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The $183 Billion Boost COVID-19 Served to Online Retailers — And Why Trillions in Revenues Could Be Around the Corner

Without question, COVID-19 has dealt multiple unprecedented blows to millions of people — and scores of industries — around the world.

But as more data surfaces about the economic fallout stemming from the global health crisis, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the virus has had an uneven effect — in some cases astronomically boosting whole sectors and businesses while simultaneously ushering others into insolvency.

And very few channels or sectors saw the advances experienced by digital in the year since the coronavirus took hold in the United States.

In fact, according to a report today by Adobe, from March 2020 to February 2021, COVID-19 gave e-commerce an extra boost of $183 billion, which amount to nearly the size of the last holiday shopping season, where $188.2 billion were spent online between November and December 2020. All told, within the 12-month period from March to February 2021, $844 billion was spent online. (For reference, in calendar year 2020, $813 billion was spent online, representing growth of 42% over 2019.)

And perhaps unsurprisingly, the growth is not expected to slow down in a post-pandemic climate. In fact, the opposite is true: At current growth rates, Adobe expects the 2021 calendar year to generate online revenues of between $850 billion and $930 billion. What’s more, 2022 is expected to be the first trillion-dollar year for e-commerce, per Adobe’s tally.

“The pandemic produced a rare step change in online spending, equivalent to a 20% boost, and future growth is expected to build off of this gain,” said Adobe, which based its report on analysis through its Analytics platform that looks at one-trillion-plus visits to U.S. retail sites and over 100 million SKUs.

As has been the case with much of the research on pandemic retail trends, Adobe predicts that many COVID-19-inspired changes will persist well into the future, including the importance of convenient services like buy online pickup in store and buy now pay later.

For instance, BNPL already skyrocketed 215% year-over-year in the first two months of 2021 with consumers who use this service placing orders that are 18% larger than those of other shoppers, per Adobe. Meanwhile, BOPIS in February notched growth of 67 % year-over-year, attracting coronavirus-weary consumers who are keen to limit their time in stores but also don’t want to be bogged down by shipping delays. In a separate Adobe survey of over 1,000 U.S. consumers, 30% of online shoppers indicated they prefer curbside and in-store pickup over standard delivery options.

When it comes to products, Adobe also found a persistent theme among coronavirus-friendly categories such as home goods, which continue to rise at the expense of apparel and other discretionary items. (Adobe did not delve into footwear in its report, but data from The NPD Group has shown that consumers continue to dedicate more of their wallet share to comfort and athletic footwear amid the pandemic.)

Lastly, the pandemic could lead to a de-prioritizing of branded holidays as a shopping catalyst. Case in point: As online shopping became a “ubiquitous daily activity” during the health crisis, Memorial Day 2020 commerce grew 20% less than other days that week and resulted in $32 million less revenue, Adobe said. At the same time, Labor Day 2020 garnered $40 million less revenue while President’s Day saw $22 million less in sales. The five days between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday 2020 also contributed 9% less to revenue share during the holiday season, equivalent to $600 million lower than the previous year.

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