US retail ecommerce sales during the 2015 holiday season, which comprises November and December, lived up to lofty expectations, but overall retail sales fell short of forecasts. eMarketer’s latest report, “US Holiday Shopping Preview 2016: Absorbing the Lessons of 2015,” explains why, looking forward to the 2016 holiday season, we expect another strong season for ecommerce and a tepid one for total retail sales.
Two competing stories emerged from the 2015 holiday season. On one hand, ecommerce had another terrific season, with sales growing 13.4%. On the other hand, retail sales overall fell flat, growing just 1.7%, the slowest rate since the depths of the Great Recession in 2008–2009 and well below eMarketer forecasts.
US retail ecommerce holiday sales growth in 2015 came in a touch below the previous year's rate of 14.4%, but in some ways it was more impressive. In absolute terms, ecommerce sales grew by $9.33 billion in 2015, compared with an $8.76 billion increase in 2014. And because overall retail grew more slowly during the 2015 season, the ecommerce share of total retail climbed at a faster rate in 2015 than in 2014, increasing a full percentage point, to 9.3%.
The single biggest year-over-year increase for ecommerce sales was on December 23. Adobe measured a 56% growth rate in ecommerce sales. “People know that they can shop later because they know that it will be delivered,” said Lauren Freedman, president of the e-tailing group. “We saw that the average number of days to ship [via] ground delivery was about 3.45. This year, there were 10% of the retailers [in our study] that actually shipped in one day. ... Retailers feel a logistical sense of urgency to deliver faster.&rdquo
Retailers extended the season by improving their efficiency and logistical prowess, enabling later cut-off dates. “Retailers improved on overall execution,” said Steve Osburn, retail supply chain strategist at Kurt Salmon. “In the last minutes leading up to Christmas, we saw better execution. Retailers gave consumers about a day longer to shop and had better success rates than they did in 2014.”
In a December Reuters/Ipsos survey of US internet users, 25% of respondents said that same-day delivery was important for holiday purchases, while 39% said it was unimportant. Although those who dismissed same-day delivery outnumbered those who liked it, it could be a differentiating factor useful for attracting some wavering customers.
eMarketer corporate subscription clients can view the full report here.