Labor Day is usually seen as the last big “hurrah” of the summer. A time for Americans to go on one more camping trip or have friends and family over for a big backyard BBQ before the kids return to school and cooler weather sets in.
It’s also a weekend when Americans look to do some shopping. In 2018, Americans spent $2 billion online on Labor Day, stocking up on everything from furniture to clothing to appliances and more.
Last year, however, brought a different approach to Labor Day shopping. According to our previous research, for example, back to school items saw demand drop during Fall 2020 compared to 2019.
So we dove deep into our data to learn more about how COVID-19 impacted online demand for some of the categories most associated with Labor Day sales in 2020, how things are trending in 2021 so far, and what that might mean for the future.
Did major categories experience increased demand during Labor Day last year?
First things first, let’s take a look at online demand from 2020 through this summer in a handful of the categories most associated with Labor Day purchases to see if the holiday moves the needle.
We started by examining the online demand for those categories during the week of Labor Day and comparing it to the average weekly demand throughout the rest of 2020. Here’s what we found:
It seems that plenty of people turned to online shopping to get their hands on some non-white shoes last year. From our pool of categories, shoes got the biggest Labor Day bump with a 21% increase in demand compared to the typical week during the rest of the year.
Labor Day week was the 12th biggest week of the year for shoes, making it a solid holiday for shoe sales, but definitely not peak shoe season.
The same was true for most of the other categories we examined as well. Labor Day brought solid if not astonishing increases in online demand, usually around a 10% increase over the average week.
Only outdoor games and activities saw a dip in demand, as Labor Day weekend is most likely a holiday when people bust out the cornhole and bocce ball sets they bought during the spring for one final game of the summer.
For a clearer picture, here’s how 2021 looked for each of the above categories.
Most of these categories experience their largest increases in demand during the summertime. By the time Labor Day rolls around, demand is still above the annual average, but well below previous high points.
Furniture and patio furniture both experienced their high points during the late spring and early summer. Camping and hiking equipment saw demand at its highest from June through the end of August, while shoes experienced even more dramatic highs during that same timeframe.
Outdoor games and activities, meanwhile, saw demand spike in the weeks immediately following lockdown, as Americans were eager for new forms of at-home entertainment. Interestingly, this is the only of these categories where the holiday shopping season brought a substantial boost in demand.
Either way you look at it, though, Labor Day wasn’t a major driver of online demand. It could be that Americans were more eager to do some in-person Labor Day shopping last year after spending a significant portion of the year in lockdown, or it could be that Labor Day simply isn’t the online shopping holiday that others are.
Still, looking at these trends got us curious about how these categories are looking so far in 2021. Has the COVID-19 pandemic had long-lasting repercussions on demand for shoes or camping gear? And how might those trends impact demand during Labor Day weekend this year?
Online demand is up in 2021 for all categories in our analysis
Last year, the pandemic had a clear impact on demand for each of the categories in our analysis. Furniture, patio furniture, and outdoor games all saw demand spike at the start of lockdown as people found themselves stuck at home for the foreseeable future.
Both shoes and camping/hiking equipment saw demand drop in the initial weeks of lockdown, only to rebound in a big way later in the summer.
So how has 2021 compared so far? Is demand up even more as things have reopened? Has the delta variant surge over recent months had any impact?
Let’s start with a broad look by comparing all of 2021 so far to the same timeframe in 2020.
It looks like the more things reopened this year, the more Americans decided they needed a new pair of shoes to venture out in. Online demand for shoes is up a whopping 157% in 2021 so far compared to the same timeframe in 2020.
Each of the categories in our analysis has seen demand up in 2021, though. Online demand for outdoor games and activities has been up 10% in 2021, while each of the other categories has experienced a nearly 30% increase.
For an even clearer picture, let’s next compare monthly demand for the past three years for each of the above categories.
The first half of 2021 has seen a huge surge in online demand for shoes
Comparing monthly demand in 2021 to what we saw in 2020 and in 2019 will help paint a much clearer picture of how the long term effects of the pandemic have impacted consumer behavior. So let’s start with demand for shoes, which we in the previous section has been up big this year.
2021 saw online demand skyrocket in March, which during a pre-pandemic year was far from the height of shoe shopping season. Our best guess is that this may have been due to the initial rollouts of the vaccine, as more and more Americans began to venture back out after a year practicing social distancing.
After a brief dip in April, demand shot back up in May and has remained consistently high throughout the summer. We will definitely be keeping a closer eye on this category as the back to school shopping season closes and Labor Day weekend approaches.
Online demand for furniture and outdoor furniture was up in early 2021, returning to near 2020 levels
Now let’s take a look at online demand for both indoor and outdoor furniture.
During a pre-pandemic year, online demand for furniture was remarkably consistent. It rose slightly over the spring and summer, and was slower during the winter months.
In 2020 we saw a huge surge in online demand for furniture after millions of Americans spent a month or two isolating at home, many clearly decided to invest in some new furniture to spruce up their surroundings.
Interestingly, 2021 also saw a surge in online demand for furniture early in the year, this time in March. The driving force behind this one is less clear than in 2020. Perhaps people were preparing to host in-person gatherings at home.
Either way, demand in 2021 has remained above 2020 levels every month of the year so far, although at diminishing levels each month. Patio furniture and accessories have seen a very similar trend to their indoors counterparts.
As you’d expect, a normal year saw online demand for patio furniture peak even more during the summer months. This trend was particularly exaggerated in 2020, again, likely due to more Americans than ever spending almost all of their free time at home.
2021 has also seen online demand stay consistently higher than in 2020, particularly earlier in the spring. This may simply be due to people getting more used to making larger purchases online after last year, or it could be that even more people were interested in upgrading their backyard lounging situation to prepare for some huge post-lockdown parties.
Online demand for camping and hiking equipment continues to soar to new heights in 2021
Camping and hiking equipment may not have had the same kind of total increase in 2021 that shoes experienced, but there’s no question that Americans are venturing out in big numbers this year.
2020 saw demand dip somewhat during the first months of lockdown, but rebound to slightly above 2019 figures during the summertime. 2021, meanwhile, has been nothing but a consistent month-over-month increase in online demand for camping and hiking gear.
Our analysis of camping gear back in May showed early signs that 2021 was going to be a big year for the category, and that certainly hasn’t changed. In fact, August was the biggest month of the year for camping and outdoor gear back in 2019, so there’s no reason to believe that this month might be the biggest month for the category yet.
We’ll be keeping a close eye on each of these categories and more as the summer comes to a close and Labor Day weekend comes and goes.
A lesson for brands
Our data shows that Labor Day weekend may have only a moderate impact on online demand for key categories, but that COVID-19 has had a major impact.
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, we may see Labor Day weekend continue to be a more modest weekend when it comes to online sales, as Americans have spent this past summer online shopping for new shoes and camping gear.
It could be, however, that last year was an anomaly, and that Labor Day weekend may drive a surge in online sales for some of these key categories.
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