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Holiday season online sales hit new record despite weak Cyber Monday and billions of out-of-stock messages

January 12, 2022, 4:54 PM UTC

For all the talk of product shortages, the fading of Cyber Monday and the return of in-store shopping, U.S. online sales hit a new record in the recently concluded holiday season.

Consumers in the U.S. spent a record $204.5 billion online in November and December, up 8.6% over the same period in 2020, according to the widely watched tally released on Wednesday by Adobe Analytics, which analyzes 1 trillion visits to retailers’ websites. That was a hair below the $207 billion Adobe had originally forecast.

While some of that increase was fueled by inflation, which exceeded 3% in both months, the results show that in the end, consumer fervor more than compensated for any supply-chain chaos and that retailers were ultimately able to get shoppers most of what they ordered online.

It was scary going for a while for retailers. In all, Adobe estimates customers got 6 billion out-of-stock messages during the holiday season, 253% more than they did in the last conventional holiday season in 2019, and 10% more than last year. Still, while supply-chain issues resolved themselves for the most part, it is indisputable that they did pinch retailers. Abercrombie & Fitch, for one, lowered its fourth-quarter sales revenue estimates this week but said the shortfall stemmed entirely from delays in getting merchandise to stores on time.

The overall results are likely to buoy retailers and validate the changes they made to their long-held holiday season playbooks to accommodate realities such as the pandemic and supply-chain problems that have made it desirable to even out demand during the holidays.

Those have included starting deals earlier in the season and spreading them out more in November and December to become less reliant on big events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. And indeed, while the long Thanksgiving-to-Cyber-Monday weekend has traditionally been the centerpiece of holiday season online shopping, sales fell 1.4% between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday compared to the previous year. In contrast, online sales earlier in November, leading up to Thanksgiving, rose 19.2%.

“This holiday shopping season was the first time where big promotional moments like Cyber Monday and Black Friday took on less of the spotlight,” said Taylor Schreiner, senior director of Adobe Digital Insights.

If customers had the impression that deals were less enticing compared to previous holiday seasons, they were correct. Tight inventory reduced the need to woo shoppers with discounts. Average discounts were 8% on electronics, compared to 21% percent in 2020, while price cuts on appliances averaged 4%, well below 14% the year before.

While growth of nearly 9% might seem tepid compared to the 32% increase in 2020, it’s important to note that many customers returned to shopping in stores in 2021 thanks to the availability of vaccines.

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