Holiday Shopping Insights: Lessons Learned From Nearly 1 Billion Visitor Journeys


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As we look back on 2020, now in the second month of 2021, it’s almost difficult to recall what everyday life was like prior to the global COVID19 pandemic. We have changed our daily routines, how we work, how we interact and also how we buy goods. Out of necessity, consumers have gained a new level of comfort with shopping online, more so than ever before. In a survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers we conducted in August 2020, a quarter of respondents said that they do more than 90% of their shopping online, and less than 30% of shoppers said that they were comfortable going to stores.

As the roll-out for COVID19 vaccines continues, we hope for, and anticipate, a return to ‘normal.’ But habits that have been learned for nearly a year now, are not likely to revert back entirely. The pandemic has accelerated e-commerce adoption by approximately five years, according to IBM’s U.S. Retail Index, thereby indicating that the rise in the popularity of e-commerce is here to stay. There are several noteworthy trends for retailers to note to best position themselves for success in today’s environment and as we look ahead.


Patterns are emerging around mid-pandemic shopping peaks

Qubit‘s data science team has been tracking shopper behavior in 2020 and comparing it to the previous year to identify interesting patterns and notable changes that may help retailers and consumers engage better. The latest analysis, conducted through Qubit’s personalization platform, examines shopping patterns throughout December 2020 (versus December 2019) based on nearly 1 billion shopper visits and 22 million purchases across 75 retail brands. As the analysis was performed during a peak period for many retailers, we would like to share some of the lessons learned that may be applied to future shopping peaks throughout 2021, including Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Back to School.

Luxury and beauty shoppers are adopting online experiences

Qubit’s December analysis showed that consumers are adopting shopping online even in sectors that are traditionally focused more on the in-store experience — for example, the luxury segment. Qubit’s data shows that luxury brands saw major e-commerce revenue growth during the 2020 holiday peak as compared to 2019 (+70.1%), as well as big gains in new sessions (+33.3%), and a high jump in Revenue Per Customer – RPC (+37.4%). Beauty brands also saw online revenues and new visits rise (+26% and +20%, respectively), which indicates shoppers’ increasing comfort level with buying products they may not have previously sampled or tried on in-store.

Loyalty is making a comeback

Loyalty indicators were up across the board during December’s holiday peak with returning visitors gaining across all retail segments analyzed year-over-year. General merchandisers saw the biggest increase with +57.3% in returning customers in December 2020 vs. 2019. Beauty had the second highest returning visitor gains (+16.1%). However, it is important to note that browsing mentality has made it easier for customers to bounce around from site to site, so brands should make the most of each visit with revenue driving tactics. This means serving relevant and personalized content and offers, especially on high traffic pages including the homepage and category pages, in addition to retargeting visitors on other key channels such as email and social.

Shopping timeframes are expanding

Interestingly, in December 2020, consumers shopped during a much longer time window, both earlier and later than last year, with less activity in the two weeks leading up to the Christmas holiday, and more activity continuing in the days following Cyber Monday and Christmas, which was atypical. The spike in early shopping may have been influenced by concerns over delayed shipments and delivery dates. This is a trend we may observe again with Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day shoppers, so brands should take this into account when developing campaigns and offers, timing them accordingly.

These behavioral shifts in online shopping are likely to persist even when a true return to normalcy comes. While there’s a lot of economic upheaval, we do see some new patterns emerging and light at the end of the tunnel, which is very welcome news for retailers in terms of planning and connecting with their shoppers in very uncertain times.

Tracey Ryan O'Connor
Tracey Ryan O'Connor has been in the world of digital marketing, ecommerce and personalization for 20+ years at companies such as Reflektion, Neustar and Oracle. Most recently she was Chief Revenue Officer at personalization platform, Qubit, where she was responsible for sales, solutions, marketing, customer success and strategy. In October 2021, Qubit was acquired by Coveo (TSX:CVO), a Relevance Platform and applied AI leader that transforms digital experiences with AI-powered search, recommendations, and personalization. At Coveo, O'Connor serves as Group VP, Commerce.


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