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E-commerce sales jumped this holiday season as search marketers weathered Google updates

U.S. consumers spent $204.5 billion on e-commerce purchases during the holiday season, according to data from Adobe. This represented an 8.6% increase in online spending year-over-year.

The numbers show that e-commerce spenders spread out their shopping more over the months of November and December. For instance, in the weeks before Nov 24, spending was up a whopping 19.2% YoY, while the period between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday – the so-called “Cyber Week”), spending was down 1.4% from the previous year. Sales were up again in the weeks after Nov 30, growing 5.6% YoY.

Undeterred by supply chain challenges. Disruptions to the supply chain created difficulties for shoppers even though they spent at record volume.

Online shoppers saw over 6 billion out-of-stock messages during the 2021 holidays, according to the Adobe study. This was 253% higher than 2019, in pre-pandemic times. It was also 10% higher than last year.

Less discounting. Online shoppers were ready to buy despite seeing fewer discounts. In the electronics category, for instance, discounts were only 8% off the full price, compared to an average of 21% off in 2020. Computers saw a 10% discount in 2021 compared to 22% off in 2020.

There were marginally higher discounts in 2021 for apparel and toys.

BNPL grew substantially. Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) saw double-digit growth in the most recent holiday season. 

Revenue on BNPL purchases were up 27% year-over-year and orders were up 10%. On average, shoppers were spending $224 per order, with about three items in their cart.

Why we care. Ecommerce was a major disrupter in the retail industry before the pandemic. It then became a saving grace for many brands and consumers.

Search marketers working for retail or with retail clients, whether on the organic or paid side, see the holiday as make-or-break each year. And the increase in activity is likely to have buoyed campaigns. That’s, of course, if they were not disrupted by major Google updates during the season. Despite outcry, Google issued two major updates during the holiday, one a core update and one geared toward product reviews.

In our view, these purchase numbers support the idea that launching core updates, especially really volatile ones, during the holiday season is unfair to marketers and very similar to changing the rules in the middle of the Super Bowl.

Henry Powderly contributed to this report.

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