Economists' Outlook

Housing stats and analysis from NAR's research experts.

Weekly Retail Update: December 7, 2020

The Extended U.S. Holiday Shopping Season Enters Homestretch After A Mellow Cyber Monday

As previously indicated, this holiday retail season breaks with prevailing customs as the holiday shopping season was extended as a result of retailers encouraging consumers to shop earlier, in October, and online by offering retail events and sales such as Amazon Prime Day in an effort to mitigate potential safety hazards from shopping in brick-and-mortar locations given the current COVID environment. Traditionally, the holiday shopping season is considered to cover November and December but 2020 saw the addition of October to the holiday season.

Typically, the U.S. holiday shopping season begins the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday. But over the past couple of years, there has been competition amongst retailers to offer Black Friday sales sooner and in doing so, lead to the term “Black November”. “Black November”, a term originated by retailers whom offer Black Friday promotions as soon as November 1st and throughout the month, as opposed to one day only benefits consumers who want to get an early start on their holiday shopping.

Considering this year saw stay-at-home orders and retailers operating at reduced capacity, many consumers are doing their shopping online to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. SafeGraph data indicates that consumers opted to stay at home and shop online over Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday as retailers saw significant foot traffic reductions in their brick-and-mortar locations.

Line graph: Economists Outlook Year-over-Year Percentage Change in Retail Foot Traffic 11-23-2020 thru 11-30-2020

Although retail brick-and-mortar stores were quiet throughout this portion of the holiday season, online was where all of the action took place as online sales over the Thanksgiving weekend were good. But, Cyber Monday strikes a more mellow note.

Line graph: Year-over-Year Percentage Change in Online US Holiday Sales

Cyber Monday, which typically exceeds Black Friday sales, did so again in 2020. While Black Friday brought in $9 billion, which is up 21.6% year-over-year, Cyber Monday brought in $10.8 billion, missing projections but set a record for largest U.S. online shopping day ever recorded according to Adobe. Cyber Mondays’ $10.8 billion represents a 15.1% year-over-year increase. Considering the extended holiday shopping season began back in October, for many retailers, Cyber Monday had a reduced role. Cyber Mondays’ figures suggest that consumers may have been exhausted from shopping by the time Cyber Monday came around.

Despite Cyber Mondays’ relatively softer than expected figures, it will likely remain the peak day as many consumers wait to make big purchases with expectations of larger price cuts on Cyber Monday. With Cyber Monday in the rearview mirror, we are entering the last portion of the holiday shopping season. A holiday shopping season without precedent and one with high e-commerce expectations.