The effects of the COVID-19 crisis are far from over for retailers planning for the 2021 holiday season.

Last year, the COVID-19 crisis caused a rapid, unexpected expansion in ecommerce demand. That, in turn, led to increased package volume, fee increases and surcharges from carriers and frustrating delivery delays for consumers. The good news now is that delivery delays have mainly subsided since the peak of the pandemic-related setbacks—although it is unclear how carriers will perform during the November through December rush.

But even if improvements in package delivery speeds hold up, retailers might not be out of the woods this holiday season. Timely shipping does not help retailers much if they don’t have inventory to sell. And, as of the middle of 2021, global supply chains remain unreliable and costly, thanks primarily to sky-high rates for international shipping and delays at major ports.

Ecommerce, which was growing fast before COVID-19 hit, soared in 2020 as the pandemic pushed even more U.S. consumers online. The crisis contributed an additional $105 billion in U.S. online revenue in 2020 and accelerated ecommerce by two years, Digital Commerce 360 estimates.

According to Commerce Department figures, online sales hit $791.70 billion in 2020, up 32.4% from $598.02 billion in the prior year. That’s the highest annual online sales growth of any year for which data is available.

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