The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, December 01, 2020 1:00 am

Online shopping soars as customers avoid malls

JOSEPH PISANI | Associated Press

NEW YORK – The viral pandemic is accelerating a transformation of America's holiday shopping season.

Few people showed up at the mall this weekend, with millions of pandemic-wary shoppers staying home to shop online.

The result? Overall holiday sales are projected to rise a slight 0.9% in November and December – and even that modest gain will be due to an explosion in online shopping, according to the research firm eMarketer. It expects online sales to jump nearly 36%, while sales at physical stores fall 4.7%.

The online rush was on full display Monday, known as Cyber Monday, a day of sales promoted by retailers back in 2005.

Once the final numbers are tallied up, this year's Cyber Monday is projected to become the biggest online shopping day in American history. 

Black Friday, typically the frenzied kickoff of the holiday shopping season, was eerily quiet this year. Health officials had warned shoppers to remain home, and stores followed suit by putting their best deals online to discourage crowds.

Half as many people shopped inside stores this Black Friday than last year, according to retail data company Sensormatic Solutions.

“Black Friday was really Bleak Friday,” says David Bassuk, a member of the retail practice at the consulting firm AlixPartners.

Online was a decidedly different story. Sales hit a record $9 billion on Black Friday – up a sharp 22% from last year, according to Adobe Analytics, which tracks online shopping.

Even though shoppers had weeks of online deals, many held out for bargains that they could get only on Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving. Amazon offered 30% off on board games and discounts on many of its gadgets. Target had 40% off Legos and robot vacuums for $75 off.

Cyber Monday was expected to generate as much as $12.7 billion in sales – a 35% jump from a year ago, according to Adobe Analytics.

A big unknown hanging over the shopping season is this: Will retailers be able to deliver all those online orders in time for Christmas? Retailers have been warning shoppers to buy early, because with far more people shopping online during the pandemic, shippers may become overwhelmed.

Prolonged delays could send people back to physical stores closer to Christmas, if many people decide that old-fashioned stores are a more reliable way to obtain their gifts on time, said Charlie O'Shea, a retail analyst at Moody's.

Sign up for our daily headlines newsletter

Top headlines are sent daily