The fourth quarter of the year is by far the most lucrative time of the year for most retailers and brands with numerous shopping events, deals and promotions leading up to the big day itself. However, it has been another challenging year for the retail sector. The combined impact of COVID-19 and Brexit has continued to bring uncertainty and shape consumer buying habits. So what does 2021 have in store? We’ve rounded up network and industry data from last year to explore what we expect to see this year:

Last year, online sales were at an all-time high due to lockdown and many consumers were forced to shop online. Despite bricks and mortar stores now being open, it’s still uncertain whether shoppers may still prefer to shop online due and avoid crowded shopping centres in light of rising covid cases in the UK. In fact, data from the IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index predicts that online sales could be down as much as 10% year on year against strong comparables in 2020.

In 2020, we saw retailers starting their sales promotions much earlier due to the shift online and increased competition. Historically, we’ve seen consumers traditionally begin researching offers and promotions in the days preceding Black Friday and a spike in purchases on this day. However, last year, consumers took advantage of the early and longer-running Cyber Week deals offered by retailers and began their shopping early. Our network data showed that European shoppers started purchasing the weekend before Black Friday and continued shopping throughout the week leading up to the big day.

Data from the IMRG backs this up and shows that Black Friday campaigns are beginning earlier, spreading spending throughout November. 33% of retailers are predicted to have Sales by the end of the second week. This is likely to be a combination of retailers trying to attract spend before their competitors and retailers spreading out the peak so that their fulfilment operations can cope with any spikes in demand.

Throughout the pandemic, there was a significant increase in new-to-online shoppers. The impact of this was notable during Cyber Week in particular, and on Sunday 22nd November, our affiliate network saw a staggering 127% increase in the number of orders Year-on-Year (YoY) in the UK market alone, which continued through the week. Wednesday 25th saw the biggest increase in sales compared to last year, with the average order value (AOV) also peaking on this day – shoppers spent 37% more on average than last year.

The trend towards early sales was also reflected across Europe. In Germany, Sunday 22nd saw the largest increase YoY in the number of orders (184%) and Wednesday 25th November was the biggest day for sales. Last year, the French government took the decision to postpone Black Friday in an attempt to level the playing field for smaller businesses after the pandemic. This did not dampen consumers’ appetite for online shopping. In fact, there was a significant increase in the number of online orders compared to Cyber Week last year on Sunday 22nd, which resulted in a staggering sales increase of 202% YoY.

Despite shoppers purchasing throughout Cyber Week – Black Friday continued to provide ‘a peak within a peak’. With the nation in lockdown, consumers were online shopping and our hourly conversion data revealed that sales conversions were highest at 8pm in the UK.

In terms of verticals, over both Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Apparel and Accessories drove the highest volume of sales across Europe. Beauty and Personal Care came in second, followed by Jewellery.

For more shopping trends and insights from the golden quarter, you can download our 2021 Peak Planning guide here. The guide examines regional and global consumer purchasing trends from the 2020 peak season and provides strategic guidance based on shopping behaviour to drive optimal performance.