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Retail Forecast for Holidays 2021

We all thought preparing for the 2020 holidays was challenging, but forecasters are finding it even harder to predict what will happen in 2021.

Consumers are flush with post-pandemic-quarantine savings and are ready to spend it. But where? Will they continue spending on jewelry? Will they shift gears and head out on pricey vacations? And how has the pandemic changed us as people - are our values and concerns different enough that they have changed the way we buy?

All these questions are being entertained by analysts of the retail trade, and none of them have great answers yet.

What we do know is that the 2020 US holiday season delivered better-than-expected growth in retail sales as large e-commerce gains contributed to a surprisingly positive physical retail performance. Despite the great economic uncertainty ahead, the early outlook for the 2021 holiday season is solid.

In the US, there is general consensus that total pre-holiday retail sales will increase around 2. 7% to $1,093 trillion in 2021, while seasonal e-commerce sales will increase 11. 3% to $206. 88 billion in 2021. E-commerce will create a record 18. 9% of total retail sales during the holiday season. Even with significant ecommerce growth, it looks like those shoppers plan to be in stores. A RetailBrew/Harris Poll in March indicated that 43% of respondents said they'll mostly shop in person post-pandemic. Less than a quarter (24%) reported that online shopping would be their primary channel.

The holidays in 2021 will be a different experience than those in 2020. They'll have different agendas. The arrival of higher wages, higher taxes, higher tariffs, and higher social-security contributions in 2020 will ratchet up the pressure on people to buy more but to use more discretion in their purchasing decisions. All analysts agree that the recovery will continue to be strong, but how that purchasing will be distributed is still a big question mark. Will the strong jewelry buying trend of 2020 weaken as people begin to spend more on entertainment, dining, and travel, or was a new love of fine jewelry sparked in the meantime?

As we come off the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s, many of the world’s economies continue to face economic challenges. There is still peril, with small-business closures and job losses in many countries. Additional government stimulus will help. Still, lingering concerns about our recovery and inflation, in the U.S. and overseas, remain.

It’s hard to imagine how one company’s promotions can affect the entire retail industry, but Amazon’s Prime Day has become just that disrupter. Prior to the pandemic, Prime Day took place in mid-July. In 2020 they moved that date to October, which had a significant impact on retail sales for everyone else, across all consumer goods industries. In 2021, Amazon moved Prime Day back to June, which sent a boost of traffic to all their third party sellers (many of which are small businesses), and should reduce some amount of Amazon's ability to rain on the rest of retail's holiday selling parade. Of course, Amazon being Amazon, there's no assurance that they won't host another Prime Day closer to the holiday season, so this is something for retailers to monitor.

Retail workers were spared the angst and overwork that comes with Black Friday schedules in 2020, and many retailers are saying they are not going to do Black Friday in 2021. Besides, Black Friday was already waning in influence in the three years prior to the pandemic. How Black Friday rolls out in 2021 is still a question to be answered.

At the time of this writing, many countries are going through 3rd and 4th waves of the pandemic as new variants disrupt business cycles anew. The United States' relatively high vaccination rates coupled with its relatively low inclination to let the pandemic affect business means Covid-19 is not likely to hinder retail further, though a particularly virulent new strain of the virus could do just that. So retail watchers (and business analysts in general) are staying tuned to the Covid-19 news for now.

While everyone still has more questions than answers about the 2021 holiday season, it’s good to start asking those questions now, so we can begin imagining smart responses to external conditions. Even more important than reacting to external factors though, is considering what our own goals and objectives for this holiday season will be. After all, the holiday shopping season begins in four short months!