2020 Holiday Shopping: Consumer Predictions vs. Reality

IAS compares 2020 consumer holiday shopping predictions to online shopping outcomes

01/28 By IAS Team
holiday shopping predictions

Last September, IAS asked U.S. consumers about their shopping and advertising preferences during the upcoming holiday season. We wanted to gauge what eCommerce may look like during a time where in-person shopping saw major disruptions. As the holidays end and regifting begins, we’re evaluating how consumer predictions held up against actual 2020 holiday shopping data.

While 2020 was undoubtedly a year like no other, we can still look at last year’s consumer shopping behaviors to better understand evolving spending habits in the future. We can see whether consumers over or underestimated their spending, whether they did as much online shopping as predicted, and where their money was spent compared to their expectations. Understanding the outcomes of these predictions will allow us to better understand how consumers adapted to unprecedented circumstances. 

Prediction: Holiday budgets will maintain or increase  

When asked, over half of respondents said that they would maintain or increase their holiday shopping budget from 2019. Despite the global pandemic, consumers seemed ready to spend as usual for the holidays. Consumers were also eager to start shopping, with 48% of them saying they’d start the process before November.

What actually happened…

U.S. consumers stayed true to their spending intentions and contributed to YoY revenue growth during the holiday season. According to Adobe Analytics, U.S. online spending in November and December reached a record $188.2 billion, up 32.2% compared to 2019. Advertisers endorsed consumer enthusiasm, with many large retailers such as Walmart opting to start their holiday discount programs earlier. Additionally, the traditional Black Friday sales model was replaced with consistent, lengthier sales and promotions starting in Mid-October. 

Prediction: Mobile will be a primary platform for shopping 

In our survey, nearly half of all consumers (48%) said they will conduct most of their shopping on mobile devices. With companies increasingly investing in mobile and in-app experiences, mobile seemed poised to be the frontrunner in driving digital sales in lieu of shopping in person.

What actually happened…

Despite popularity among consumers, mobile was not the main revenue-driving device in November and December, according to Adobe Analytics. Instead, a combination of laptop and other devices drove 61% of the total $113.6 billion in revenue. The impact of non-mobile devices was almost double the 39% or $74.6 billion of revenue generated by smartphones. 

Prediction: Online shopping will take precedence over brick and mortar retail 

One of the most prevalent results in the IAS holiday shopping research was a demonstrated resistance to in-person shopping. Covid-19 has impacted the safety of shopping and has fractured the way consumers consider making purchases. Concerns about the virus seemed likely to affect shopping behaviors:

  • 79% of U.S. consumers are concerned about in-store shopping during the holidays because of Covid-19
  • 85% of U.S. consumers plan to do most or all of their shopping online
  • 77% of U.S. consumers will purchase their gifts on e-commerce sites

Not only were consumers concerned about shopping in-person, but they were actively planning to replace this behavior with online shopping.

What actually happened…

Concerns about the virus significantly impacted shopping behaviors. As the in-person shopping population decreased, revenue generated from these outlets witnessed the same downward trend. Many consumers opted out of in-person shopping, with events like Black Friday seeing a 52% decrease in traffic at U.S. stores. Meanwhile, in-store and curbside pickup increased 52 percent on Black Friday YoY as consumers tried to find new alternatives to brick and mortar experiences. 

Given the increase in holiday spending and decrease in physical shoppers, it’s clear that consumers found alternative shopping options. During the same November period that saw fewer physical shoppers, eCommerce sales reached $100 billion for the first time, as reported by Adobe Analytics. Consumer reservations turned to actions, leading shoppers to new digital alternatives for purchasing gifts while propelling the growth of sectors like eCommerce.

Looking Ahead to 2021

In the wake of a global pandemic, holiday shopping still continued to grow and provide brands with new opportunities to connect with consumers. The alternatives that consumers found to physical holiday shopping will continue to permeate throughout 2021. In other words, the  2020 holiday period provided the perfect prologue to the long-lasting impact of online shopping on the digital landscape.

Brands need to invest in their digital presence to ensure they’re reaching engaged, newly reinvigorated online shoppers. Using the results of 2020, brands can more easily anticipate consumer shopping behaviors in and outside of the holiday season.

Want more industry predictions? Download the IAS 2021 Industry Pulse Report. 

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