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The top-performing categories and retailers of the 2021 holidays

The rubber band effect drove much of the top performing product categories and retail brands in 2021, as they snapped back from mid-pandemic lows. Many standout performers from the 2020 holiday season also managed to extend their gains despite the challenging comparisons.

Apparel and accessories was the top-gaining category due to pent-up demand. With demand reinvigorated for new wardrobes for returning to the office and social events, apparel and accessories ecommerce sales surged 22.5% to $45.35 billion to make it the No. 1 category in terms of both growth and dollar figure. The category’s propensity to rise and fall with the availability of discretionary income was also a factor.

Consumer electronics also posted above-average gains. Consumer electronics clocked $44.66 billion, ceding the No. 1 position in ecommerce sales to apparel and accessories. But category demand remained strong. Apple’s blowout Q4 highlighted strength in iPhone, Mac, and AirPod sales, while gaming consoles, smart TVs, home audio, and smart home electronics all continued to perform.

  • Amazon, Walmart, and eBay again topped the list. According to Comscore, Amazon once again dominated online traffic rankings, with 223.5 million average monthly visitors for November and December, up 3% versus 2020 and 5% versus 2019. Walmart (139.5 million) and eBay (100.4 million) were the other two to top the 100 million mark.
  • Ticketmaster and Macy’s were among the pandemic rebound stories. After plummeting in 2020 with live events virtually nonexistent, Ticketmaster surged 688% last year to 46.2 million visitors. Meanwhile, Macy’s also made a nice comeback with an 18% jump to 51.6 million.
  • Some sellers benefited from the “new normal.” A few top retailers mostly maintained their massive pandemic-driven gains from 2020. While Apple, Etsy, and The Home Depot technically saw traffic declines from last year, the declines were modest and still represented substantially higher levels from 2019.
  • Lowes gained on The Home Depot. While The Home Depot gave back some of its 2020 gains, Lowes managed to double down on its pandemic growth, rising 11% in 2021 to bring its two-year jump to 39%.
  • Wayfair and Kohl’s lost momentum. As early pandemic demand for home furnishings wanes, Wayfair is struggling to maintain traffic levels, showing double-digit declines over both 1-year and 2-year time horizons. While many department stores saw rebounding interest in 2021, Kohl’s saw its traffic slip yet again.

Other holiday winners included Away, On Running, and Shein. Earnest Research estimated big gains for Away (up 79%) after demand for travel products bounced back from the previous year. Surging fitness brand On Running jumped 72%, while fast-gaining fast-fashion app Shein rose 103%. Holiday power brands Nike (up 20%) and Lululemon (up 10%) also saw healthy gains on top of strong 2020 holiday seasons.

Read the full report.