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Online sales set to smash records during pandemic holiday gift season

Rainbocorns, Cutetitos and consoles top must-have lists

FedEx trucks are loaded for deliveries in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020. Ongoing and widespread COVID-19 restrictions are fueling an unprecedented volume of online shopping for the holiday season.
FedEx trucks are loaded for deliveries in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020. Ongoing and widespread COVID-19 restrictions are fueling an unprecedented volume of online shopping for the holiday season.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Rainbocorn and Cutetito may just sound like gibberish, but they’re actual names of new toys likely to lead the pack in the upcoming online holiday shopping season, one setting up to smash existing records.

For the uninitiated, Rainbocorns and Cutetitos are both lines of brightly colored plush creatures that come in mystery packaging, and are projected to be the No. 1 and No. 2 most popular toys for kids in the 2020 holiday season, according to a new report.

But the plushies will represent just a tiny slice of an expected crush of holiday spending with online retailers that Adobe Analytics is predicting could hit $190 million this year — outpacing 2019 levels by over 30% — and crushing records for Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Single-day turbo boosts on the race to a record year could see $6 billion flowing to online retailers on Thanksgiving, over $10 billion on Black Friday and almost $13 billion on Cyber Monday.

Along the way, U.S. shoppers will drop around $2 billion every day between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31 except for the Thanksgiving break, Nov. 22 through Dec. 2. Instead, that span will see an average $3 billion in daily online spending.

The biggest online shopping day of the year, Cyber Monday, broke the $2 billion barrier back in 2012, Adobe notes for context.

While online shopping has been on a growth arc that graphs as a steep climb to the right — and it surpassed in-store holiday sales for the first time last year — restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic are going to help condense two years’ worth of sales expansion into the next two months.

John Copeland, head of marketing and customer insights at Adobe, noted the 2020 holiday season will be unlike any other on record and, when it comes to online retail, profound changes are in store.

“As retailers adapt to consumers’ new behaviors in this pandemic, we expect earlier discounts, more shipping and pickup options and uncertainty around in-store purchases to drive this year’s online holiday sales to record highs,” Copeland said in a statement.

“This year is unlike any in the past, and for the first time we are no longer referring to peak holiday sales as Cyber Week — it’s now Cyber Month.”

Overstock.com CEO Jonathan Johnson said he’s expecting to see much the same at the macro level as his company is in the midst of record growth and prepared for a booming final two months of the year.

Shipping boxes move through the Overstock.com warehouse seen in this undated handout photo.
Shipping boxes move through the Overstock.com warehouse seen in this undated handout photo.
Overstock.com

The Midvale-based online retailer started life in the ’90s as a merchandise liquidator but has since forged a new identity as a “smart value” home furnishings specialist. The company weathered a slew of issues last year, including the exodus of its mercurial and longtime leader Patrick Byrne, but has been well positioned amid pandemic conditions that have led to unprecedented levels of consumer spending on home decorating and home improvement.

Johnson said he anticipates most people are reworking their typical holiday activities and scaling back to more homebound celebrations of the season.

“I think this holiday season is not going to be one of traveling, but smaller groups and smaller parties close to home,” Johnson said. “People are still working to get their homes cozy and comfortable, and we see a lot of consumers excited to celebrate the holidays by decorating their homes.”

Johnson said Overstock’s sales in the last quarter were double 2019’s. New customer growth was over 140% and the company’s 28-day repeat purchase rate, a key metric for gauging customer satisfaction, was up almost 20%.

Overstock’s sales boom is among the factors driving a Utah retail sector that, overall, has been surprisingly robust amid the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Utah Governor's Office of Management and Budget Interim Director Phil Dean said with the exception of a single month, Utah’s retail sector has been a high performer throughout the public health crisis.

“The Utah economy, overall, has proven to be remarkably resilient,” Dean said. “And the state’s retail sector as a whole continues to see growth, though within the sector there are those that are struggling.”

A worker operates a lift as it moves from aisle to aisle retreating products inside the newly opened Amazon fulfillment center in South Jordan on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020.
A worker operates a lift as it moves from aisle to aisle retreating products inside the newly opened Amazon fulfillment center in South Jordan on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Dean noted while hospitality, recreation and businesses in the food and beverage industry have been hard hit by pandemic restrictions, consumer spending has shifted and driven strong year-over-year growth for many retailers.

Reflecting some of the same dynamic Johnson noted in the forces driving Overstock’s business boon, Dean said he believes Utah’s retail sector will continue to hold up well through the holidays, though he noted the accelerated shift to online spending.

“In terms of purchases and where we’re at economically, it’s been a good year for the Utah retail sector,” Dean said. “There is definitely an overlay of long-term trends ... and the shift to remote from in-person purchases at brick-and-mortar stores will continue to increase.

“I think the degree of acceleration is an open question but ... more and more of the population is getting comfortable with making purchases online.”

Dean noted that federal stimulus dollars, aiming to blunt the economic impacts of COVID-19, have helped bolster Utah’s economy, but he believes organic growth is also playing a factor. Adobe analysts wrote that should an additional federal stimulus package find approval before the end of the year, the infusion could help push online holiday sales past the $200 billion mark.

While mega-retailers like Amazon are expected to experience their own record-level sales this holiday season, Adobe analysts see small-to-medium size online U.S. retailers realizing the biggest bump in new customer revenue growth, outpacing bigger companies 65% to 45%.

And a lot more of those purchases are going to be made on the most portable of all devices, the smartphone.

Almost half, 42%, of all online holiday shopping this season will be transacted on a phone, with an increase of $28 billion over last year.

How much it costs to ship all of this holiday loot is playing a bigger role than ever in how we collectively make buying decisions.

In a survey of consumers, Adobe found the majority, 64%, said they wouldn’t pay for faster shipping, likely because they have come to expect free shipping during November and December. And 75% said free shipping is an important consideration when shopping online.

Adding to the mix, a method that was virtually unheard of just a few years ago — buy online and pick up in-store — has been power-trending and this year will be the top fulfillment method for gift buyers.

But if picking up in-person isn’t your jam and you’re wondering how to get the best shipping deal possible, Adobe has identified Dec. 1 as the “golden day” for cheapest shipping and Dec. 13 as the last day for cheap shipping.

FedEx trucks are loaded for deliveries in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020. Ongoing and widespread COVID-19 restrictions are fueling an unprecedented volume of online shopping for the holiday season.
FedEx trucks are loaded for deliveries in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020. Ongoing and widespread COVID-19 restrictions are fueling an unprecedented volume of online shopping for the holiday season.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News