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Note from the editor

Black Friday traditionally marks the start of the shopping season, as retailers and analysts watch to see how trends and early indicators play out in the weeks between the sales kick-off and the holidays themselves. 

2020 is likely to be anything but traditional. E-commerce was already a big story in 2019, and with the specter of a coronavirus resurgence looming over the season this year that trend could accelerate. Or it could shift earlier. Or the season itself could be a bust. Predictions for this year are challenging to make with any degree of certainty. Just this week, Amazon moved it's annual Prime Day to mid-October. Followed swiftly by announcements from Walmart and Target that they too will be holding blockbuster sales during the same time frame. Some retailers have already announced efforts to avoid the high-traffic, in-person shopping events of prior years in favor of a more drawn out holiday season and lots of e-commerce. Even the Macy's Thanksgiving parade has gone virtual.

Holiday e-commerce sales in the U.S. grew by 13.2% in 2019 to $137.6 billion, according to a report from eMarketer emailed to Retail Dive. E-commerce sales were up from $121.5 billion in 2018 and $109.2 billion in 2017. Per the report, U.S. holiday retail sales increased by 3.7% in 2019 to about $1.01 trillion, exceeding $1 trillion for the first time. The report predicted that e-commerce holiday sales will reach about $156.7 billion in 2020, which would be an increase of 13.9% — and that was in the before times. The report by eMarketer contextualized the importance e-commerce sales already had during the holiday shopping season. Now that 2020 is here, it could blow those predictions away.   

Previous reports have also picked up on the growth of e-commerce holiday sales as well as what consumers prefer to purchase online. Mastercard's SpendingPulse "Holiday E-Commerce Report" found that online sales grew by 18.8% during the 2019 holiday season, an increase from 18.4% the year prior. For Amazon, Cyber Monday 2019 was the e-commerce retail giant's biggest shopping day in the company's history, though it declined to share exact figures. 

Online spending was already likely to continue its upward trajectory before the pandemic hit, and it's now certain to play a significant role in a season marked by social distancing. Holiday shoppers spent the most money ($9.1 billion) on Cyber Monday in 2019, followed by Black Friday, during which consumers spent $7.2 billion. With a 20.5% increase in sales on Cyber Monday and 19.9% on Black Friday, both holidays saw the highest growth compared to 2018, the report also found. We're about to find out how festive 2020's results will be for retailers.

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Developments and Trends in Holiday Shopping

Black Friday marks the start of the shopping season, as retailers and analysts watch to see how trends and early indicators play out in the weeks between the sales kick-off and the holidays themselves. The complete reckoning for the shopping period each year isn't known until there is a full tally of in-store sales figures. Online spending may continue its upward trajectory, particularly Cyber Monday and Black Friday.

included in this trendline
  • How retailers can build on the warmth of holiday shopping
  • What the holidays could do to department stores
  • How to get on Gen Z's wish list this season
Our Trendlines go deep on the biggest trends. These special reports, produced by our team of award-winning journalists, help business leaders understand how their industries are changing.
Davide Savenije Editor-in-Chief at Industry Dive.