The holiday shopping season is the highlight of the year for most people. Sure, they have to wait in long lines and get all the items they want before they disappear from the shelves. But it’s also the season of incredible discounts, excellent deals, and fantastic limited-time offers.
However, as exciting as the season is for shoppers, its success is vital for retailers. Holiday shopping statistics show that the revenue generated in November and December makes up a significant chunk of their total annual income — and many depend on it to stay afloat.
As the industry faced the global pandemic in 2020, many feared the holiday season wouldn’t live up to the expectations. In this article, we’ll examine how the season turned out and find out what retailers did to ensure its success. We’ll also learn more about the role ecommerce plays in holiday shopping and look into the ever-changing consumer trends and habits.
Top Holiday Spending Statistics (Editor’s Choice)
- The holiday shopping season now starts as early as mid-October.
- US retail sales in November and December 2020 totaled $789.4 billion.
- In 2020, holiday shopping accounted for 19.5% of total annual retail income.
- Ecommerce was responsible for 25.7% of all retail holiday revenue in 2020.
- Online and non-store sales saw the biggest holiday revenue increase in 2020.
- Barbie and LEGO were the top-selling toys ahead of Christmas 2020.
- 27% of holiday shoppers primarily focus on buying gifts for others.
- Online gift card sales went up by 106.1% year-over-year in December 2020.
- 85% of holiday shoppers prefer free shipping to expedited delivery.
- In 2020, 79% of shoppers waited until mid-December to start buying gifts.
Holiday Shopping Facts: Inside the Phenomenon
1. The holiday shopping season now starts as early as mid-October.
Traditionally, the holiday shopping season starts the day after Thanksgiving, on Black Friday. But in recent years, retailers have begun launching seasonal discounts much earlier — and customers are taking advantage of that. According to holiday shopping statistics from 2020, 38% of US consumers planned to start stocking on gifts in October, and another 23% before Thanksgiving. Only 22% said they’d wait until Thanksgiving to start their holiday shopping.
2. Holiday shopping revenue has been on a steady rise since the 2008–2009 global financial crisis.
(National Retail Federation)
The so-called “Great Recession” left a significant mark on the retail industry, as revenue took a dive for two consecutive years. However, holiday sales have been steadily growing since 2009. The total revenue in 2010 was $528.8 billion. From there, it grew each subsequent year, reaching $721.9 billion in 2019 — an impressive 36.5% increase over only nine years.
3. US retail sales in November and December 2020 totaled $789.4 billion.
(National Retail Federation)
The retail industry was fearing the global pandemic would lead to a downturn in seasonal shopping. But to say the final holiday shopping statistics for 2020 were encouraging would be an understatement. Namely, amid the pandemic, total retail revenue during the holidays rose by 8.3% from $729.1 billion in 2019 — the biggest year-over-year growth since 2017.
4. In 2020, holiday shopping accounted for 19.5% of total annual retail income.
(National Retail Federation, Digital Commerce 360)
One of the best-known holiday shopping facts is that the seasonal buying frenzy rakes in a significant portion of the retail industry’s annual income. For example, the total annual retail revenue in 2020 was $4.04 trillion. Of that number, $789.4 billion (19.5%) came from retail sales in November and December. The average income in each of the remaining 10 months of 2020 was a more modest $325.1 billion — showing why holidays matter so much to retail.
5. Ecommerce was responsible for 25.7% of all retail holiday revenue in 2020.
(Digital Commerce 360, National Retail Federation)
Due to social distancing during the pandemic, in-store shopping wasn’t an option for many customers. But with $202.9 billion (25.7%) in total holiday retail sales in November and December 2020, ecommerce practically saved the season. The number was 46% up from 2019, surpassing the pre-pandemic projection of $159.8 billion by a staggering 27%.
Looking at holiday retail trends over the past seven years, ecommerce has constantly been growing. Its share in the total holiday revenue went up from 11.3% in 2014 to 19.2% in 2019, increasing by 1–2 percentage points each year. But industry experts didn’t anticipate the pandemic-related spike in 2020. In fact, online shopping wasn’t projected to reach the 25.7% share until 2024 — indicating the pandemic has significantly sped up ecommerce’s growth.
6. Cyber Monday won 2020’s online battle of major shopping holidays.
By the end of Cyber Monday, Americans had spent $10.8 billion on internet purchases. This marked a 15.1% increase from $9.4 billion a year earlier — but that’s not all. It also turned Cyber Monday 2020 into the biggest online shopping day in US history. Meanwhile, internet sales on Black Friday raked in $9 billion, up by a whopping 21.6% from $7.4 billion in 2019.
According to Black Friday vs. Cyber Monday statistics, the latter outperformed the former yet again, at least online — and industry analysts observed an interesting pattern in consumer behavior. Namely, as Cyber Monday was nearing the end, more and more shoppers flocked to internet stores to take advantage of the discounts. In doing so, they spent more than $2.7 billion between 7 pm and 11 pm PST, with $12 million spent each minute from 8 pm to 9 pm.
7. Black Friday 2020 saw record-high online price drops.
Faced with the global pandemic, retailers did their best to shift the consumers’ attention from in-store to online shopping. Besides seasonal deals launching a month earlier, Black Friday 2020 also saw record-high discounts in online stores. Perhaps the best example is computer equipment, which is usually discounted between 15% and 20%. However, according to the 2020 Black Friday statistics, the average discount on products in this category was 28%.
8. More than 3 billion parcels were delivered in the US during the 2020 holiday season.
(Digital Commerce 360)
Between FedEx, USPS, UPS, Amazon’s own delivery service, and many local carriers, the total number of parcels delivered during the 2020 holiday season reached a record high. In addition, between Black Friday and Christmas, the number was up 24% year-over-year.
But holiday shipping stats also reveal that many of the parcels failed to arrive on time. Due to the unexpectedly high volume, only 80% of packages were delivered on time in November, down from 86% in 2019. In December, 72% of parcels made it to their destination on time, down from 75% the previous year. And although all the carriers stepped up their game from December 20 to 26, more than 2 million parcels didn’t make it in time for Christmas in 2020.
9. According to Amazon’s holiday shopping statistics, the company had record-high sales in 2020.
The ecommerce giant broke several records during the 2020 holiday season. According to its seasonal report, the company shipped more than 1.5 billion products worldwide, including 8 million to alternative locations like Amazon Hubs and its retail stores like Amazon Books.
Small businesses selling through Amazon also saw a record-high season. Compared to the same period in 2019, their combined worldwide sales grew by over 50%. What’s more, the Amazon-backed small and medium companies sold almost a billion items during the season.
10. In terms of average holiday spending per person, the winter shopping season is in second place.
(National Retail Federation)
The holiday shopping season takes the win in total revenue. But as for average spending per person, the Back-to-College period comes out on top. According to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, an average shopper spent $1,059 on Back-to-College sales in 2020. For comparison, the average winter sales spending in 2020 was $998 per person.
Holiday Shopping Trends: The Pandemic Effect
11. Consumers were more cautious about their holiday spending in 2020.
Although the pandemic hadn’t yet affected the average consumer’s income, their holiday shopping plans revealed caution. This was especially true for those with lower incomes, as 42% of them planned to spend less during the holidays than they did in 2019. Consumers from other income brackets followed this trend. Namely, 36% of those with medium income and 35% with high income said they’d approach their 2020 holiday spending more rationally.
Overall, 38% of consumers planned to spend less than the year before — the highest level of cautious spending since the global financial crisis. With the pandemic and its economic effects still present, it will be interesting to see their impact on holiday spending in 2021.
12. Most consumers entered the 2020 shopping season with solid household finances.
Despite the significant financial downturn caused by COVID-19, most consumers had stable household finances ahead of the 2020 shopping season. According to statistics on holiday shopping, 43% of them said their finances were the same as in 2019, and 28% stated they were a lot or somewhat better. However, some pandemic-related effects were still visible.
Namely, while 39% of consumers reported an increase in their household finances in 2019, this number was down by 11 percentage points in 2020. Similarly, 29% of consumers said their finances had gotten somewhat or a lot worse in 2020 — up from 20% a year earlier.
13. Non-gift purchases increased by 12% as consumers spent less on travel.
As the pandemic forced consumers to cut back on traveling and other commercial and social experiences, they turned their attention to holiday shopping, and sales reports illustrate that. Non-gift items saw the most significant rise, with average household spend on clothing and home and holiday furnishings reaching $435 — up 12% from 2019. Somewhat surprisingly, spending on home entertainment remained unchanged, averaging $205 per household.
14. Online and non-store sales saw the biggest revenue increase during the 2020 holiday season.
(National Retail Federation)
Online and non-store sales (+23.9%), building materials and garden supply stores (+19%), and sporting goods stores (+15.2%) led the seasonal revenue gains. According to holiday spending statistics, food and drink stores (+9.6%), health stores (+5.4%), and furniture stores (+2.2%) also saw increases. But not all retailers grew their sales during the holidays.
General retail stores had a 0.1% lower revenue during November and December 2020 compared to the same period the previous year. Although significant, this drop in revenue is relatively negligible when we look at electronics and clothing stores. They experienced the most alarming drops, having lost 14.4% and 14.9% of their respective revenues from 2019.
15. 73% of shoppers opted to have their purchases delivered in 2020, online holiday shopping statistics reveal.
The decrease in in-store purchases was among the most noticeable effects of COVID-19 on retail. Namely, 51% of consumers said the pandemic made them feel anxious about in-store shopping. Additionally, 73% planned to have their purchased items delivered, compared to 62% in 2019. Online retailers were the preferred shopping destination for 62% of consumers in 2020, as most of them decided against going to physical stores during the holidays.
16. Barbie and LEGO were the top-selling toys ahead of Christmas 2020.
(National Retail Federation)
Toys were among the most sought-after gifts around Christmas, shopping statistics reveal. While LEGO was the most popular gift for boys, Barbie products topped the list of bestselling gifts for girls. Interestingly, LEGO also ranked as the 4th most popular gift for girls, making it one of only two products to rank in the top 10 in both boys’ and girls’ gifts. The other was the Sony PlayStation, which ranked 4th in the boys’ category and 8th in the girls’ category.
Holiday Spending Statistics: Consumer Trends and Habits
17. 27% of holiday shoppers primarily focus on buying gifts for others.
In its latest holiday shopping survey, Deloitte observed four types of seasonal shoppers. One of them — “Francesca, the festive shopper” — represents the majority (27%) of US buyers. Those who fit this type are mostly older than 55 and very invested in shopping for others. They are also largely responsible for making Christmas one of the top spending holidays.
According to the survey, 85% of shoppers in this group won’t spend any money buying things for themselves. In addition, they’re usually unwilling to pay more for ethically produced goods and are 34% more likely to spend money on toys. On average, people in this group tend to spend more than the other three types — $1,652 per holiday shopping season.
18. UK consumers start their holiday season shopping earlier than Americans, store statistics show.
As previously stated, the holiday shopping season in the US begins around mid-October. But in the UK, most shoppers start their hunt for holiday deals by the end of September. Despite having more time to shop, an average UK consumer spends $1,360 per holiday season. In this regard, they’re on par with Americans, who spend up to $1,300 ahead of Christmas.
19. Gen-Xers have the highest average spending during the holidays.
Christmas spending facts point to Gen-Xers as the biggest spenders during the holiday season. On average, they spend $782 between mid-October and late December. Millennials rank second with an average spend of $609, while baby boomers are third with $576.
The data also reveals an interesting gender disparity in average spending. Namely, male shoppers tend to spend more during the holidays than female shoppers — $725 over $609.
20. Robbery and larceny rates across the US rise during the holiday season.
(HG Legal Directory, C+R Research)
According to holiday shopping crime statistics, the number of incidents involving larceny and robbery increases by up to 20% in November and December. At this time of the year, the so-called “porch pirates” become particularly active, stealing packages left by a courier on a person’s doorstep. While there’s no holiday-specific data available, 43% of Americans had at least one of their packages stolen in 2020 — a significant rise from 36% the previous year.
21. Online gift card sales went up by 106.1% year-over-year in December 2020.
(Digital Commerce 360)
According to Christmas retail sales reports, digital gift cards purchasing was also up by 25% year-over-year in November 2020. An average retailer sold 35,140 online gift cards during these two months — 4,366 in November and 30,774 in December. For comparison, in 2019, an average retailer moved 3,493 digital gift cards in November and just 14,926 in December.
22. 29% of gift card buyers said they’d opt for restaurant gift cards in 2020.
(National Retail Federation)
A nationwide survey conducted just before the 2020 holiday season estimated the total spend on gift cards at a sizable $27.5 billion. The findings put the average value of a gift card bought during the holidays at $48.87, with about 3.3 cards purchased per shopper.
The survey’s Christmas spending statistics show that restaurant gift cards (29%) were the most popular choice, followed by department store gift cards (28%) and prepaid debit cards like Visa and American Express (26%). Meanwhile, the least popular options included gift cards for grocery stores (12%), bookstores (11%), and home improvement stores (10%).
23. 85% of holiday shoppers prefer free shipping to expedited delivery.
In previous years, holiday shoppers preferred paying a bit extra to get their orders delivered faster. But in Deloitte’s 2020 survey, 85% of shoppers said free shipping was now their top priority, while only 15% cited fast delivery as more important. More than half of all shoppers (53.5%) said they wouldn’t pay extra for expedited shipping. However, if they had to do so, they would only spend up to $5.7 for same-day and no more than $3.9 for next-day delivery.
24. Most consumers buy clothes, accessories, and toys during the holidays.
According to a 2020 holiday shopping trends survey, 74% of consumers planned to buy clothes, accessories, and toys. While 70% planned to purchase gift cards, 65% expressed interest in food and beverages, and 60% in electronics. Other popular product categories included health and wellness (55%), pet supplies (50%), and home and kitchen (49%).
25. When buying items for themselves, most shoppers go for food or liquor.
Besides buying gifts for others, holiday shoppers often treat themselves, too. Most of them indulge in liquor (33%) and food (30%), 30% buy clothing, 23% opt for shoes, and 17% end up buying books. Even though buying items for personal use still contributes to the seasonal revenue, it’s gift buying that makes these special days the year’s most profitable holidays.
26. In 2020, 79% of shoppers waited until mid-December to start buying gifts.
Despite seasonal discounts launching earlier each year, last-minute holiday shopping is still very common, statistics show. While 79% of consumers did all their holiday shopping in the two weeks leading up to Christmas 2020, 44% left it for the very last week. Interestingly, men (78%) and women (80%) were equally likely to resort to last-minute gift shopping. Also, with prompt delivery unlikely this close to Christmas, 64% of late shoppers bought at retail stores.
Holiday Shopping Statistics: In Conclusion
Despite the hardships, the retail industry demonstrated incredible resilience in 2020.
As most retailers feared the adverse economic effects of the pandemic, the 8.3% annual increase in seasonal retail income was a positive surprise to many. This holiday shopping season, online statistics were more favorable compared to in–store shopping data. In fact, internet sales may have saved the season, having brought in 25.7% of all holiday revenue.
Amid the financial downturn, consumers became more conscious about their spending. While this didn’t affect most retailers, some — like electronics and clothing stores — saw double-digit year-over-year revenue drops. As both shoppers and retailers adjust to the post-pandemic reality, it will be interesting to see how the next holiday season pans out.
What percentage of holiday shopping is done online?
In terms of revenue, online shopping was responsible for 25.7% of the retail industry’s total seasonal income in 2020. The exact numbers vary across sources, but according to the US Department of Commerce, this translates to a record-high $202.9 billion. Even before the pandemic, internet sales have significantly contributed to total holiday revenue. From 11.3% in 2014, the share of ecommerce in total revenue grew each year, reaching 19.2% in 2019.
What holiday made the most money in 2020?
In November and December 2020, the US retail industry generated $784.9 billion in sales revenue — an 8.3% increase from the same period in 2019. Unsurprisingly, the two key days were Black Friday and Cyber Monday, especially online. The latter generated $10.8 billion in ecommerce sales and became the biggest online shopping day ever in the US. Meanwhile, Americans also spent $9 billion in online purchases on Black Friday, sales statistics show.
What is the best time to go Christmas shopping?
With retailers now launching seasonal discounts as early as mid-October, you can start your Christmas shopping very early. If you’re looking for the best deals, the biggest price drops start a few days prior to Thanksgiving and peak on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. And if you wish to avoid crowds for in-store shopping, don’t wait too long. Holiday shopping facts reveal that 75% of consumers wait until two weeks before Christmas to start buying gifts.
How much does the average person spend at Christmas?
An average US shopper spent $997 during the 2020 holiday shopping season. They spent the largest portion of this sum in the five days between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, during the so-called Cyber Weekend or Cyber 5. Interestingly, although seasonal sales had a more significant impact on total retail revenue, the Back-to-College sales in 2020 averaged a higher spend per shopper. They generated $1,059 per person, up by 8.4% from 2019.
How much does the average American spend during the holidays?
As stated, an average American spends $997 on holiday purchases. According to a recent report, Gen-Xers spend the most at $782 per season, while millennials are in second place with $609. Data also reveals that consumers who spend more than the average tend to be older — for example, a 2020 survey found that 48% of the biggest spenders are 55 or older.
When do consumers start holiday shopping?
Holiday shopping statistics from a 2020 survey revealed that 38% of consumers planned to start their seasonal shopping spree as early as mid-October. However, most people do their shopping in multiple stages, allowing them to take advantage of Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals. Also, despite the deals launching earlier each year, shoppers usually wait to buy gifts until the last minute — in 2020, 75% did it in the two weeks preceding Christmas.