This holiday season will be driven by the crosscurrents of heavy consumer demand, a shaky supply chain, and rapidly shifting shopping patterns. There will be strong growth in holiday retail sales across both brick-and-mortar and online channels, but gains will be unevenly distributed across categories and retailers.

Leveraging holiday sales data from our US Holiday Shopping 2021 forecast, here’s what brands and retailers can expect from the year’s biggest spending period. 

Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2021 predictions

This year’s holiday sales will once again kick off early with consumers motivated to avoid shipping delays and out-of-stock items. Each Cyber Five shopping day—from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday—is expected to surpass $5 billion. Although holiday retail sales will peak on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it’s Thanksgiving Day that will post the strongest growth in ecommerce holiday sales.

Following a year of strained in-person holiday shopping events and a Thanksgiving Day with widespread store closures, consumers will hit the stores at a frenzied pace on Black Friday. Resumption of pre-pandemic shopping rituals like door-busting at big box retailers and fashion-finding at the malls will generate strong foot traffic. 

Mobile traffic for ecommerce holiday sales will also spike on Black Friday as consumers prepare for in-store shopping trips and engage in showrooming while there. We expect online sales to increase 15.8% to $10.42 billion, assuming the No. 2 spending day position for the season. 

Cyber Monday will be the No. 1 US ecommerce shopping day ever. Cyber Monday has been the No. 1 ecommerce spending day every year since 2010, and this year will be no different as it once again sets new records. Despite significantly underperforming last year’s benchmark—15.6% versus the holiday season’s 32.0% growth rate—this year it will lag the season by just a few points. Our holiday sales forecast predicts Cyber Monday to rise 12.4% to $12.12 billion, 6.2 times the sales volume of the average day during the holidays.

Like what you’re reading? Click here to learn more about Insider Intelligence’s leading Ecommerce and Retail research.

Cyber Monday and Black Friday will each surpass $10 billion in US ecommerce sales this year. -
Cyber Monday and Black Friday will each surpass $10 billion in US ecommerce sales this year.

Pandemic affecting holiday sales

The 2021 holiday season has several strong disruptive forces that will determine the fate of consumer spending—and by extension, retail sales. Our holiday sales forecast anticipates strong buyer enthusiasm due to increased vaccination rates, stable pandemic-era savings, and improved unemployment figures. 

Growing concerns around breakthrough cases of the highly transmissible delta variant could make shoppers hesitant to spend time in stores. However, eagerness to resume holiday shopping traditions will win out, with heavy in-store foot traffic.

The rebounding travel industry may also affect holiday sales statistics, shifting discretionary spending from things to experiences. US consumers, luckily, aren’t new to balancing travel and holiday retail purchases in typical years, so travel spending will only have a muted impact on holiday retail spending.

Inflation has risen dramatically in retail categories that have been affected by global supply chain issues (including apparel, furniture, and appliances), but healthy consumer spending patterns will prevail as US shoppers demonstrate less price sensitivity.

We forecast ecommerce sales will increase 14.4% to $211.66 billion—the first time US holiday ecommerce will surpass $200 billion. -
We forecast ecommerce sales will increase 14.4% to $211.66 billion—the first time US holiday ecommerce will surpass $200 billion.

Key holiday retail categories 2021

The rebound effect will result in the season’s biggest growth stories. According to our holiday ecommerce product category forecast, we expect apparel and accessories will rank as the largest and fastest-growing category, surging 25.5% to $46.34 billion to vault ahead of computers and consumer electronics at $44.80 billion.

Pent-up demand for workwear, event wear, and an overall desire to upgrade aging wardrobes will fuel huge gains. Consumers will get back into the spirit of shopping as a social event to share with family and friends, bringing foot traffic back to malls and department stores. 

But the overall popularity of holiday mainstays, like consumer electronics and toys, shouldn’t be ignored. In fact, Profitero’s analysis of top 2021 Amazon search terms indicated topping the list of wants this year are consumer electronics, including top-ranked iPhone and No. 3 Bluetooth headphones. Fidget toys, including Pop It, and Legos (which ranked among the top 30 search terms) will be in high demand in the toys category.