The 2020 holiday season was — to borrow an overused but nevertheless true phrasing — unprecedented. 

For months, ecommerce experts had been predicting record ecommerce sales. After all, the results of the COVID-19 pandemic kept many from seeing their loved ones in person or from shopping in physical stores. Many of those predictions came true. 

In fact in 2020, U.S. consumers broke records holiday shopping during Cyber 5, with online sales rising 20.6% year-over-year.

Now as the 2021 holiday season approaches, many retail businesses are wondering what this year has in store. 

We talked to ecommerce experts from around the industry to learn what they believe are the trends most driving the 2021 holiday season. 

Here’s what they said.

Increased Online and Hybrid Shopping

“As we head into the 2021 holiday season, even as in-store shopping begins to reopen its doors once again in certain regions, online shopping is here to stay and will continue to grow. More consumers are continuing to shop on mobile devices and the digital realm is entering the walls of traditional stores. The future of retail is both online and offline.

Before ever stepping foot into a physical store, shoppers are encountering various digital touchpoints as they go through their decision-making process. They can research product details, find customer reviews and recommendations, as well as compare pricing. Pairing together offline strengths and online advantages is the key to enhancing interactions with customers whether they choose to buy online or in store this holiday season. Delivering an exceptional customer shopping experience is key.”

Mike Esposito – Content Producer, 1Digital Agency 

…But Also Be Prepared for More Ways to Shop

“It’s tempting to assume the biggest trend that will impact the 2021 holiday season will be a greater influx of shoppers, based on the fact that ecommerce has grown explosively over the past year. However, we believe that unpredictability will be the greatest challenge for online businesses.

It’s hard to predict where the largest segment of shoppers will come from. No doubt, this online shopping season will be busy, but at the same time, shoppers from across the country have cabin fever. Many may be itching to get out and back into malls and outlets. 

It’s hard to say whether more shoppers will stay hunkered down and continue to shop exclusively online, if most of them will be raring to get out and back into the traditional retail holiday experience, or if there’s going to be a healthy mix. Businesses with both online and brick-and-mortar locations had better be prepared for both scenarios.”

Connie Wong, Marketing Manager, Silk Software

“While many states and municipalities are reopening, the lessons of the COVID-19 era will shape retail for years to come and possibly forever.

Many merchants have felt the squeeze of supply chain limitations. It’s more essential than ever to have a diverse array of products, services and channels for fulfillment. Creating a comprehensive ecommerce strategy can ensure you have the functionality in place to further adapt when customers’ needs inevitably change again.”

Sarah Toth, VP Marketing & Partnerships, Guidance

Leverage Omnichannel Marketing

“The long-perceived norms of holiday shopping have been flipped on their head. And more so than ever before, we can expect a season full of surprises. They may not know to ask for it by name, but omnichannel marketing is precisely what our consumers need. 

Consumers want to know that despite the channel for engagement, or whether they decide to step out and shop or do it from the comfort of their couch, they will receive the same exceptional experience. 

Above all else, they want consistency, hyper-personalized messaging and convenience.”

Alita Harvey-Rodriguez, Managing Director, MI Academy

“Have a complete omnichannel nurture cycle! Merchants who do not have their dynamic email and retargeting campaigns set up will have a tough time reaching their optimal conversion rates and CPAs.”

Duran Inci, CEO,

Give Shoppers What They Want: Convenient Options 

“The biggest trend this holiday season will be “convenience.” Shoppers will be asking.

  1. Can I order online, when and how I want? 
  2. Can I pick up in store when I want?
  3. Can I reserve in store and have the product waiting for me to try?
  4. Can I get immediate delivery?
  5. Can I return my purchase through a simple collection service, or return to the store and have replacement goods waiting for me?

Retailers that develop strategies based on these “5 C’s” of convenience will be in a great position for this holiday season.”

Alan Moore., Group Managing Director, RANDEMRETAIL 

“Buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) will be important. The majority of the shopping process will happen online, but I also believe that more inventory will be allocated away from retail and made available for easy delivery nationally.”

Michael Payne, Director of Sales, Silk Software 

Shopping on Mobile Is One to Watch

“Purchasing on mobile is the one to watch. Shopping on mobile devices is easy to do on-the-go for shoppers, especially for last-minute purchases. However, cart abandonment can be higher on mobile. This is a trend that online retailers should try to curb by providing a frictionless mobile shopping experience, and by remembering that people are more inclined to make a purchase from their mobile device if a discount is available.

Deliver discounts cleverly by offering a coupon code once a customer subscribes to your newsletter. That way you have their contact information and you can continue to nurture them by email, too. You can also display a very enticing offer on exit intent to keep customers on your site and incentivize them to complete their purchase.”

Emilie Murphy, Product Marketing Manager, POWR

Prepare for Shoppers Starting Early

“Consumers will start shopping early. Supply chain disruptions from the past year have left a lasting impact on perceptions. Last year, we heard that 70% of shoppers intended to shop early to avoid both crowds and items being out of stock. Similar trends are expected this year. To meet early demand, retailers should consider launching holiday plans and promotions earlier than usual.”

Erin Sagin, Product Marketing Manager, Google

Merchants Need to Prepare Inventory Early, Too

“Be aware of supply chain constraints. Typically, retailers need to order their items anywhere from 3-9 months ahead of time in order to be able to fulfill them on time for the holidays. Global supply chains are seeing major shortages as production capacity is tapped out and consumer demand is increasing. Will retailers be able to buy enough inventory? Will it come on time? Will shipping woes continue or will stores reopening spread out consumer demand and lighten the load on carriers?”

Jake Cohen, Head of Customer Marketing, Klaviyo,

Social Media Will Grow in Importance

“More people than ever before will buy their holiday gifts on social media. This might not be anything new, but with the lasting effects of the pandemic, consumers are turning to more digital channels. What’s more, brand discovery now takes place — more often than not, and during the holidays for sure — on handheld devices. Social media is to thank for that as 45% of people who discovered something new online last season said it was a gift for someone. So, this holiday season, make sure your social strategy is in top form — as it could make you lots of sales.”

Chris Cano, Content Lead, dotdigital

Facebook for BigCommerce gives merchants the tools they need to thrive across Facebook and Instagram. Check out our guide on how to sell on Instagram to learn more about how it works, setting up product tags and more. 

Online Experience as a Differentiator

“As more and more customers are shopping online, the demand for remarkable customer experiences is at an all-time high. During the holiday season, it can be hard for merchants to differentiate themselves exclusively on price. With a bit of creativity, minimal investment and a good dose of empathy, merchants can win over customers with a stellar customer experience from first touch through to post-purchase interactions.”

Francis Pilon, Head of Global Partnerships, LimeSpot

Reviews Will Play a Big Factor

“Reviews will play an increasingly more important role this year in the 2021 holiday season. In fact, the provision of reviews and social proof has been flagged as vital to success. It’s recommended that brands and retailers offer shoppers anything to help educate, encourage and increase the chance of conversion. 

In fact, 70% of ANZ shoppers read at least one review prior to making an online purchase (source: BigCommerce report). Consumers want to be fully educated prior to purchase and are happy to do their research and retailers need to offer this, or risk losing sales.

Additionally, consumers will be looking for three things in the reviews — realness, recency and relationships. Consumers want to see a mix of both positive and negative reviews. Trust is therefore the number one factor when it comes to reviews and their impact on increasing conversion.”

Steph Gillies, Head of Marketing & Communications, Trustpilot

SMS Marketing Will Be A Must-Have Channel

“SMS is no longer a nice-to-have channel, but a must-have one — especially during the holidays.

Last year, Omnisend sent 378% more SMS messages than in 2019, with Q4 accounting for 68% of those sends. While SMS conversion rates increased more than 100% YoY, they were especially impactful during the holidays. 

On Black Friday, SMS accounted for 2.5% of sales across all channels, and accounted for 19% of all November SMS orders. Expanding out, the Cyber Ten generated 72% of all November orders.

We expect this trend to accelerate. First, consumers are increasingly adopting SMS as a preferred communication channel. Second, with marketers unable to re-send marketing emails to non-openers due to the iOS update, we anticipate SMS will fill that void while breaking through seasonally-cluttered inboxes to drive promotional awareness.”

Whitney Blankenship, Senior Content Marketing Manager, Omnisend 

Wrapping Up

Time will tell how the upcoming holiday season will go. Will shoppers be excited to return to stores or will they continue to enjoy the convenience of online for much of their holiday shopping? What channels will they flock to and what features will earn their business?

Our best advice is to prepare by covering your bases as much as possible. Prepare your site early. Serve customers everywhere they shop. And provide a seamless shopping experience. For more information on getting your website ready to deliver holiday magic, check out our guide.

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