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Ecommerce Rules the 2020 Holiday Shopping Season

This year has brought major changes to the way we conduct our everyday business, from at-home working to remote education to virtual meetings and hangouts. And now it’s the gifting and shopping season, which has not been spared from the 2020 twist. 

Sure, ecommerce has been growing steadily for years now, but there’s nothing like lockdowns, quarantines, and social distancing to make online shopping look even more attractive to the American consumer. 

This year, digital bargain hunters brought Black Friday sales to a record $9 billion (a 21.6% increase over last year) and spent a massive $10.8 billion on Cyber Monday, making it the biggest ecommerce day ever in the United States.

More facts:

  • Where ecommerce spending represented just 10.8% of U.S. retail in the second quarter of 2019, the same quarter during the pandemic (Q2 2020) saw ecommerce spending jump to 44.5%.
  • In Q3 of 2020, with people once again venturing out to stores, ecommerce still represented nearly 20% of all U.S. retail spending, suggesting that the shift may well be permanent.

But why? How?

Before Black Friday approached, merchants were forced to rewrite the rulebook, looking for ways to salvage the all-important shopping weekend and help end 2020 on a brighter note. Holiday shopping traditions were upended, with many brick-and-mortar locations forgoing Thanksgiving night openings

Sales started as early as mid-October this year. Even Amazon shifted their annual Prime Day event from its traditional July slot to October to aggressively kick off the season. (The ecommerce behemoth would go on to report record sales over the holiday shopping period.) The shift clearly, ahem, primed shoppers to fill up their online carts with goods, but the tactic did little to prop up shopping at physical stores.

In-store shopping plummeted 52.1% compared with last year. In the attempt to innovate, brick-and-mortar merchants accelerated the use of BOPIS (buy online, pickup in store), with many offering curbside pickup complete with dedicated parking for those shoppers. Best Buy, for example, has seen strong overall growth despite many closed stores; its adept handling of the online shopping and in-person pickup combo made up the difference.

Overall, retailers are hoping that the concept of “revenge spending” (a term coined after shoppers in China released pent-up demand by shopping with a vengeance) spreads worldwide and expands from luxury goods to everyday items. The boom in ecommerce sales suggests such demand is being uncorked already; what might next year bring?

If anything, the results of this shopping season so far underscores the advantages to merchants who fully embrace ecommerce. There’s a clear payoff to focusing your retail efforts on online shopping carts, mobile ordering, social customer support, and real-time chat. The events of 2020 may be the tipping point for the shift to ecommerce — as the year when the retail customer experience truly went digital.

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