Business has been anything but usual this holiday season, especially in the digital retail world. The holiday hustle and bustle historically seen in stores was once again occurring online, but not as anticipated given the current strength of consumer demand and the reemergence of COVID-19 limiting in-store traffic. While ‘Cyber Weekend’, Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, continues to further its importance to retailers and brands, this year’s performance fell short of expectation due to product shortages and earlier promotions that pulled forward holiday demand.
Holiday promotions were seen beginning as early as October in order to compete with 2020 Prime Day sales, but discounting, pricing and availability took an opposite direction from usual. This shift influenced our team to get a jump start on our 2021 digital holiday analysis to assess how drastic the changes were versus 2020 activity, and to understand how much of this change has been influenced by inflationary pressures and product scarcity.
Scarcity Becomes a Reality
Our initial analysis started by reviewing year-over-year product availability and pricing changes from January through September 2021, leading up to the holiday season, as detailed in our 2021 Cyber Weekend Preliminary Insights blog. We reviewed popular holiday categories like apparel, electronics, and toys, to have a broad sense of notable trends seen consistently throughout various, applicable marketplaces. What we found was a consistent decline in product availability over the last six months compared to last year, alongside an increase in prices.
Although retailers significantly improved stock availability in November and early December 2021, even digital commerce giants like Amazon and Target were challenged to maintain consistent product availability on their website as seen below. While small in magnitude, there is also a declining trend occurring again closer toward the end of our analysis period, post Cyber Weekend, across all websites included in our analysis.
Greater Discounts, Higher Prices?
With inflation at a thirty-nine year high, retailers and manufacturers have realized they can command higher prices without impacting demand as consumers have shown their willingness to pay the price, especially when threatened by product scarcity. Our assessment is that while some products and categories have responded drastically, manufacturers’ suggested retail prices (MSRPs) have increased nearly seven percent on average from January to December 2021. MSRP adjustments are not taken lightly either, as this is an indication increased prices will be part of a longer-term shift in product strategy.
Our 2021 pre-Cyber Weekend analysis reviewed MSRP changes for select categories (Bed & Bath, Electronics, Furniture, Healthy & Beauty, and Fashion) on Amazon and Target.com, and found around forty-eight percent of products on Amazon and thirty-five percent of products on Target.com have increased their MSRPs year-over-year, but kept pre-holiday discount percentages the same.
Looking more specifically as to what year-over-year changes occurred on Black Friday in 2021, we observed MSRPs increasing across the board for all categories at various magnitudes. This indicates why 2021 discounts appeared to be greater than or equivalent to 2020 for many categories, when in reality consumers paid a higher price than they would have in 2020 for the same items.
On Amazon.com, categories like health & beauty have already increase MSRPs by a much greater percentage and magnitude versus Target.com leading up to and during Black Friday 2021, while other categories like furniture have increased MSRPs evenly on average across both retail websites. The below chart cites a few specific examples of year-over-year SKU-level MSRP, promotional price, and discount changes within found within the electronics, furniture, fashion, and health & beauty categories.
Fewer, but Deeper Discounts
From October through early November 2021, fewer products were discounted compared to this same period in 2020, and the few that were saw much deeper discounts apart from the home improvement category. The most extreme example we saw in discounts offered was within furniture where only three percent of SKUs were on discount in 2021 compared to twenty-six percent in 2020. Interestingly, the magnitude of discount was also higher pre-Cyber Weekend 2021 versus 2020, but this trend was not exclusive to furniture and was also seen within electronics, health & beauty, and home improvement.
Within the furniture category, the subcategories offering the greatest number of SKUs with price decreases on Black Friday 2021 were rugs by a wide margin, followed by cabinets, bed and bath, and entertainment units, but the magnitude of discounts offered were all under twenty percent.
Accounting for this phenomenon could have been retailers’ attempts to clear inventory for SKUs which hadn’t sold even during the period of severe supply chain shortages. With more products selling at higher prices this year, retailers were also able to use fewer SKUs with greater discounts to attract buyer in hopes of filling their digital baskets with more full-priced goods, helping to protect margins heading in to Cyber Weekend. Scarcity threats also encouraged consumers to buy early, even when not on promotion, to ensure they would have gifts in time for the holidays.
The same trends seen pre-Cyber Weekend 2021 were also seen on Black Friday with a year-over-year decrease in the percentage of SKUs offered on discount versus 2020, and steeper price reductions for the discounted products which can also be attributed to the increase in MSRPs.
2021 Black Friday Price Increases?
We all know Black Friday is all about price reductions, discounts and deals and so it’s rare to see actual price increases, yet for Black Friday 2021, trends ran counter to this. We observed price increases across all categories for around thirteen to nineteen percent of SKUs, with an average price increase of around fifteen percent in 2021 versus an average of only two percent in 2020.
At an account level, we noticed a few interesting differences happening on Black Friday 2021 versus 2020 regarding category price changes. On Target.com, almost ninety percent of the bed and bath SKUs analyzed had a price change on Black Friday in 2021 versus 2020 with eighty-two percent presenting a higher price year-over-year versus only around seven percent showing a decrease, where on Amazon nearly forty-four percent of bed and bath SKUs showed an increase in price and around thirty-eight percent showed a decrease. Except for the health and beauty category on Target.com, more than half of the SKUs in each category saw a price increase on Black Friday versus a price decrease.
The magnitude of year-over-year price changes seen on Black Friday 2021 was significant across all categories, but the magnitude of price increases found on Amazon.com within the health and beauty category outpaced the rest by far. We reviewed three hundred and sixty-five SKUs on Amazon.com within the health & beauty category and saw almost eighty-three percent of them had a price change with around thirty-one percent decreasing prices and around fifty-two percent increasing prices. This means that within the health & beauty category on Amazon.com, more than fifty percent of the SKUs tracked were sold at a one hundred and seventy-six percent higher price on average during Black Friday 2021 versus 2020.
The subcategories offering the greatest number of SKUs with price increases on Black Friday 2021 were cameras, followed by men’s fragrances, laptops, and desktops & accessories, but the magnitude of discounts offered were all under ten percent.
The Aftermath Post-2021 Cyber Weekend
Extending this analysis beyond the holiday weekend, we analyzed price change activity from December third through the ninth across the top US retailers (chart below) and found that price decreases have been very minimal, comparatively speaking. Though there was a spike in number of price decreases from December 8th to the 9th, the percentage of SKUs with price decreases was still very low (less than three percent). We anticipate this trend will continue into 2022.
A Sign of Things to Come
A confluence of inflationary trends, product shortages and consumer liquidity have driven many marketplace changes to occur simultaneously. Government programs in the form of stimulus checks, have put extra money in consumers’ hands, and so they’ve been more willing to spend. That, coupled with the shock in the supply chain, has motivated people to buy far ahead of the 2021 holiday season. Hence, retailers have needed to rely much less on across-the-board discounts. Promotions have been more strategic – we’ve seen deeper discounts over fewer products, likely used to draw consumers in to buy certain items, and once they’re there, customers are buying everything else at a non-discount level. When these factors once again normalize, we could see a return to the “race to the bottom” that has occurred since the financial crisis of 2008-2009, but for once, retailers may be able to maintain some pricing power as the 2021 holiday shopping season played out.
Even though performance was not as anticipated and holiday sales did not grow as rapidly as they did in 2020, Cyber Monday was still the greatest online shopping day in 2021. Through it all, retailers managed to keep their digital shelves stocked and orders filled in time for the holidays for the most part, running the risk of housing aged inventory if goods didn’t arrive in time. Despite predictions for steep promotions in January 2022, with supply chains still challenged and inflationary pressures still full steam ahead, we don’t anticipate much in the way of enhanced discounts to continue beyond the holidays.
Access to these types of real-time digital marketplace insights can enable retailers and brands to make strategic decisions like how and when to address inflationary pressures, while also supporting many other day-to-day operations and help drive profitable growth in an intensifying competitive environment. Continue to follow us in the coming weeks for a detailed 2021 year-end review across more retailers and categories. Be sure to reach out to our Retail Analytics experts for access to more details regarding the above analysis.
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