The 2021 holiday season is expected to be bigger than ever before, but it comes with a host of challenges for retailers and consumers alike. With a global supply chain crisis, shopping for holiday gifts will be fraught with shipping delays and inventory shortages. But after the calamity that was 2020, shoppers are chomping at the bit to spend record amounts of money on celebrating in style. To ensure nothing gets in the way of their festivities, consumers are changing their shopping behaviors, and retailers are adapting.

Fortunately for sellers, retail and ecommerce research firms around the country have painted a clear picture of what to expect this holiday season. We rounded up the top stats to help retailers and shoppers understand how the 2021 holiday season is shaping up to be unlike any other.

2021 holiday sales

The Big Question: Sales

Just how big will the 2021 holiday season be? Big, according to projections. Holiday sales in the U.S. are predicted to rise 9% over last year’s totals, and Deloitte estimates that sales will reach up to $1.3 trillion. Keep in mind that the 2020 holiday season blew estimates out of the water, with an unexpected growth of 5.8% in a year of uncertainty. Consumers are poised to spend even more money this year because of pent-up demand and more cash on hand.

Early shopping

Early Shopping

According to ICSC’s Annual Holiday Shopping Intentions survey, 75% of consumers plan to shop earlier this year than they did last year. In a recent McKinsey survey, 45% of respondents reported that they had already started holiday shopping in early October. In prior years, 25% of consumers reported starting their holiday shopping in the two weeks before Christmas; this year, that group is down to just 11%.

Online shopping

Online Shopping

Ecommerce sales are projected to hit a whopping $207 billion between November and December, according to Adobe Analytics—that’s a 10% increase over what we saw in 2020. Although this year’s growth is small compared to 2020’s 32% increase, 2021 will still see a significant portion of holiday shopping done online, even with greater competition from brick-and-mortar shops.

BOPIS/Curbside pickup

BOPIS/Curbside Pickup

Just like with online shopping, consumers are reluctant to give up their convenient and time-saving pandemic-era shopping habits. 85% of shoppers plan to continue using services like buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS), and curbside pickup. Only 15% plan to go back to the shopping behaviors they favored pre-pandemic, according to Alvarez & Marsal.

Inventory concerns

Inventory Concerns

The numbers show consumers have been following the supply chain crisis just as closely as retailers: Deloitte reported that 75% of shoppers are concerned about stockouts this year. These fears affect retailers too—60% of retail executives worry about not receiving their holiday inventory on time. Inventory concerns were prevalent in 2020 too, but NerdWallet research shows a 10% increase over last year.

These worries aren’t off base: Adobe Analytics data showed that shoppers encountered more than 2 billion online out-of-stock messages in October 2021. That’s a 325% increase from the “before times” in October 2019.


Shipping Delays

Although holiday shipping deadlines at FedEx and USPS are the same as last year (Dec. 15 for ground), experts say that shipping companies may be responsible for 5 million more packages per day than delivery drivers can handle. USPS alone predicts it will deliver 850 million packages this holiday season. In response, retailers are shortening their own shipping deadlines to guard against disgruntled customers. Plus, 59% of retail execs plan to either raise shipping costs or item prices to account for supply chain disruptions.

Cyber Five

The Cyber Five

How important are the Cyber Five—the five shopping days from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday—for retailers this year? eMarketer predicts that 18.5% of all holiday ecommerce sales will occur on these five days. That’s a marginal increase from last year’s 18.4%, but the data shows these shopping days are not to be underestimated. A Shopify survey found that U.S. consumers expect to spend $787 during the extended shopping weekend, an increase of more than $100 from 2020.

All in all, this holiday season is shaping up to look much different than in years past, and there’s no denying it will be an important chapter in the fast-moving ecommerce story.

By guest contributor Leah Allen-Manning

1 Deloitte,
3 Adobe Analytics,
4 Alvarez & Marsal,
5 Deloitte,
6 Reuters,
7 eMarketer,