Online out-of-stock messages increased 256% during the 2021 holiday season compared with 2019, and online shoppers noticed. Plus, online prices rose 3.1% in December 2021 compared with December 2020.

Online consumers encountered more than 6 billion out-of-stock messages for online products during the 2021 holiday season, according to new data from Adobe Analytics.

This is a 10% increase in out-of-stock messages compared with the 2020 holiday season and a 253% increase in 2019. Adobe Analytics generates its data based on more than one trillion visits to U.S. retail sites, 100 million SKUs, and 18 product categories during November and December.

Supply chain issues, including periodic manufacturing facility closures, congested ports and cargo delays, have disrupted retail operations throughout 2021. And these issues crept into the holiday season, as seen by the out-of-stock products.

And most online holiday shoppers noticed, according to a Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights survey of 1,033 online shoppers in January 2021. 25% of consumers said they noticed many products out of stock and 37% said they noticed some.


Compared with the 2020 holiday season, 30% of shoppers said they encountered more out-of-stock messages this year. Plus, 25% of consumers said they paid greater attention to retailers that had products in stock and ready to ship during the 2021 holiday season, compared with their shopping behavior last year, according to the Digital Commerce 360/Bizrate Insights survey.

While out-of-stock messages did increase, Brendan Witcher, principal analyst at firm Forrester Research notes that many retailers did proactively try to mitigate supply issues and get their product orders to suppliers early in the season. For example, Fat Brain Toys put its holiday purchase order in with suppliers in July, about two months before it usually does, in the hopes of having its order at the front of the line, says president and co-founder Mark Carson.

And even if shoppers encountered out-of-stock messages online, ecommerce sales for the 2021 holiday still increased 8.6% year over year, according to Adobe.


“The thing to remember every year, we are going to have shortages on certain items, whether that’s for an Xbox or the latest Furby or whatever,” Witcher says.  “For all the talk and worry about supply chain, it didn’t come to fruition.”

Shallow discounts and higher prices

Another trend this holiday season was online retailers offering smaller discounts on products and higher online prices, according to Adobe.

In terms of promotions, online retailers did not discount their products as heavily during the 2021 holiday season compared with last year, according to Adobe. Online retailers offered weaker discounts in five categories, while two categories—apparel and toys—offered deeper discounts this holiday season compared with last year.


Again, shoppers noticed. In the Digital Commerce 360/Bizrate Insights survey, only 29% of consumers said they did not think promotions were more limited this year. In fact, 18% of consumers said they paid full price for products and 17% said they bought less merchandise than they had planned because of the lack of promotions.

Regardless of how much online retailers discounted products during the holiday season, online prices increased 3.1% in December 2021 compared with December 2020, according to the Adobe Digital Price Index. December was the 19th consecutive month of year over year online inflation, Adobe says.

13 of the 18 categories that Adobe tracked in December had price increases. Categories that had the larger year-over-year price increases in December include apparel (up 16.6% year over year), tools/home improvement (up 7.1% year over year), grocery (up 4.9%) and appliances (up 4.1%).