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Online holiday sales to hit record but expect to see ‘out-of-stock’ more often, Adobe says

That disappointing message is already popping up at more than three times the level of 2019, and it’s not going away, says Vivek Pandya, lead analyst with Adobe Digital Insights.

Adobe forecasts that U.S. holiday online sales will hit $208 billion, setting a record and up 10% from 2020, when the pandemic made e-commerce an essential service to consumers.

It was only 2017 when online shopping hit $100 billion for the first time during the November through December period.

The milestone won’t be without some hitches for consumers and retailers due to supply chain issues and higher prices, according to Adobe’s holiday forecast released Wednesday.

Already, out-of-stock messages have risen 172% from a year ago and are at more than three times the level of 2019, said Vivek Pandya, lead analyst with Adobe Digital Insights, adding that he’s expecting those levels to remain elevated.

Of the 18 categories of merchandise Adobe follows, apparel has the highest out-of-stock levels now, followed by sporting goods, baby products and electronics.

And there will be smaller discounts on the days that retailers have trained shoppers to expect the biggest price cuts — Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday.

U.S. consumers will pay 9% more on average during those promotional days, and online prices are already up 3% from a year ago, Pandya said. “Some households will absorb the higher prices, and others will rethink their spending,” he said.

Shoppers accustomed to historical average discounts of 10% to 30% that week will see more modest offers of 5% to 25% off, he said.

“As e-commerce becomes more ubiquitous, the major shopping days are losing their prominence,” Pandya said.

Cyber Monday will again be the biggest online e-commerce day of the season with sales of $11.3 billion, but it’s forecast to be up just 4% from a year ago, well below the 15% gain last year and 17% rise in 2019.

The forecast is similar for Black Friday and Thanksgiving, which had become a strong online day even before the pandemic, pulling sales forward from the long Black Friday weekend as retailers tried to get a jump on shoppers’ spending.

The Adobe Digital Economic Index forecast is based on more than 1 trillion visits to U.S. retail sites tracked by Adobe Analytics. Here are some other key findings:

  • Consumers are embracing “buy now and pay later” as a way to free up cash during the holidays. More retailers are offering the option, and shoppers are using it for less-expensive items than last year. Online revenue from buy now, pay later transactions is up 10% this year and is 45% higher than 2019.
  • Curbside pickup was used by 25% of all online orders last December, and Adobe forecasts that it will retake the spotlight, remaining at that level in November and peaking to a record of 40% of online orders in the days before Christmas. The reason: Shoppers will become worried about online shipping delays.

Twitter: @MariaHalkias

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Maria Halkias, Staff writer. Maria Halkias has covered the retail scene for The Dallas Morning News since 1993. She has chronicled the stark changes in grocery, malls, e-commerce, major bankruptcies and local retail entrepreneurs.

mhalkias@dallasnews.com /maria.halkias @MariaHalkias mariahalkias LinkedIn Iconhttps://www.linkedin.com/in/MariaHalkias
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