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Discover Black Friday Buying Trends This Holiday Season


Despite the uncertainty of a lingering pandemic, 2021 looks to be a big holiday shopping year. Buyer preferences continue to evolve as surviving legacy brands go digital and ecommerce brands improve on the shopping experience.

Ecommerce experts frequently base their holiday sales outlook on Amazon Prime Day – a mid-year sales event that many feared would take away from holiday sales but has actually served to increase ecommerce’s retail market share year-round (holidays included). And even though Amazon missed its sales forecasts, Prime Day (July 2021) still overtook last year’s record-breaking performance by more than 7%. 

Economic recovery and rising employment also impact consumer spending. The increase in disposable income allows buyers to feel more financially stable as they approach the holidays.

Line graph depicting quarterly sales growth peaking in Q2 of 2020 compared to predicted growth in 2021
Image via Insider Intelligence

Brands are now planning their Black Friday/Cyber Monday 2021 sales events. From bulking up inventory to adding channels and recruiting social media creators, there is much to be done, and waiting to plan until after Halloween is no longer an option.

What about holiday shopping has changed since COVID-19?

In short, brick-and-mortar shopping is slow to improve while digital sales are higher than ever. Brands are getting smarter about how they use cost-effective digital features and social media to customize the shopping experience.

2020 was a wild year for retail. Staple goods providers turned over inventory too quickly while supply lines faltered. Luxury brands pivoted toward consumers in lockdown, and media streaming services enjoyed record subscriptions.

Where distributors couldn’t keep up with demand, direct-to-consumer brands filled in the gaps, provided never-before-seen white glove experiences for niche audiences, and offset in-store drops in sales with skyrocketing online purchases.

What does post-pandemic consumer behavior look like for ecommerce brands?

“A recent e-commerce report… found that 29% of U.S. consumers surveyed said they will shop for items online more than they did before the pandemic. The survey… covered the time frame from April 2020 through March 2021. It predicts that between 20% and 30% of the global COVID-related shift to online purchasing would become permanent.”

Yahoo News, July 2021

Brands are smarter. Agile processes enable retailers to transition in-and-out of economic responses to the lingering pandemic with relative ease. Improved digital marketplaces and social commerce features offer unprecedented assistance to brands that want to stay connected to their customers and make quick adjustments.

But consumers are smarter, too. It’s not that consumers are spending more or less. Rather, they are more careful about what they buy. Before they invest in a product or service, they are less willing to “try it out” and more interested in getting their purchase right the first time.

For this reason, user-generated content is more valuable than ever. Meaty product reviews, recommendations from friends/family, and authentic brand endorsements from popular creators/celebrities help the average consumer assess whether a particular product is right for them.

“Unfortunately, many brands today think they can shortcut trust. They pay personalities to promote products they don’t actually use or believe in. The result is influencer marketing that feels fake and inauthentic, breeding distrust (and anger) among consumers. The reality is, consumers don’t hate influencers—they just hate being sold a lie.”

– GRIN, Authentic Influencer Marketing

And when people talk about your brand, they are just as likely to express delight in their experience with your brand as they are to share opinions about the quality of your products. Today, countless brands can put out a good product, but only a handful of those brands can deliver a quality product in such a way that delights their target audience.

“The customer experience encompasses every single interaction that a customer has with your company… I believe that everyone has a role in the customer experience, even if you’re not directly customer-facing. Everyone’s in the business of customer service.”

Dan Gingiss, author of Winning at Social Customer Care

How early should brands start planning for Black Friday/Cyber Monday (BFCM)?

Holiday sales event planning is going to look different from one brand to another. 

If you have the margin to do so, you can start planning your Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales events a full year in advance. Advantages to this approach include:

  • More time to identify ideal price points for promotions and exclusive offers
  • Better buy-in from leaders and team members
  • Improved cooperation among your marketing, website, and product development teams
  • More time to test new messaging, channels, and content

But planning campaigns a year in advance may not be feasible for all brands. For example, many retail startups have to be agile and accommodate shorter timelines.

Regardless, shoppers are increasingly hoping to beat the holiday crowds as early as October. And in light of widespread inventory depletion last year, shoppers are determined to plan ahead.

Bar chart depicting when consumers are more likely to begin holiday shopping in the US as of September 2020
Image via Statista

For this reason, most brands begin taking Black Friday/Cyber Monday planning seriously during or immediately after their Back-to-School campaigns in August, and the best way to plan ahead is to take a look at available Black Friday buying trends.

6 Cyber Monday Black Friday buying trends to watch in 2021

1. High employment means more disposable incomes.

2020 was a difficult year of layoffs and business closures. But after a year’s worth of digital transformation and new employers, gainful employment in the United States is better than it’s been in nearly five years.

Bar chart depicting the employment rate increasing in the US from July 2020 to June 2021
Image via Trading Economics

This boost in disposable incomes should give retailers confidence to deliver a quality product with an amazing customer experience to the right crowd.  

2. Payment options are giving consumers more flexibility for borrowing, spending, and saving.

Including additional ways to pay for an order doesn’t just mean consumers borrowing to complete a purchase. But seeing as how charge accounts, credit cards, and BNPL (buy now pay later) options greatly impact holiday sales, brands that leverage those options outperform those that don’t.

And thankfully, brands don’t have to be lenders to offer BNPL. Choosing a POS system that accepts all major credit cards and/or partnering with retail lenders like Affirm will attract more buyers while offsetting the risks associated with consumer lending.

Bar chart depicting buy now, pay later service users in the US from 2019 to 2023
Image via Insider Intelligence

By including additional payment options, including loyalty points, Apple Pay, cryptocurrency, and PayPal, consumers can accomplish more shopping in fewer clicks. These payment hacks allow buyers to transact while running errands, talking with friends/family, on work breaks, and so much more.

3. Millennial & Gen Z consumers are the leading demographic for ecommerce sales.

It’s official – no other generation spends like the new working ages of 25-44. Brands that want to stay connected with Millennials and Gen Z-ers must reach them on channels where they are most active, like Instagram and TikTok

Table of digital buyers in the US by Age from 2019 to 2025
Image via Insider Intelligence

Millennials are the first generation to embrace digital tools in every facet of life, while Gen Z-ers are the first generation to be born into a digital society. 

That’s why omnichannel sales/marketing is critical. Consumer demand for frictionless shopping requires brands to establish a strong ecommerce presence and ensure that all other channels sync for a uniformed, premium customer experience.

4. Personalization is more important than ever.

Brands that make assumptions about their audience fail to deliver what buyers want and need. 

Personalization doesn’t mean that you have to invest in enterprise-level “bells and whistles.” Rather, it means “tuning in” to who your ideal customers are and what they want.

This mindset is the heart and soul of personalization. You can deliver an incredible customer experience just as effectively with an authentic message as you can with virtual reality dressing rooms. 

CNBC interviewed John Donahoe, CEO of Nike, about the retail outlook for Fall 2021. Mr. Donahoe announced that Nike’s focus on customer experience allowed the brand to provide products, delivery, and innovation that are uniquely shopper-centric. This mindset also informed decision-makers to embrace digital connectivity at every opportunity.

Brands that adjust their business model to “stay connected to the customer” ultimately get ahead and stay ahead. Nike’s agile mindset not only enhanced their marketing, it also improved their products and the way in which they delivered those products.

5. Mobile shopping is predicted to push ecommerce growth more than any other device.

When it comes to dollars, desktop computer sales outrank the rest. Buyers are more likely to use their computers for high-ticket items (presumably to make it easier to perform due diligence).

But when it comes to purchase frequency, more items are bought on mobile devices than through any other medium (including in-person purchases). 

Table of US retail holiday season sales in 2020 and 2021
Image via Insider Intelligence

More importantly, mobile buying (mcommerce) is the fastest-growing sales channel. This trend highlights how essential it is to have a mobile-friendly ecommerce website, as well as why in-app sales on social media are great for supplementing your website sales.

6. Influencers are driving social commerce.

In light of 2021 Black Friday/Cyber Monday buying trends, it comes as no surprise that social media creators have more influence than ever before. 

Regardless of influencer size/status, followers care about what their favorite creators think when it comes to what products and services they need. These creators are highly effective at nurturing vibrant online communities that share common aspirations, lifestyles, and values.

That’s why more marketers are increasing their influencer budgets this holiday season (over previous years).

“Just as you give your influencer team VIP access to sneak peeks, you should do the same with holiday discount codes. This benefit allows your influencers to stock up and share more about your brand on social media.”

– GRIN, Best Black Friday Promotions with Influencers

The key to leveraging creators for social commerce is identifying influencers who genuinely love your products. Insincere brand endorsements alienate buyers, while authentic brand promotions boost brand awareness, engagement, and sales dramatically.

How can ecommerce brands stand out during the holidays?

The best thing that you can do to stand out from the crowd is to know your customer and build relationships with those customers.

Small red gift box in tiny shopping cart depicting Black Friday buying trends

If you master this first step, you will know what your next steps are. And because nurturing relationships takes time, the sooner you make plans for this holiday season, the greater your Black Friday/Cyber Monday success will be.

Maintaining a customer-centric mindset will help shed light on trends and tools unique to your industry. These insights will lower your customer acquisition costs while increasing customer loyalty.

Conclusion: Leverage creators to enhance your Black Friday/Cyber Monday promotions.

Few people are as aware of consumer mindsets like today’s top-performing social media influencers.

These influencers are consumers themselves with a keen sense of how their message impacts follower behavior. As active community builders, their product endorsements don’t just draw attention, they also compel followers to take action.

That’s why one of the best ways to accelerate your brand-customer relationships is to collaborate with creators. By investing in creator partnerships, your brand can get the social proof it needs to scale faster within your ideal target audience.

Special thanks to our friends at Grin.co for their insights on this topic.
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