over-year shopping was fairly consistent with Thanksgiving weekend, seeing increases delivering 2020/2019 penetration as follows:

  • Black Friday: 57%/53%
  • Cyber Monday: 56%/58%
  • Thanksgiving Weekend: 54%/45%

One might conclude that COVID-19 restrictions provided ample time for shopping over Thanksgiving weekend with the holiday.

For more about Cyber 5 online shopping trends, read, “Online sales grow a slower-than expected 20.6% over Cyber 5 but still set records.”


Shoppers finish holiday shopping earlier and earlier

Anticipating inventory challenges, some shoppers may be shopping earlier but only 13% report being done. Despite retailer warnings, the numbers show that shopper behavior patterns remain relatively unchanged.

Though half or 51% of online shoppers expect to finish shopping during the first few weeks in December versus 47% in 2019, procrastinators will still be on the hunt for holiday shopping right before Christmas. Almost the same number (33% vs. 34%) will be purchasing gifts the week before Christmas or Christmas Eve.

It proves once again that customer behavior is difficult to change no matter the circumstances.


Discounts and free shipping encourage customers to online shop

Free shipping and promotions, along with in-stock product, have the greatest influence on retailer selection. Savings surely caught the attention of shoppers. Shoppers look for free shipping at every turn and there is no doubt promotions are powerful influences when it comes to retailer choice. Retailer selection among those surveyed was influenced as follows:

  • Free shipping: 58%
  • Appealing promotions: 44%
  • Email offers: 32%
  • Loyalty/rewards programs: 19%

Conveniences count but do not trump price

From a product perspective, having products in stock became a more critical issue this season for 47% of those surveyed. Interest in featured products came in at 34% and exclusive items a much lower 18%. Past experiences with retailers should not be underestimated and played a role for 42% of online shoppers while a nod to local businesses was given by 18%. Conveniences count but do not trump price with some fluctuation expected year over year based on omnichannel’s evolving importance:

  • Wish lists: 21%
  • Flexible return policies: 15%
  • BOPIS: 15%
  • Express shipping: 14%
  • Curbside: 8%

Shoppers were price-centric looking at the total cost of purchase to ensure they got a good price with the majority still selecting retailers based on free shipping. As savings top the charts when it comes to picking retailers, a year-over-year comparison indicated the following impact among savings-oriented tactics:

  • Free shipping: 58%/67%
  • Appealing promotions: 44%/34%
  • Email promotions: 32%/25%
  • Loyalty/rewards programs: 19%/26%

Free shipping more common

The shift in free shipping reveals that shoppers are bottom-line focused. Promotions on products may have put more shoppers in a position where they were willing to absorb shipping costs. When asked what percentage of their online orders contained free shipping during the Cyber 5 time frame, only 34% versus 49% in 2020 reported that all their orders had that favored promotion. Looking further at the 75% or more of orders range, here 66% vs. 78% received free shipping. So many variables play into this question that it will be certainly one to explore throughout 2021.

Shopping for yourself during Cyber 5

We now turn to behavior. The most interesting finding is that 51% of shoppers took advantage of the Cyber 5 offerings for personal consumption. If ever there was a year when this number would reach majority status, 2020 is surely one that makes sense given the amount of time spent online. I was pleased to see the local factor rise up as 37% of shoppers seek to save their neighborhoods. Mobile purchasing remained important with 44% of online shoppers placing an order at a retailer’s website via a mobile device and 33% indicating they did so via a mobile app. Lastly, omnichannel activity was significant as the store’s role was drastically altered in 2020 with the following activities:

  • Store product availability: 36%
  • Store information: 35%
  • Pickup in store: 23%
  • Curbside pickup: 14%


Most holiday shoppers look for promotions and discounts

Digging into shopper behavior once again starts with promotions. The majority (58%) have checked for coupons and promotion. 28% abandoned carts when no free shipping was available, and a similar number of shoppers (24%) searched for retailer sites with free shipping. Deferred payment has received a lot of attention this year, though only 9% indicated they used the tactic over the Cyber 5 shopping period.

Looking at where they purchased reveals the increased adoption of marketplaces and the dominance of Amazon where marketplace shopping reached 43% levels, and 35% of those surveyed reported making an Amazon/non-marketplace purchase. Direct-to-consumer brands continue to grow in importance with 25% penetration while international purchases were a factor for only 9% of shoppers.

We want to continue to look at how causes including the environment played a role as well. It is nice to see that they are into double digits as 11% selected a retailer due to their sustainability while only 6% selected a retailer due to their political agenda. 11% of shoppers also took retailers up on the incentive to receive slower shipping considering environmental concerns.


2020 pandemic led to more online shopping

Apart from other years, 2020 more than ever made us want to explore how shoppers behaved from a timing and spending perspective. COVID-19 pushed shoppers online more, which resulted in 45% of shoppers completing more purchases online. 24% indicated that knowing store openings were fluid, they bought more online. Not surprisingly, personal circumstance factored into shopping behavior with 40% browsing more for deals, 27% purchased all or mostly deals during Cyber 5 and 14% noted that they purchased less overall. Shopper timing was likely impacted by projected delays, though December purchasing will still be strong. 28% had placed orders early given projected shipping delays, though 23% knew deals would be available year-round so they did not panic and purchase early.

Overview of 2020 holiday shopping behavior

For comparison purposes across a handful of questions, we end by highlighting the fact that shoppers are more aggressive across the board in their behavior.


Personal consumption: 51%/39%


  • Checked for coupons and promotions: 58%/50%
  • Abandoned when no free shipping available: 28%/20%
  • Searched for retailer sites with free shipping: 24%/21%


  • Checked product availability: 36%/28%
  • Looked up store information: 35%/21%
  • Placed BOPIS order: 23%/20%


  • Placed an order/used mobile web: 44%/28%
  • Placed an order/used retailer app: 33%/24%

Where I purchased

  • Marketplace shopping: 43%/37%
  • Amazon/non-marketplace purchase: 35%
  • Direct to consumer brands: 25%/13%
  • International: 9%/6%

December 2020 activity will serve as an important barometer as shoppers complete their purchases. It will be a time to reflect on the role that 2020 will have in solidifying online behavior, the need to enhance omnichannel readiness and to understand where shoppers choose to shop and why. It will also continue to expose that promotions will likely endure year-round. We will see what’s in store for ecommerce in 2021 but certainly continued growth is the current expectation.