The 2020 Holiday Shopping Season Is Unlike Anything We’ve Ever Seen

Last year the trend was set for publishers playing a key role in ecommerce. Now, with homebound consumers shopping more online than ever, publishers are playing a critical role as we see a mass consumer shift to online shopping, with an accompanying reliance on trustworthy product reviews like Holiday Gift Guides.

The five day weekend encompassing Thanksgiving to Black Friday to Cyber Monday, or ‘Cyber 5,’ saw US shoppers dishing out $34.36 billion in total. That’s up from 2019’s $28.49 billion for a 20.6 percent YOY increase. It sounds like a lot, and it bests 2019’s 17.7 YOY increase, but it falls short of projected spending—Adobe, for instance, anticipated 38.3% growth.

It comes as no surprise that during the Coronavirus’s second wave (or third, depending on how you measure it), online shopping went into overdrive. So much so that ecomm was enough to offset declines of 52 to 95 percent in brick-and-mortar shopping.

Amazon didn’t report a specific sales number, but called this their biggest holiday season ever. One estimate says 42 cents of every holiday dollar spent is going to Amazon. Small businesses on the Shopify platform hauled in $5.1 billion, their biggest holiday season to date as well.

Directing traffic through all of this revenue inflow are the publishers to whom consumers turn for intel.

Publishers Are Hitting Their Holiday Stride

Buzzfeed saw a 575 percent revenue spike as they started publishing holiday guides earlier and have honed their strategies over previous holiday seasons to pump up the content, release it earlier, and pair it effectively with social media campaigns. They doubled their holiday guide content this year. Vox and Verizon also saw significant, if less dramatic increases compared to last year.

At Digital Trends, we approached our holiday guide differently this year to tailor it for the most digitally connected and socially aware generation in history. Our editorial staff vetted gifts including hardware, apps and accessories to fit the needs of young self-care gurus, creators, activists and environmentalists. The Digital Trends Holiday Gift Guide is already one of the most respected holiday guides amongst HENRY millennials, and it made sense to fine-tune it and start bringing in switched on Gen Z readers as well.

Online Shopping Brings Permanent Changes For a Homebound Public

The most obvious reason we’re all shopping online is that we’re stuck at home. But the pandemic could be a catalyst for a permanent, worldwide shift to ecommerce. Since online shopping has become a necessity for so many, more people are reporting they’ll shop online for essentials even after the pandemic subsides.

According to a report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, which surveyed shoppers in China, Turkey, South Korea, Russia, South Africa, Brazil, Germany and Switzerland, the biggest shifts to ecommerce are happening in emerging economies.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift towards a more digital world,” says UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi. “The changes we make now will have lasting effects as the world economy begins to recover.”

In the States, 38.7 million shoppers ordered groceries online at least once during November, and 83% of these were repeat customers. This indicates a declining share of first-time customers, as shoppers become more comfortable going through online channels routinely to get essentials delivered. Now that the ice is broken, we can expect to see ecomm-comfortable buyers sticking with familiar online buying patterns, even in a post-COVID-19 world.

The stage was already set for a worldwide shift to online buying, and the greater share of market influence borne by publishers. This year’s holiday season shows how Coronavirus conditions have kicked the evolution into high gear. This is going to make affiliate and partner relationships more critical than ever, as publishers and retailers join forces to create a new, post-pandemic economy that people can rely on, not just for the holidays but throughout the year.