Was the 2021 holiday shopping season a successful one for U.S. retailers? That depends on how you look at it.
The RetailNext Inc. 2021 holiday season flash report — which looked at sales at U.S. brick-and-mortar stores from Nov. 1 to Dec. 25 of 2021 — found that in-store sales and traffic were up compared to 2020. But those metrics weren’t as strong when you compared them to brick-and-mortar sales and traffic in 2019.
According to the report, traffic in brick-and-mortar stores was up 36 percent this most recent holiday season when compared to the same period in 2020. Sales were up 39.3 percent.
But when compared to 2019, the last pre-pandemic holiday shopping season? The numbers tell a different story.
Traffic in brick-and-mortar stores was down 21.7 percent during the 2021 holiday shopping season when compared to the same season in 2019. Sales were up, but only by 1.4 percent.
It’s clear, then, that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to negatively impact physical retailers, even during their busiest time of the year.
The biggest problem for physical retailers this year was the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. This highly contagious variant has sent COVID-19 case counts to record highs, though most health experts say the variant is less severe than either the original strain of COVID-19 or the Delta variant.
The fast spread of the variant, though, has been enough to make many customers wary of shopping in person again.
This isn’t to say, though, that the 2021 holiday shopping season was all bad news.
“A bright spot was that sales were up 1.4 percent compared to the same period in 2019,” said Lauren Bitar, RetailNext head of insights, in a written statement. “This was driven by a strong intent to buy from shoppers who were going into stores and sales being bolstered by curbside and other services, as well as that high average ticket price that was up to 19.3 percent compared to 2019 and 17.3 percent compared to 2020.”
Black Friday was the strongest shopping day of the holiday season. RetailNext reported that 4.4 percent of in-store traffic for the holiday season occurred on that day.