U.S. consumers are set to spend a record $36.40 billion online during the five-day stretch from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday, Digital Commerce 360 projects, up from $34.36 billion in 2020. While that 5.9% year-over-year uptick in digital revenue for the biggest U.S. retail weekend of the year would be a significant slowdown from the same period in the last handful of seasons—when increases ranged from 15%-23%—that merely reflects the big surges in online shopping of the past two COVID-19-plagued years.
The pandemic-fueled spike in ecommerce in 2020 bolstered online sales during last year’s long holiday weekend, coined Cyber 5. But 2020’s Cyber 5 growth of 20.6% over 2019 was more subdued than expected because of heavy online spending earlier in the season. Still, that rate is nearly 3.5 times faster than this year’s projected growth.
In 2021, supply chain obstacles are limiting retailers’ ability to secure enough inventory to meet demand. Merchants have been promoting even earlier Black Friday and Cyber Monday preview sales online, and many consumers are shopping ahead of Cyber 5 and not waiting for deeper discounts out of fear they’ll miss out on the gift items they seek. Additionally, shoppers are likely to head back to stores in greater numbers for Black Friday now that many Americans are vaccinated against COVID-19 and fewer stores are restricting capacity with limits on the number of shoppers. All of these factors will work to curb what could have been larger spikes in digital revenue for the five-day period.
Ecommerce will account for 26.0% of total retail sales during the Cyber 5 period, according to Digital Commerce 360 estimates. Consumers have always turned to the web in greater numbers during Q4 than in earlier quarters, and that shopping pattern is magnified during the November-December holiday period. For 2021, Digital Commerce 360 expects online penetration to reach 25.5% for the overall season. Historically, digital’s share of total retail sales is even further amplified during Cyber 5.
The fastest-growing day for the period will be Saturday, which will increase its relatively small weekend revenue by a moderate 7.4% year over year to reach $5.02 billion in online sales, Digital Commerce 360 projects. Cyber Monday will again eclipse all of its Cyber 5 counterparts, remaining the biggest online shopping day of the year with $11.38 billion in web sales and registering 5.0% growth.
Thanksgiving Day online growth also will be modest. With many large Thanksgiving gatherings canceled last year to comply with public health measures, shoppers had the time and inclination to browse deals and buy from the safety of their couches on the holiday. Plus, a number of merchants closed their physical stores on Thanksgiving to prevent overcrowding.
In 2021, Digital Commerce 360 anticipates online spending to temper on Thanksgiving, as families are expected to resume traditions with hostessing, traveling and the like. On this day, shoppers will spend 6.3% more year over year on ecommerce sites, hitting $5.43 billion for the day. However, a few merchants have decided to again keep their stores closed on Thanksgiving, including many large retail chains like Walmart Inc. (No. 2 in the 2021 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000) and Target Corp. (No. 6). That will help stem a shift of dollars from online to the brick-and-mortar channel.
Historically, Black Friday has been a store-centric retail sales holiday, with consumers braving jam-packed aisles and waiting in long lines to nab doorbusters. Every year, retail chains have extended more Black Friday sales to consumers buying online, and the trend was magnified in 2020 as merchants sought to discourage crowds at physical stores. Foot traffic to stores on Black Friday was cut in half last year, according to Coresight Research, while for the first time, the number of online shoppers on Black Friday exceeded 100 million, up 8% from 2019, according to a National Retail Federation survey of 6,615 consumers conducted over Cyber 5 by research firm Prosper Insights & Analytics.
For years, Cyber Monday, which originated as the internet’s answer to Black Friday, grew in importance for the season, and the online retail holiday had steadily increased its lead over Black Friday in the battle for ecommerce dollars—until 2020, thanks to the pandemic.
Last year, Black Friday gained ground on its weekend rival Cyber Monday. But after the gap between the two heavyweights began to close in 2020, Cyber Monday will pull away again in 2021 as more Black Friday shoppers will be eager to visit brick-and-mortar stores. In fact, total retail sales through all channels will surge over 20% for the day as foot traffic rebounds with the draw of the doorbuster and seasonal window displays, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse forecasts. The company’s findings are based on the aggregate sales activity in the Mastercard payments network and is supplemented by survey-based estimates for other payment forms like cash and check.
Because of this, online sales will grow a moderate 5.5% year over year on Black Friday, reaching $9.53 billion, Digital Commerce 360 projects.
Cyber 5 share of overall season’s online spending
In recent history, more online holiday spending had been concentrated during Cyber 5, with shoppers biding their time in anticipation of deep discounts over the five-day period. For years, retailers had aimed to spread out peak-season order volume to ease the holiday strain on ecommerce sites and fulfillment operations as well as to level out revenue. But they hadn’t managed to make a ton of headway—until COVID-19 hit, which ramped up web sales and the urgency for both merchants and shoppers to ensure online orders arrive in time.
After Cyber 5 2019 peaked at 20.0% of digital revenue for the full November-December period, the long holiday weekend’s share of the overall season dipped to 18.3% in 2020, according to a Digital Commerce 360 analysis of historical data from Adobe Analytics, the insights arm of software company Adobe Inc. For 2021, Digital Commerce 360 projects the Cyber 5 will account for an even smaller share, dropping to 16.9% of online seasonal sales.
Adobe’s analysis is based on more than 1 trillion visits to more than 4,500 U.S. retail sites and covers 100 million SKUs. The firm measures transactions from 80 of the top 100 online retailers ranked in the Top 1000.
Here are some insights that factored into Digital Commerce 360’s Cyber 5 holiday projections:
1) Out-of-stock woes:
Consumers are having a hard time finding what they want this year. Retailers are facing ongoing struggles getting enough merchandise into their warehouses before the holiday rush—whether due to raw material shortages, disruptions in overseas manufacturing, scarce shipping containers, unprecedented bottlenecks at ports or labor issues. And shoppers are feeling the impact of supply chain snafus.
The prevalence of out-of-stock messages rose 250% in October 2021 when compared with the pre-pandemic period of January 2020, according to data from Adobe Analytics. That’s a substantial increase from just August 2021, when out-of-stock notices were already up 172% versus the January 2020 anchor. In October 2021 alone, consumers saw more than 2 billion no-inventory announcements online, up a staggering 325% when compared to the same month in 2019. Adobe says it expects product sell-outs to remain at those elevated levels throughout the holidays.
In a season known for wish lists filled with specific items, this means shoppers may be out of luck even if the purchasing intent is strong. Especially given that, of the 18 categories Adobe tracks, gift-centric merchandise groups like electronics, jewelry and apparel currently have the highest out-of-stock levels.
2) Earlier promotions online:
During the 2020 holiday, retailers made a lot of headway convincing shoppers to make purchases earlier in the season as massive shipping delays threatened to ruin gift-giving timelines. This year, merchants are doubling down, warning consumers that they should buy now or take a gamble on item availability come Cyber 5 sales.
To further spur early sales, retailers have pushed promotions earlier in 2021. Email marketing data supports this trend. The number of subject lines in messages sent by retailers that mentioned holiday-related keywords grew 28.0% year over year from Sept. 1-Nov. 7, according to email monitoring firm MailCharts. “Christmas” references spiked 113.6% year over year, while “gifts” mentions jumped 33.2% for the same period. MailCharts monitored more than 570,000 emails from roughly 300 retailers including holiday-heavy marketers like Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. (No. 26), Carter’s Inc. (No. 78) and Williams-Sonoma Inc. (No. 23).
While there was a decline in merchants using “Cyber Monday” in email subject lines early in the fall, “Black Friday” language increased 10.1% during the months leading up to the Cyber 5 weekend. Undoubtedly, many of these campaigns were promoting “early” or “preview” sales that left shoppers feeling more confident that they weren’t missing out on savings by buying in September and October, ahead of the deep discounts traditionally offered during Thanksgiving weekend.
3) Survey says:
While Black Friday and Cyber Monday will continue their popularity in 2021, Digital Commerce 360 anticipates shoppers will spend fewer of their earmarked holiday dollars during Cyber 5.