An Election Week Full of Uncertainty Took a Toll on Consumer Spending — Can Retailers Make It Up This Holiday Season?

As Americans waited with collectively bated breath for the presidential election results last week, they clenched their pocketbooks, leading to a slowdown in consumer online spending for several days, according to new data from Adobe.

With Election Day falling on Nov. 3 — and the wait for results dragging into the days that followed — post-election spending slowed through November 7, Adobe determined after analyzing more than one trillion visits to U.S. retail sites and 100 million SKUs from 80 of the top 100 largest U.S. retailers.

U.S. consumers spent $1.9 billion online on the day after the election (Nov. 4), down 12% compared to the three days prior, while they spent $1.9 billion online on Nov. 5, a 2% decline year over year.

But the sentiment shifted slightly on Nov. 6 — perhaps motivated by early reads that started to indicate with more certainty who the next U.S. president might be — with online spending reaching $2.1 billion, a 9% year over year improvement. On Saturday, Nov. 7, as multiple news networks reported that former Vice President Joe Biden had beat out President Donald Trump to become the U.S. president-elect — consumer online spending hit $1.9 billion, up 11% year over year. While those gains were reassuring, they still fall significantly short of the projected growth for the overall season, which Adobe puts at 33%.

However, by Sunday, the overall slowing trend had reversed significantly, and consumer shopping patterns started to more closely match earlier predictions for a holiday season that started earlier than ever and is expected to see an unprecedented level of online spending. On Nov. 8, consumer spending came in at $2.5 billion, marking year over year growth of 26%. The upward trajectory continued through Nov. 9, with spending at $2.4 billion, a gain of 24% year over year, and Nov. 10 at $2.5 billion, up 27% year over year.

The pattern, indicated Adobe, is a good sign for retailers hoping to cash in on holiday season momentum after a challenging few months plagued by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Despite the slowdown in consumer spending, as election results unfolded, there are enough big shopping days ahead to make up lost ground,” said Taylor Schreiner, director at Adobe Digital Insights. “In spite of earlier discounting, the days, including Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, have great staying power and are expected to set new records, with growth in the 35 to 40 percent range.”

Adobe today reaffirmed its holiday sales forecasts and continues to expect that $189 billion will be spent online in the U.S. from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, a 33% year over year improvement, or two years of growth in a single season.

While fears of more surges and renewed lockdowns loom large, Adobe suggests that if consumers receive another round of stimulus checks or physical stores are required to shut down in large parts of the country, they will simply shift spending to online  — adding another $11 billion to the online spending tally and pushing spending up 47% year over year.

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