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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MAP Pricing vs MSRP: What's the Difference? (blog header)
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MAP Pricing vs. MSRP: What's the Difference?

“MAP” and “MSRP” are two of hundreds of acronyms floating around in the world of ecommerce, and they’re two of the easiest to confuse and misunderstand. While MAP and MSRP do play similar roles, they also have key differences that can work in tandem to support and protect your brand on marketplaces.

So what are MAP and MSRP and why do they matter? Here’s what you should know: 

What is MAP?

MAP (or minimum advertised price) is the minimum amount that a manufacturer or wholesaler recommends resellers advertise their products for. MAP pricing policy is essentially a one-way boundary you set to protect your brand, protect the margins of your resellers, and maintain fair competition across all of your distribution channels.

When setting a MAP policy strategy, remember the important things you’ll want your MAP policy to do are:

  1. Protect the interests of your brick-and-mortar resellers, giving them the margins they need to display and carry your product as well as sell it.

  2. Stay small enough that it discourages resellers from heavily discounting your products and keeps competition fair.

  3. Accurately reflects on the brand image and value you want to reflect.

“Advertising” and “recommends” are the key terms here. MAP policies should only recommend the price that is advertised online or in-store for a product, not attempt to fix the actual selling price of the product—that’s illegal—or recommend the actual selling price. That’s MSRP’s job.

Benefits of MAP

MAP not only keeps competition fair, but allows you to control your brand identity and promote consumer trust of your product and brand. Here are some of the benefits of having MAP policies:

  • Better brand protection and control

  • Creates a level playing field for retailers

  • Reduces bad customer experiences

  • Provides an accurate performance analysis

How Can Brands Effectively Enforce MAP?

It’s critical that MAP policies are structured in such a way that a brand avoids violating anti-trust laws. One way brands can effectively enforce MAP is by simply monitoring online product prices across digital channels to identify fluctuations in the market. 

At Pattern, we help brands not only develop a MAP policy, but also enforce it. Enforcing MAP policies and gaining marketplace control includes finding unauthorized sellers, which Pattern’s data finds. Once Pattern finds the unauthorized sellers, Vorys eControls (Pattern’s legal partner) steps in and handles the takedowns of unauthorized sellers, continuous enforcement of brand management, and reseller policy enforcements.

What is MSRP?

MSRP (or manufacturer’s suggested retail price) is how manufacturers standardize pricing across their resale channel and determine what price is fair for their product. The key difference between MSRP and MAP is that MSRP is the actual price manufacturers set and recommend retailers charge for their goods while MAP is the advertised price. 

MSRP doesn’t necessarily have to be the final price of a product—it’s most often a starting price—but it is determined by taking into account all of the costs associated with the distribution and manufacturing process for a product and the margin amount resellers need in order to make a profit. MSRP also establishes value. For example, if a brand wants to build a premium brand, the MSRP can reflect the actual or perceived value of their product.

Benefits of MSRP

Setting up an MSRP for your product includes the following benefits:

  • Maintains brand equity

  • Establishes brand and product value

  • Standardizes costs across marketplaces

How Can Brands Effectively Enforce MSRP?

Like MAP pricing, MSRP has to be set up as a one-way policy and not an agreement between a manufacturer and a reseller to avoid landing a manufacturer on the wrong side of the law. It’s a recommendation, not a contractual bind. As mentioned for MAP policy, Pattern helps brands effectively enforce MSRP with our proprietary data and expertise to protect their brand. 

How Do MAP and MSRP Work Together?

MAP and MSRP have different applications that may prove useful in different scenarios. For example, MAP policies are typically more useful in marketplaces where competition is fierce and price erosion happens easily if sellers are left unchecked. Ideally, however, MAP and MSRP are a dynamic duo that work together to serve the interests of your brand, support your resale channels, and protect your resellers.

Setting an MSRP establishes value for your product and lets your resellers know you’re serious about controlling channel conflict, maintaining pricing equity, and protecting their margins so they’re more confident setting pricing at the MSRP level.

MAP is the second half of setting a pricing policy. Setting a MAP price for your product, in addition to an MSRP, further standardizes pricing across your resale channel and gives legitimate resellers a fair environment to compete in while setting boundaries against unauthorized sellers harming your brand.

MAP combined with MSRP creates a stronger level of brand protection, giving your brand more sustainable, profitable growth.

Maintain Brand Control With Pattern

MAP policies can be tricky to draft, because there are so many legal lines to tiptoe around and so much nuance that goes into pricing. They can also be tricky to enforce without the right tools. At Pattern, partnered with Vorys, we have the tools and resources to help you maintain brand control on all marketplaces. 

As an ecommerce accelerator, Pattern can help you identify MAP violators and regain control of your brand online so that your image and your resellers are protected. To learn more, contact us today.

Athlon Optics Walmart.com Launch Has Record Setting Sales within 3 Days
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Athlon Optics Walmart.com Launch Has Record Setting Sales within 3 Days

Athlon Optics sells scopes and other optical accessories like binoculars for anyone who may be hunting, shooting recreationally, or competing.  After achieving significant success on Amazon, the brand wanted to launch on Walmart. As a growing marketplace with huge growth forecasts, Athlon saw their competitors already staking claim on walmart.com and saw opportunities for increasing their sales.

As a prestigious brand in its category, with loyal consumers, Athlon does so much with very few resources. With less than twenty employees in the entire company, managing everything from customer service to product development, their ecommerce team needed support to scale to a new marketplace.  And, they needed a partner who had a relationship with and deep understanding of walmart.com to accelerate their growth. Pattern is a one-stop shop for Athlon, providing the resources and expertise, so Athlon could also save budget and stop outsourcing so many different aspects of their marketplace business.

Athlon Optics Prepares for a Seamless Launch

Sometimes brands who transition from 1P to 3P with Pattern have no proprietary sales, marketplace data or content such as product images, video, or optimized copy. These circumstances create a more hands on transition for Pattern and may interfere with launch expectations. 

But Athlon was the consummate partner and overly prepared to transition to 3P– buttoned up, organized, and ready to take on walmart.com’s list of launch needs. Athlon provided all the required assets on time and was very organized.  The images were shot, formatted, and categorized as A+ content that Pattern ported over.  This process dramatically reduced wait times and lag times within the platform.  Plus, since the content was optimized for marketplaces, all images, copy, and listing information uploaded in the first pass. 

Pattern’s Walmart Expertise Leads to Success

But the content worked because of Pattern’s resources and marketplace expertise.  Pattern provided Athlon with a very clear outline of needs and expectations for seamless launch and this process has become a playbook for other brands on walmart.com.  The team’s mutual partnership and Pattern’s diligent follow up with and detailed attention to Walmart processes and logistics prevented Athlon from getting lost in the weeds. 

Three Days is All it Takes

The successful, thorough, and quick transition to 3P with Pattern secured Athlon most likely the fastest ramp-up periods for any brand on Walmart.com.  

Together we achieved success such as:

  • 'Best in class' turnaround–98% faster onboarding than average brand on Walmart.

  • First sale within the first week of landing at Walmart. 

    • Unprecedented turnaround considering the ramp up usually needed to gain momentum and traction with reviews on Walmart. 

  • Exceeded initial first month growth projection by 34%.

Athlon was so impressed by the ease and simplicity of its launch and execution on Walmart that the brand wants to grow our 3P relationship with other marketplaces such as Amazon Canada and Target+.

And, in the meantime, look out for Athlon Optics in Walmart Deal Days in 2022.  A huge win for any brand tied to organic advertising and new traffic opportunities across all media.

Pattern Helps Brands Expand Marketplaces 

Pattern has the 3P partner experience and deep expertise on Walmart and other global marketplaces to help a brand expand their footprint to maintain sales momentum and a competitive edge. Pattern, an ecommerce accelerator, takes on the responsibility of your stock and provides the expert resources needed to successfully launch and continue to grow your revenue on global marketplaces. 

Learn more about Pattern’s expertise and partnership on Walmart.  Contact us today.

Amazon A+ Content
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Amazon A+ and Premium A+ Content: Pros and Cons Brands Need to Know

Long gone are the days when Amazon listings were limited to a simple product description, five bullet points, and eight pictures. As the platform, and number of sellers, has grown, sellers have had to be more and more strategic and eye-catching to increase traffic and conversions on their listings.

Brands on Amazon have plenty of attractive options available to design their Amazon storefront, which reside in two of Amazon’s content tools: A+ Content and Premium A+ Content (or  A++ Content).

Here’s the pros and cons of brands using A+ Content vs. Premium A+ Content:

What is Amazon A+ Content?

Amazon A+ Content is a standard feature available to all Amazon Sellers and free as one of the many benefits of Amazon Brand Registry. 

With A+ Content, a product listing can have more than a plain text description and standard photo reel–it can include high quality multimedia photos and videos alongside eye-catching information to share the product story, and not just the product appearance.

Some noteworthy features that Amazon A+ offers are:

  • Multiple, varied images of a product

  • Strategically concise introduction

  • Video

  • Bullet points

  • 360° product views

  • Matrix comparison charts

  • “What’s in the box” section

What is Amazon Premium A+ Content?

Amazon Premium A+ Content, or Amazon A++ Content, is a tool that goes a level beyond basic A+ Content, giving brands the ability to showcase their product’s most important features and benefits with a modern, visually appealing structure. 

In August 2022, Amazon announced Premium A+ would be available on Seller Central for free usage during a promotional period. Previously, Premium A+ content was available only by invite for brands using Vendor Central and could cost anywhere from $250K and $500K per product. 

With Premium A+ content, a brand visually communicates using imagery and video, and relies much less on text due to strict character limits for product descriptions. According to Amazon, implementing Premium A+ content can increase your sales by 20%.

For the first time ever, Premium A+ expands the usable real estate of the page, using the entire width of the screen for a sophisticated and modern feel.

Some noteworthy features that Premium A+ offers are:

  • Video

  • Full-width imagery

  • More space

  • Clickable Q&A

  • Interactive comparison charts

  • Carousel modules

  • Mobile-friendly and voice-friendly product pages

  • Testimonials

Pros and Cons of Amazon A+ vs. Premium A+ Content

Although their purposes are similar, there are some key differences between A+ Content and Premium A+ Content. Here are the pros and cons for each tool:

Basic Amazon A+ Content

Pros:

  • Free and unlimited use for all Vendors.

  • An effective tool to enhance customer experience and product listings.

Cons:

  • Less features than Premium A+.

  • It's not as visually appealing as Premium A+.

Premium A+ Content

Pros:

  • There are 16 extra modules to choose from that are media-rich and make an impact.

  • You have two more available module slots than Basic Amazon A+.

  • Overall, there are more possibilities for hyper-engaging content.

  • You can expect a sales rate increase of up to 20% with Premium A+, according to Amazon.

Cons:

  • Amazon has positioned Premium A+ content as more of an exclusive tool, requiring eligibility based on past content to qualify for Premium A+ content. 

  • Character limit restrictions are more strict than Basic Amazon A+.

Elevate Your Amazon Content with Pattern

Ultimately, both of these tools exist to help you and your brand provide customers the best online shopping experience possible. Although Premium A+ offers plenty of exciting new options for enhancing customers’ buying experience, it may not be for everyone. Optimizing your Amazon listing with A+ or Premium A+ Content can provide the best opportunity to build a strong reputation for better brand-recognition and customer affinity. 

Our creative and digital marketing experts at Pattern can help brands use A+ Content and Premium A+ Content to increase conversions and give buyers an amazing experience.

Learn how Pattern can help you increase conversions on Amazon. Contact us