2021 Holiday Shopping Trends: Here’s What to Know

Predicting the future is part of the job description for retailers. They need to know what their customers want before they want it and see trends and pitfalls before they happen. More than half of American shoppers say that the pandemic will affect how they shop. Here’s how that’s changing the 2021 holiday shopping landscape.

2020 proved to be the biggest holiday season ever for digital spending. As the pandemic approaches its third year, the landscape is shaped by both logistical challenges and pent-up excitement about spending the holidays with loved ones.

It likely comes as no surprise that nearly half of U.S. consumers expect COVID-19 to impact how they shop this season, from visiting stores in advance to shifting more and more to the shopping digisphere. As the pandemic and increasingly frequent extreme weather events continue to wallop, the 2021 holiday shopping season may just be the most unpredictable yet.

Here are five key retail trends to watch this year.

1. Decline of Black Friday

In 2020, retailers began to roll out Black Friday deals as early as October, due to concerns over large crowds during the apex of the pandemic. And this trend continued in 2021, which has benefited employees by allowing for greater flexibility with work hours during the Thanksgiving holiday and on Black Friday itself. With foot traffic still a question mark for many as the pandemic continues undulating across different parts of the country, spreading out the concept of Black Friday makes sen$e all around.

2. Early shopping

In this supply chain-challenged world, the early bird may be the only one to get the coveted worm. With container ships clogging ports worldwide, folks looking to snatch up the hot toys, electronics, and other gifts are shopping early. While the start of the holiday shopping season has been inching forward over the past few years, this year’s holiday season was on people’s minds far earlier than perhaps ever before. In June, as many of us were getting our summer wardrobes out, 31% of American consumers had already started their holiday shopping — that’s nearly one out of every three consumers! And 44% of U.S. shoppers who plan to shop for the holidays say they will start earlier this year than last.

3. Scarcity due to supply chain challenges

Delivery delays and stock shortages may end up being the defining features of holiday season 2021. Unsurprisingly, this has worried shoppers and led more than 50% to share that they will confirm online if an item is in stock before going to a store to buy it. Consumers are navigating the vagaries of supply by using features like local inventory ads and shipping annotations. It’s critical for retailers to highlight products they have available in-store and how quickly people can expect delivery.

4. Increased support for small, local businesses

Silver linings exist in this complex retail landscape. The pandemic has shifted consumer mindsets and behaviors by making folks more conscious of whom they are buying from. Small businesses have had a challenging time during the pandemic. But campaigns to buy local, have popped up globally and resonated with consumers. Some good news: 60% of American shoppers who plan to shop for the holidays say that they will shop more at local small businesses.

5. Curbside + pickup-in-store are here to stay

Here’s an acronym that is fast becoming familiar: BOPIS. Buy online, pick up in-store. Brick-and-mortar have plugged into this growing trend of shopping online and curbside pickup, making physical stores an increasingly important factor for retailers pursuing omnichannel commerce success. Click-and-collect retail sales leaped from $36.48 billion in 2019 to $58.52 billion in 2020. Retail experts expect that number to continue its meteoric ascent during the 2021 holiday shopping season, as safety remains a concern for many consumers.

The Bottom Line

As the 2021 holiday season marches headlong into its last month, we should expect the unexpected. Shifts in COVID-19 numbers, new variants, and further fluctuations in supply chains, labor shortages, and extreme weather patterns are likely the new norm, at least for now.

But retail has proven to be a plucky and resilient industry, adjusting to myriad outside forces with aplomb. Numerous brands are opening new stores, and retail sales have been maintaining growth overall. It does not look like 2019, but holiday season 2021 is shaping up to be a successful one indeed.

About the author. 

An award-winning creator and digital health, wellness, and lifestyle content strategist—Karina writes, produces, and edits compelling content across multiple platforms—including articles, video, interactive tools, and documentary film. Her work has been featured on MSN Lifestyle, Apartment Therapy, Goop, Psycom, Yahoo News, Pregnancy & Newborn, Eat This Not That, thirdAGE, and Remedy Health Media digital properties and has spanned insight pieces on psychedelic toad medicine to forecasting the future of work to why sustainability needs to become more sustainable.