Analysis: The Disruption of the Holiday Shopping Season

Pattern Data Science

November 4, 2021

There’s a chill in the air, the leaves are falling, and the days are growing shorter, so you know what that means: the holiday shopping season is upon us once again.

It’s no surprise that November and December are enormous months for online shopping. It’s not all about Cyber Monday anymore. Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, “Panic Week” — the holiday shopping season has been moving online more and more each year.

Of course, the past year and a half has seen online shopping become even more ubiquitous in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. This got us wondering how the pandemic shaped online holiday shopping behaviors last year, and if early indications suggest that 2021 will be more like 2020, or if we’re seeing a return to pre-pandemic holiday shopping habits.

What were the most popular categories during the holiday shopping season last year? Which items got the biggest holiday bump? Which are the hottest items heading into this year’s shopping season?

We dove deep into our data to answer these questions and more.

What were the most popular items during the holidays in 2020?

We started by taking a broad look at which categories received the biggest increase in demand during the holiday shopping season compared to the rest of the year.

No big surprise here. Online demand for toys and games was up 60% during November and December compared to the rest of the year, more than any other major category in our analysis. Electronics weren’t far behind, with a 55% boost in average demand.

Hiking and camping relies heavily on summertime sales to drive demand, but the category still performed 2% better during the holidays than the average during the rest of the year.

In 2020, only kitchen and dining and home appliances actually saw demand drop below the average for the rest of the year. These may simply be categories where people still prefer to do in-person shopping as opposed to shopping online, or it could be that 2020 was simply a down year for these categories.

We’ll dig a little deeper to answer this question in a moment, but first let’s take a closer look at some popular individual items from our top two categories:

The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X topped the list of items we analyzed. This comes as no surprise, as both of these brand-new consoles launched in November, making them the hottest holiday gift on millions of shopping lists.

Laptop computers and tablets both saw significant bumps in demand, as did graphics cards and TVs.

Only 2 in 1 laptop and tablet devices saw demand drop during the holiday shopping season compared to the rest of the year.

Finally, let’s examine some major search terms to see which ones got the biggest holiday bump last year:

Crockpots were an incredibly popular holiday gift last year, as the term leapt by 80% in November and December when compared to the average during the rest of the year.

Two major graphics cards and the Nintendo Switch saw the next biggest increases in search volume, reinforcing video games as a holiday shopping behemoth.

Smaller kitchen appliances like waffle makers and coffee makers all saw major boosts in search volume, in contrast to larger appliances like freezers, washing machines, and dishwashers which all saw search volume drop significantly.

While these views show us which items were the hottest during last year’s holiday season, it doesn’t give us much insight into what kind of impact COVID-19 had (if any) on the holiday shopping season.

So let’s now compare the holiday shopping season last year with 2019.

Did COVID-19 change online demand for popular categories last year?

To better understand how COVID-19 may have impacted online holiday shopping habits last year, we compared online demand during the months of November and December 2020 to the same months in 2019.

First, let’s examine the change in demand for our major categories:

All major categories saw demand increase in 2020 compared to 2019. Kitchen and Dining actually saw the largest increase in holiday demand last year, followed by clothing, shoes and jewelry.

Electronics, one of the categories that received the biggest holiday season boost in 2020 compared to the rest of the year, actually saw the smallest year-over-year increase in demand.

This suggests that categories that were already extremely linked to online shopping before the pandemic were far less impacted than some categories where shoppers may have preferred to shop in-person during a normal year.

We can see even more evidence of this when we examine our list of holiday search terms:

Some items like USB-C monitors and graphics cards received big year-over-year increases associated with the release of a new generation of hardware. But major appliances like clothes dryers, freezers, and fridges received huge boosts that we can more safely assume were the result of shoppers being more willing to purchase big ticket items online and less willing to brave brick and mortar locations in the midst of a global pandemic.

Naturally, this had us wondering how these trends have looked through 2021, and if we can see signs of a more permanent shift in how people shop online during the holidays.

2021: Even more online shopping than before, or a return to pre-pandemic levels?

While there’s no way to predict this year’s online holiday shopping season, we can certainly examine 2021 so far to see how things are trending as we head into the holiday shopping months.

Let’s start by examining demand at some of our major categories in 2021 so far compared to the same timeframe last year:

Online demand for clothing, shoes, and jewelry has been up big in 2021 so far compared to 2020. Toys and games, home appliances, and electronics have also had a strong 2021, with demand up about 10% for each category.

Two categories that have seen online demand drop in 2021: Video and computer games, and kitchen and dining.

Now, this obviously only paints a part of the picture, so let’s take a month-by-month look at these categories for a clearer view.

Online demand for clothes, shoes, and jewelry dropped significantly early in the pandemic, as people were sheltering in place and far less concerned with a new outfit or set of jewelry. Things rebounded quickly, though, and we’ve seen nothing but continued growth in online demand for this category.

If this trend holds true, we could see holiday 2021 end up being enormous for buying clothes, shoes, and jewelry online.

Here we see just how important the holidays are for toys and games. We also see that in 2020, online demand jumped in the first months of the pandemic, signaling a shift to online shopping for these items in general.

2021 so far has shown online demand for toys and games trending above 2020’s already increased levels, suggesting this year’s holiday season will likely bring all-time highs for this already popular category.

As for electronics, another category practically synonymous with online shopping, the impact of COVID-19 is a little less straightforward.

Here we see that the early months of the pandemic actually had a negative impact on online demand for the category. We can also see the massive impact that Amazon Prime Day has on demand for this category. The spikes you see in July 2019, October 2020, and June 2021 all correspond with the online shopping holiday.

With that in mind, we expect to see demand in 2021 lag behind 2020 during the month of October, but November and December could be another story entirely.

Home appliances’ strong 2021 is due almost entirely to this year’s Prime Day, which made for an enormous year-over-year increase in June. Interestingly, Prime Day didn’t make much of an impact in 2020 or 2019. This could signal a general increase in willingness to make big appliance purchases online in 2021, or maybe there were simply a couple killer Prime Day deals this year.

If the former is true, then this year’s holiday shopping season may bring a big bounce for home appliances for the first time in our analysis.

Video and computer games started 2021 ahead of both 2020 and 2019, but things have slowed significantly over the summer. This is likely the result of fewer major titles being released this past summer as compared to previous years, so it will be interesting to see if some major fall releases will bring a significant rebound for this category going into the holidays.

Online demand for kitching and dining items was up big in all of 2020 compared to 2019, experiencing a big bump early in the pandemic. 2021, meanwhile, saw its trendline mirror 2019’s pre-pandemic line with a strong January and slower spring. August of this year, however, was absolutely massive for kitching and dining supplies.

Last year saw a relatively weak holiday season for this category compared to 2019, when the holidays were the biggest months of that year. So it will be interesting to see if that strong August signals a big holiday season this year or not.

As we’ve written about previously, online demand for camping and hiking gear exploded in 2020 as more and more people turned to more remote summer vacation options as a result of the pandemic.

Demand has remained consistently high this year, and even though it didn’t quite match 2020’s summertime highs, we still might see demand hit an all time high in this category this Christmas.

Finally, let’s take a quick look at the change in search volume for 2021 so far:

The Nvidia GeForce, a massively popular graphics card that released a new model late last year, has seen the largest increase in search volume in 2021 so far. The AMD Radeon, another graphics card, saw the third largest increase in search volume, meanwhile.

Clothes dryers have also had a really strong 2021 so far, with demand up 69% compared to 2020. Fridges, another big ticket appliance, have also had a strong 2021.

To paint a clearer picture of the trend we’re seeing when it comes to buying big ticket appliances online, let’s take a closer look at monthly search volume for clothes dryers:

Prior to COVID-19, we saw search volume for clothes dryers stay relatively consistent throughout the year, only to drop during the holidays as most shoppers likely went to buy these items in-person.

Last year, meanwhile, we saw that trend reverse, with demand climbing slowly and peaking in November.

And in 2021, we’ve seen demand remain consistently higher all year long. So, as we’ve returned to more in-person shopping this year, it will be interesting to see if the holiday season 2021 will look more like 2019 or 2020 when it comes to demand for major appliances.

While we don’t have time to closely examine each of the search terms above, let’s take a quick look at one of the poorer performers in 2021 so far—the instapot:

Here we see the opposite trend as we saw for clothes dryers, with 2019 being a big holiday season for the instapot, and holiday 2020 being much slower.

If anything, this shows that the instapot is simply waning in overall popularity. A theory backed up when we compare it to the latest hit small kitchen appliance, the air fryer:

Here we see consistent year-over-year growth throughout the year for air fryers, although there are some early signs that it might also be slowing somewhat this year.

A lesson for brands

Our data suggests that this year’s holiday shopping season is shaping up to be the most “online” yet.

Understanding the factors that influence consumer behavior can help brands better understand how to forecast demand for their products on online marketplaces, and even inform product design and marketing strategy.

For example, categories and items that were already popular for online purchases like toys and electronics, we expect to see that trend only continue to grow this year.

Other categories appeared to receive a major boost in online demand last year as the result of the pandemic. Shoppers appeared to be far more likely to purchase clothing and jewelry or big ticket items like major appliances online than they had in pre-pandemic years.

Either way, we’ll be keeping a close eye on these trends and more in the coming weeks and months.

To stay up to date on consumer behavior and ecommerce news, info, and trend analyses, be sure to subscribe to Pattern Insights.

And, if you’d like to learn more about how you can best leverage our data to help your brand win online, holiday or not, schedule a demo today.

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Sept 27, 2022

Global Ecommerce Weekly News: 27th September 2022

Get up to date with this week's ecommerce headlines from around the globe. --- Amazon News --- Amazon drives renewable energy push with 71 new projects Amazon is planning to add 2.7 gigawatts of clean energy capacity through a couple of new projects as the company attempts to use 100% renewable energy by 2025. The ecommerce business will soon have a total of 329 renewable energy projects, generating 50,000 gigawatt hours of clean energy, which is equivalent to powering 4.6 million US homes every year. [Read more on Reuters](https://www.reuters.com/business/sustainable-business/amazon-drives-renewable-energy-push-with-71-new-projects-2022-09-21/) Amazon launches Prime Early Access Sale Amazon is launching a new 2-day shopping event for its Prime members only, beginning on the 11th of October. Across 15 countries, Prime customers will have access to the shopping event, with thousands of deals on offer globall, ranging from fashion to electronics to essentials. The event has the purpose of giving Prime users the chance to spread the cost of items over the winter months, 6 weeks ahead of Black Friday. [Read more on Charged Retail](https://www.chargedretail.co.uk/2022/09/26/prime-early-access-sale/) --- Other Marketplace News --- Shopify unveils new localisation tool Shopify is launching a new localisation tool, called Translate & Adapt, which works with Shopify Markets to offer localisation for sellers who are looking to expand into new markets. The tool translates a user’s online store into different languages, including product pages and information pages. Merchants are also able to create different shipping terms for each market using the new tool, which allows international expansion and offers a more localised consumer experience, unveiling new potential. [Read more on Ecommerce News](https://ecommercenews.eu/shopify-launches-new-localisation-tool/) Etsy is set to invest hundreds of millions into its marketing platform Etsy CEO claims that the company is on route to spend more than $570 million USD on marketing this year. Even during a time of macroeconomic pressure, inflation and rising interest rates, the company is preparing itself and its sellers for the upcoming holiday season and is focused on retaining interest from buyers. [Read more on Yahoo News](https://uk.news.yahoo.com/etsy-600-million-on-marketing-ceo-154054219.html) --- Other Ecommerce News --- Meta looks to cut costs by 10% in the coming months Meta employees are facing job redundancies as the company plans to cut its costs by 10% over the next few months. Meta reported a 22% YoY increase in costs and expenses, totalling over $20 billion USD. The cuts are expected to come in the form of job redundancies as a result of department reorganisations rather than formal layoffs. [Read more on Charged Retail](https://www.chargedretail.co.uk/2022/09/22/meta-to-slash-costs-by-10-over-coming-months/) DHL teams up with Quadient to offer smart locker deliveries in the UK DHL and tech company, Quadient, have partnered to offer smart lockers parcel pick-up throughout the UK. The new contactless, secure locker stations will give recipients more choice and flexibility to receive their parcels at a time and location best suited to them. The partnership plans to install 500 locker stations across the country by the end of 2022. [Read more on Charged Retail](https://www.chargedretail.co.uk/2022/09/21/dhl-partners-with-quadient-to-offer-smart-locker-delivery/) The online fashion market is set to be worth nearly $170 billion USD in 2025 The European online fashion retail market is set to grow 50% by 2025, with an online turnover of $170 billion USD, which is 33% of the retail branch’s total. Cross-border marketplaces prove to be the largest drivers of this growth, with online websites and apps like Vinted largely pushing the market’s online growth. Zalando recently became the largest cross-border fashion retailer/marketplace, responsible for 11.7% of the online market’s share. [Read more on Ecommerce News](https://ecommercenews.eu/online-fashion-market-worth-e175-billion-in-2025/)
Sept 26, 2022

Top 5 Ways to Prepare for Peak with Google Ads

Peak season is almost upon us and with all signs pointing to it starting earlier than ever, with Christmas gifting searches now ramping up in August and September, it’s time to start preparing for peak. In this article, we’re sharing our top five tips for planning and preparing for peak season with Google Ads and the strategies required to get your Paid Search ready so you can drive success over this crucial period.

1. Go Early

In 2021, gifting search terms started increasing in popularity in August. The general trend is that people are looking, researching and weighing their options early, so it’s best to start your Paid activity early to ensure that you’re capturing that early research traffic. This will help drive revenue alongside aiding those consumers who are in their research phase.

From 2020 to 2021, spend during Cyber Week actually only rose 2% but in the weeks leading up to it, it increased by 16%. However, Cyber Week is still the biggest period during the latter half of the year, accounting for 23% of all online spend by consumers over peak. Being prepared and starting early will help you to maximise your time during this period.

2. Get Ready for Privacy Changes

 According to Google, 48% of global consumers have stopped buying or using a service due to privacy concerns. Privacy is front of mind when consumers are shopping online and we know that Google is phasing out 3rd party cookies in 2023. This is going to make it much harder to track users online and it’s something that brands need to think about this now – waiting isn’t an option.

From a Google Ads point of view, you want to ensure you have set up the Google Ads tag across your site and have enabled ‘Enhanced Conversions’, which ensures all conversions are tracked and allows you to monitor other actions such as ‘Add to Cart.’ This is relatively easy to set up, especially if you use ‘Google Tag Manager’.

It’s also vitally important that you build up your first-party data during this time as this is data you own and it can be used when targeting consumers that have provided your brand with their email address. Pattern’s own experience shows that by segmenting and using first-party data, you can see a 10% improvement in revenue and ROI.

3. Ensure Consumers Can Discover your Brand

A full-funnel approach is now more important than ever as consumers become more discerning and have more choices than ever of where to shop.

Pattern has seen success with Google Ads’ ‘Discovery Campaigns’ (image-based ads that appear on Google platforms such as Gmail and the Google app), which have driven success both from a traffic and revenue perspective.

The performance of these campaigns is significantly enhanced by adopting a segmented and nuanced approach to first-party data and incorporating these into your campaigns. Other options for a full-funnel approach include YouTube and testing bidding on keywords that are more representative of the research phase. (e.g. ‘best baby clothes’ for a baby clothes brand)

4. Get Moving with Performance Max

Earlier this year, Google announced that they were moving away from Smart Shopping and launched Performance Max. This is a new campaign type that incorporates features and placements from Smart Shopping but expands them onto other platforms such as Gmail but also alternative creative options, such as images and videos.

Since Google has already started automatically upgrading Smart Shopping campaigns to Performance Max, expect to see some fluctuations in the first 2 weeks following the switch over but results generally seem positive. We recommend upgrading sooner rather than later to limit any potential impact to peak period.

5. Flight Budgets Accordingly

Peak period will be even more competitive than in 2021 and you’ll need your budgets to support this period, we recommend boosting budgets in October to start capturing that early peak traffic. As we enter November and the Cyber Period, start early and make sure you are capturing those consumers looking for early bargains, ensuring you are being nimble in your optimisations and reacting to the data that you are seeing.

Overall, peak period is vital to help drive your sales and by preparing early, you will see strong results and drive success for your brand. If you want to discuss how your brand can navigate this next peak period, contact us to discuss your options with our performance team now.

Sept 20, 2022

4 Ecommerce Marketplace Consultant Must-Haves

Entering the ecommerce landscape is a huge undertaking for any brand—it usually requires a large investment in resources and expertise to really be successful. Any brand can quickly get in over their heads trying to navigate the nuances of SEO, fulfillment and logistics, distribution control, listing optimization, and meeting the numerous other requirements and administrative tasks to show up well on marketplaces. 

Unfortunately, because it’s so easy for third party, gray market, and unauthorized sellers to obtain and sell products online, many brands find themselves pressured to execute an ecommerce plan without the right resources to succeed on marketplaces and their other channels.

So, for brands looking to enter the ecommerce space or improve their current and future performance, it makes sense to partner with an ecommerce consultant.

Pattern’s global presence and proven success with hundreds of brands has allowed us to develop highly effective ecommerce consulting services. We can guide your brand to navigate issues both large and small in marketplaces worldwide. To maximize your ecommerce efforts, you’ll need to understand what an ecommerce consultant does and how to select one who drives the right value for your brand and products. 

What is an Ecommerce Consultant?

An ecommerce consultant is a specialist in the ecommerce space who can give you personalized guidance on how to market your products and grow their presence on digital marketplaces.

An ecommerce consultant should be able to analyze your brand, audience, category, opportunity, and current roadblocks and help you understand how to utilize your resources (or what resources are missing) to be most effective in capturing your opportunities in the ecommerce space.

Not sure how to evaluate a consultant? Here are 4 key attributes to look for as you make your choice.

1. Brand Obsession/Specialization/Passion

At Pattern, we prioritize brand obsession for a reason—we know that a brand-centered mindset makes a crucial difference in the outcomes and results our partners achieve. So in our experience, when you begin your search for an ecommerce consultant, it’s important to look for a partner who is specialized in ecommerce, invested in the product, and passionate about helping brands build and improve their strategies. Typically, this means finding someone that consults exclusively for ecommerce marketplaces, rather than choosing a consultant who offers many different services. 

2. Proven Results

It’s also important to avoid choosing a consulting partner who can’t deliver the right experience for your brand. The best indication of whether your potential consultant can do that is to review their history, data, and results with other brands. Ask if they’ve helped others in your selling category, if they’ve solved specific issues your brand is facing, and why they feel you are a good fit. The key is to leave the conversation feeling confident that you understand your consultants’ capabilities and whether or not they match up with your needs.

3. Wide Range of Marketplace Expertise

It’s best to pick a consultant who knows how to guide a brand onto and through multiple marketplaces worldwide. You’ll want to take a look at your long-term strategy and think about the regions and platforms you’re currently on and where you might want to take your brand in the future. If your consultant is truly great at what they do, they’ll be able to help you perform well enough with your current product roadmap that it’ll be a no-brainer to expand your presence at the right time.

4. Network of Resources

The most effective partnership with an ecommerce consultant will be able to give you both recommendations and point you to solutions for making those changes in your planning, processes, and execution. Your time and money is valuable, so you want to make sure that you’re spending it as efficiently as possible as you follow your consultant’s advice. So, before you commit to an ecommerce consultant, ask about the resources and concrete solutions they typically recommend to the brands they work with.

Achieve Your Ecommerce Goals With Pattern

Finding an ecommerce consultant that checks the boxes can be a difficult task. At Pattern, our entire focus and drive centers around giving brands the tools and resources they need to succeed on domestic and international ecommerce marketplaces. 

With over 100 global ecommerce consultants across 10 global offices, we have the right tools to partner with brands across the world to achieve better ecommerce success. We give specialized advice, then make sure our partners have all the adequate SEO, social media, CRM, Amazon multi-channel fulfillment services, and ecommerce outsourcing services they need.

Interested in ecommerce consulting services? Set up a call here to learn what Pattern can do for your brand on global marketplaces.