A Look Back at 2021’s Peak Shopping Performance
A Look Back at 2021’s Peak Shopping Performance
Online shopping plays a larger role in consumers' lives than ever before, accounting for nearly $5 trillion USD in global sales. On the heels of 2020’s heady growth, there were many unknowns to anticipate heading into this year’s peak shopping period: the timing of shopping, preferences for gifts, and the volume of sales. To illuminate the trends that made the season, this report examines the last three months of 2021 and the degree to which shoppers turned to affiliate sites to meet their shopping needs.This report, powered by CJ’s cutting-edge integrations, includes network-wide, sector-specific, and category-level performance benchmarks to provide relative performance and visibility into shopping demand for the entire fourth quarter. Growth values in this report were factored using pre-correction transactional data for advertiser programs active in the CJ network since October 1, 2018.
Pressure to buy early was felt by consumers who were concerned again this year about potential shipping delays and low inventory levels. This led to a tangible increase in retail sales volume and growth throughout October with much of the increased sales activity happening in the middle and end of the month. From October 17 – 31, daily retail actions increased an average 5% YOY, which is notable in a year where YOY growth was hard to achieve after 2020’s high rate of pandemic-fueled online growth. October had 18 total YOY-positive growth days, more than November and December combined.
Sales of art supplies, accessories, computers, and electronics all surged during the week of October 10th. Network revenue trended upwards this week despite a late year Prime Day failing to materialize as some had expected.
Shoppers planning to host guests or preparing for festive activities drove strong growth in the Home & Garden category in mid-October, which showed that home décor and home goods remain a strong category for affiliate marketers two years into the pandemic.
The last week of October was a high revenue growth week, spurred by travel bookings, clothing purchases, and some high volume sales days in the Computers & Electronics category. An uptick in global Covid-19 cases led to a spike in health and wellness items, including at-home test kits.
After years of delivering consistent year-on-year growth, retail revenue and sales in the CJ network on Black Friday and Cyber Monday in 2021 both declined YOY while still being the largest online shopping days of the season. Product deals that came out in October and early November both effectively lowered the growth of these retail calendar stalwarts, underscoring that peak shopping season growth will likely come from tapping into the trend to shop earlier in the fourth quarter. Singles’ Day (Nov. 11), for example, is a global shopping event that could continue to grow its share of seasonal sales because it occurs in early November—network sales revenue on Singles’ Day 2021 increased 14% YOY and some categories, such as shoes and accessories, realized growth in excess of 30% YOY.
High-growth products on Black Friday were beauty, skincare, and sports gear items—orders of these items increased 20% YOY. Black Friday purchases of clothing were also strong with apparel retailers experiencing high volume and 6% YOY revenue growth.
For the larger retail sector, YOY revenue on Thanksgiving Day remained flat, yet the day was a source of revenue growth for apparel and shoe brands, which increased 12% YOY.
Cyber Monday’s top growth areas were the art, photo & music, and beauty categories, growing 71% and 26% YOY, respectively. Along with the sports & fitness and games & toys categories, they achieved the highest growth rates for the entire peak shopping period.
Shoppers this year were as comfortable as ever with making their seasonal gifting purchases via smartphone, especially on Black Friday and the weekend days immediately after. On Black Friday, retail’s share of revenue from smartphones was 35% and then jumped to 37% on the Saturday and Sunday that preceded Cyber Monday. On average, smartphone sales accounted for 32% of network revenue and 36% of orders during the peak shopping season, reflecting a 14% and 6% increase, respectively. Shoppers remained engaged and active with affiliate channel messaging and promotions from Black Friday through Cyber Monday, days that account for the highest sales revenue days of the year.
Revenue on desktops accounted for 67% of all network revenue in Q4, a decline of 4% YOY. Orders on tablets now represent only 1% of orders overall, having declined from 3% in 2019.
Home & Business Services
Compared to the retail sector, a greater share of the Home & Business Services sector’s revenue and orders in Q4 came from desktops in Q4 and a far smaller volume on smartphones. For example, on Black Friday 78% of orders in the Home & Business sector were completed on a desktop and only 13% on a smartphone.
Beauty items are the most frequently purchased items on smartphones—45% of all beauty category orders are completed on smartphones. On Christmas Day, 57% of all beauty orders were completed on a smartphone (the highest rate of smartphone adoption across all categories).
Retail sales are generally the focus of the peak shopping season, but the strong return of travel bookings was an important Q4 headline story as well. After a devastating -54% YOY decline last Q4 due to pandemic restrictions and precautions, online bookings for hotel, air, vacation, and car rentals increased 78% YOY. Intent to travel for the holidays was evident in late October and early November—travel sector bookings increased an average 147% YOY during this time, primarily in air ticket sales and car rental bookings. Vacation package bookings surged in the last week of the year, showing that many travelers are keen to enjoy travel again in the year ahead and are potentially planning mid-winter holiday or Spring Break trips.
Booking volumes show that mid-October was Q4’s peak period for booking travel for the upcoming festive holidays—bookings increased 108% YOY the week of October 24th.
Cyber Monday & Boxing Day
Cyber Monday has historically been a high-volume booking day for the Travel sector and this trend continued in 2021, but Boxing Day (Dec. 26) was also a high growth day for travel brands with a 103% YOY increase in bookings.
Thanksgiving Day travel bookings were up 89% YOY due to an influx in air ticket bookings, and 43% of these orders were booked on a smartphone.