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Five Predictions: The 2021 Holiday Landscape

05 Nov 2021 Elizabeth McHugh

in Digital, Retail, Strategy, Trending

In the words of everyday shoppers

"For the first time ever I'm buying ahead of the big sales. I normally wait for Black Friday or Cyber Monday, but with the world the way it is these days with empty shelves, higher prices, and less budget, I've started early. I will still save some money for the big sales for those very expensive items, but also because I really enjoy being out on Black Friday. To me, it's such a rush!"

  1. A huge holiday season is ahead. Holiday sales are expected to rise 9% this year, to $1.1T; ecommerce sales are predicted to increase 14.4%. Demand in 2021 will be huge and retailers will have to balance growth with supply chain issues and labor shortages.

With COVID cases falling in the U.S.—and the Delta variant receding—consumers are cautious but more so excited about a normal-ish holiday season; festivities will resume, though they may be smaller gatherings. 48% of consumers describe their finances as “healthy,” with money left at the end of the month for luxuries or savings; that, paired with pent-up holiday excitement, will spur the strongest seasonal growth in 20 years.

Undoubtedly, inflation and supply chain issues will cause hiccups, but U.S. consumers are expected to drive a big holiday season, nonetheless.

“I started shopping the day after Christmas. I hit up all of the sales through the year. I will never wait until the last second anymore.”

  1. Brick and mortar will have a big moment.

A double-digit increase is predicted for ecommerce, but in-store is forecasted to make up 82% of sales, with an 8% YoY sales increase. Concerns around shipping delays will push many consumers in-store in the weeks preceding December 25th. 60% of consumers are now comfortable browsing stores with masks and 64% feel that way about grocery stores; this is, for now, our new normal and consumers are accustomed to being in stores with precautions.

“I have started holiday shopping in anticipation of holiday supply chain issues.”

  1. Almost half of consumers (46%) have already started shopping. There is much still to do: only 2% report that they have or are almost finished with their holiday shopping. 35% are waiting for Black Friday/Cyber Monday, and the big sales expected over that weekend. 12% describe themselves as last minute shoppers.

These insights into 2021 shoppers point to a known trend: the holiday season is starting earlier. However, the vast majority of consumers still have shopping planned and will power the big season that is expected.

  1. For brands on Amazon: inventory constraints. According to Beth Mattix, Senior Marketplace Account Manager, “Restock Limits on Amazon have prevented many Sellers from maintaining healthy inventory levels at Amazon’s Fulfillment Centers throughout 2021. There have also been inventory constraints because of global supply chain issues, and ongoing congestion at many key U.S. ports may lead to stock shortages on Amazon for key holiday products including toys, electronics, and apparel.”

“I have just barely started shopping. I will start to amp it up probably in the next few days. I do a lot of shopping on Amazon.”

  1. Automation (with a human touch) will be key for remaining competitive in the search engine marketing space.

In 2021, our SEM team is focused on the earlier shopping cycle and expects consumers to be very aware of the logistical challenges impacting inventory. They are also preparing for fierce digital competition. Notes Jessica Ortiz, SEM Director, "cutting through the noice and reaching consumers along their purchase journey is key to driving success this holiday and can be accomplished by leaning into automation to remain competitive in auction, strategically flighting budget to allow for maximum ad impact, and leveraging a full funnel tactical mix to engage consumers in a meaningful way from research phase through to purchase." Success comes from a healthy blend of automation and human intelligence.


At Stella Rising, we employ expert consumer research and unparalleled analytics to navigate clients to new heights. Well-versed in ecommerce, marketplaces, and brick and mortar retail, our award-winning marketing and media strategies drive growth and help brands shine.

Sources: eMarketer, “U.S. Holiday Shopping 2021,” 18 October 2021, Mintel, “COVID-19’s Impact on U.S. Consumers: Fall 2021,” 14 October 2021, Our World Data, “Vaccinations By Location,” 31 October 2021, Glimmer 2021 Survey

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