Adobe released its final online shopping report for the holiday season covering November and December, finding that consumer spending reached $204.5 billion, up 8.6% year over year.
Online shoppers set a record during this latest holiday season, spending more than $3 billion on 38 days in November and December, far surpassing 2020's record of 25 days.
Adobe provides its software to dozens of the biggest retailers in the US and anonymously collects data on shopping trends based on one trillion visits to US retail sites, 100 million SKUs and 18 product categories.
In an interview, Adobe Digital Insights lead analyst Vivek Pandya said shoppers changed their patterns this year, with the weeks before Thanksgiving seeing a 19.2% increase in online spending compared to 2020 and a 5.6% growth for the weeks between November 30 and December 31.
Spending on Cyber Week -- which includes Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday -- fell 1.4%.
"This holiday shopping season was the first time where big promotional moments like Cyber Monday and Black Friday took on less of the spotlight," said Taylor Schreiner, senior director at Adobe Digital Insights. "Like we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic, e-commerce has become a ubiquitous daily activity and a flexible way for shoppers to navigate product availability and higher prices."
Pandya floated a number of different theories for the change in spending, telling ZDNet that many shoppers found sales were beginning earlier in November or were concerned about supply chain issues and started searching earlier. There was a 253% increase in out-of-stock messages compared to 2019.
"We saw Omicron emerging and having more of an impact on people's holidays. Travel got sidelined, and activities were canceled, which may have led to online shopping picking back up a little bit as we got to the back half of the season," Pandya said, noting that with travel limited by the COVID-19 surge, people had more discretionary funding to spend online.
The changes also coincided with significant decreases in the amount of sales retailers offered across almost all product categories. Discounts for electronics were only 8% in 2021 compared to 21% last year. Computer prices were only down 10% compared to the 22% in 2020 and other categories like appliances, sporting foods, furniture and bedding all saw decreases in the amount of discounts offered.
"We saw weaker discounts starting in March of 2020 when the pandemic first hit and demand levels started surging. These weaker discounts are part of an overall inflationary environment that is now impacting online in ways that it hadn't prior to 2020," Pandya said.
"In the online environment, we used to see price deflation or consistent price decreases prior to 2020, and that's for multiple reasons, but the primary ones being you'd have major categories that people buy online, like electronics, and you have newer products continuing to enter the marketplace. So that would push down the prices on older products or existing products online about 4% each year."
The supply chain issues, he added, limited product availability and the choices consumers had available, bringing prices up for the products that were in stores.
According to Adobe's data, the only categories that saw bigger discounts were apparel and toys.
Online spending was driven largely by shopping for toys, video games, gift cards, books and groceries. Jewelry, electronics, toddler products and appliances also saw more shopping compared to pre-season levels in September 2021.
Gaming consoles like Nintendo Switch OLED, Playstation 5 and Xbox Series S/X were some of the top sellers of the season, as well as Baby Yoda products, Bluey products and Crystalina dolls. The top devices sold were AirPods/AirPods Max, drones, record players, Samsung TVs and LG TVs. Air Fryers, instapots and weighted blankets also topped the list.
Pandya noted that Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) saw increased usage this holiday season as shoppers sought to spread out payments for bigger ticket items.
Pandya said revenue was up 27% year over year while orders were up 10%. Consumers are spending an average of $224 per order using BNPL. But in recent weeks, growth in the BNPL sector has slowed, which Pandya said signaled challenges the platforms may have in gaining mass adoption.
Adobe also noted the massive increase in curbside or in-store pickup due to the spread of COVID-19 and the Omicron variant.