Checking the list: Consumer holiday shopping plans for 2021

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Posted Nov 18, 2021
Trevor Brown

The 2021 holidays are approaching rapidly, and in some ways, they’ve already arrived. In 2020, consumers started doing their holiday shopping earlier than ever before. That trend seems to only be increasing this year. And after nearly two years of lockdown life, people are starting to book more travel, plan more parties, and pursue new goals. So many businesses are wondering: what are consumers planning on buying in holiday 2021?

Holiday trends before and during the pandemic

In order to predict consumer trends for the 2021 holiday, we need to look back at both 2020 and 2019. The pandemic, along with several global political events, has impacted both what consumers want and what businesses can offer.

A quick look at the numbers shows us that overall holiday sales in 2019 grew by 4.1% in-store, and 14.6% online. In comparison, 2020 holiday sales grew 8.3%, and holiday online retail in 2020 grew by a whopping 32.2%. 

The onset of the pandemic in 2020 saw sharp sales increases in building materials, sporting goods, grocery, alcohol, and health. As people spent more time at home, they took the time to catch up on home improvement projects, pursue new hobbies, and explore new food and beverage experiences with their families. 

2021 holiday trends and data

So far, 2021 consumer insights predict a holiday retail growth forecast of 7% and higher across all industries. 40% of customers are planning to shop more this year, with intentions of shopping earlier, and online. Here are some categories to keep an eye on.


Consumers reexamined their relationship with alcohol during 2020. While some consumers cut back, many decided to explore new alcoholic beverages they’d never thought to try before. Craft beverages, seltzers, meads, canned cocktails, and more all saw massive demand, as did wines and even non-alcoholic beverages.

2021 alcohol trends lean toward more growth and exploration—especially as consumers prepare for the return of social gatherings for November and December holiday parties.


Let’s face it: as consumers spent more time at home in pajamas, their fashion preferences also changed. Fewer slacks, more sweatpants. Sustainability in fashion also became a hot consumer topic. Consumers want more transparency, ethical accountability, and environmental sustainability from fashion brands—and it looks like they’re willing to pay for it.

Mobile shopping practices in the fashion industry are on the rise, including second-hand shopping experiences. App-powered thrifting began with Poshmark and ThredUp, but now large brands are also entering the second-hand fashion market.


Holiday travel is on the rise in 2021—largely a result of mass vaccination and FOMO due to last year’s canceled plans. This increase in travel stands to dampen retail and e-commerce spending a bit, but it also may provide some new opportunities as people decide to freshen up their travel gear or purchase souvenirs.


Electronics are a top category for 2021 holiday sales predictions, with 29% of consumers planning to give electronics and related accessories as gifts during the 2021 holiday season. However, supply chain stresses are driving up prices and resulting in limited stock throughout the electronics industry.


The holidays are most known to children as a time for new toys—and unfortunately, analysts are projecting significant toy shortages for the 2021 holiday. Shoppers are responding by purchasing earlier to prevent the supply chain from impacting their childrens’ holidays.


Fall and winter holiday decorations always account for a certain percentage of holiday retail. After a year of missed holidays, many consumers appear to be pulling out all the stops, if 2021 Halloween decoration sales are any indication. To make the most of consumer demand, brands should market seasonal items as early as possible.

Digital Products and Experiences

Whether we like it or not, the metaverse is here, and it’s growing. What began as a quirky form of entertainment for tech enthusiasts has become a global movement. Large brands have entered the metaverse, issuing NFTs and creating branded virtual merchandise. While virtual reality isn’t something most brands are thinking about yet, it’s slowly capturing a larger share of global commerce.

The emergence of the metaverse is just one part of a global trend toward digitization. Concerts, work, social gatherings, media, and collectibles have all gone digital in some way or another. Forward-thinking businesses should be asking: what’s next?

With that in mind, online and mobile shopping is poised for further growth into 2022. Brands that prioritize an immersive and rewarding mobile experience will find the most success during the 2021 holiday.

How will current events impact 2021 holiday sales?

Spending across all sectors is on the rise, even as supply chain challenges and neverending “variants” complicate how, when, and where consumers can spend their money. Even so, consumers are proceeding cautiously due to recent economic upheavals. For businesses to do well this season, they need reliable market research and consumer insight, and they need them as soon as possible. So what is the current consumer landscape when it comes to holiday sales?

Consumers are facing high inflation and reduced income

Rents and mortgages are still due. Student loan payment requirements are back as well, which means many consumers are facing more expenses than in 2020. Additionally, many consumers have left their jobs at the same time that government stimulus has terminated, and inflation related to fiscal policy and supply chain is impacting consumer buying power. As a result, many people are facing higher expenses with lower incomes. The long-term impact of these factors isn’t yet clear, which means agile market research is going to be critical for businesses to maximize their profits in the 2021 holiday.

The global supply chain is struggling

The pandemic and global politics have created a perfect storm that has caused massive breakdowns in the worldwide supply chain. Consumers who are concerned about late deliveries and out-of-stock items started their holiday shopping as early as September this year—and they’ve gained momentum throughout October. 

Many consumers are turning to gift cards as a failsafe against supply chain issues, reasoning that it will be better to let people shop for themselves than to show up for the holidays empty-handed. This just goes to show that businesses that respond quickly to supply chain threats will be best equipped to handle an upcoming boom in holiday sales.

The Delta variant is impacting consumers and businesses all over the world

The Delta variant is making consumers nervous and pandemic restrictions are resurgent amidst continuing global outbreaks. As a result, many consumers are still electing for online shopping experiences. Locally, many consumers are choosing home delivery and curbside pickup wherever possible. As a result, they’re spending less time browsing local stores. 

Many retailers are also considering canceling in-store Black Friday experiences due to public health concerns, instead opting for online-only shopping experiences to serve as a form of crowd control.

Major climate events are complicating global commerce

2021 has seen several major climate events, including a freak storm that flooded the Mediterranean coastline, sweeping deaths in sea creatures all over the world, colossal fires and record heat waves threatening critical infrastructure and food supply, and the continual threat of sea level rise with the potential to impact countless lives.

As a result, consumers are more concerned than ever about sustainability. Brands that emphasize sustainability are winning loyalty from Millennials and Gen Z, who have grown to dominate the global consumer base over the last two years.

In a constantly shifting economic landscape, agile research is key

The 2021 holidays are going to be a wild ride for consumers and businesses alike. Global events are contributing to major holiday complications and forcing brands to make swift decisions against fresh data week after week. The businesses with the best data sets are the most equipped to drive solid revenue growth into 2022 and beyond.
Find out how agile market research can help you make more sales during the 2021 holiday shopping season.

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