- Amazon’s sales on Prime Day hit US$10.4bn globally over the two-day period spanning 13 and 14 October, up 44% year on year.
- Prime Day sales for SME retailers on the Amazon marketplace increased 60% year on year.
- Singles Day shopping festival (which went on for +10 days) saw a total of US$75bn sales on Alibaba (+93%) and a further US$41bn on JD.com (+33%).
- Total US sales for Black Friday turned out to be US$9bn, up 21.6% year on year.
- According to Adobe’s data, a record US$10.8bn was spent online by the end of Cyber Monday, an increase of 15.1% year on year.
The past year has been an unusual year, to say the least. After first drawing the world’s attention in January, the COVID-19 virus has gradually spread to severely affect most countries in the world. As national governments imposed strict lockdowns, markets across the world have suffered. Along with them, many retail outlets suffered too with reduced footfall and sales. This was caused by three main factors:
- The closure of most non-essential shops due to lockdown measures.
- Consumers are hesitant to go to crowded areas out of fear of infection, including shops, high streets and shopping malls.1
- The economic recession and the increased economic uncertainty has impacted consumers’ purchasing power.2 Europe, more so than North America and Asia, will be hard hit, with almost a third of consumers believing that COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on the economy.3
As consumers are staying home, life has moved online at an increased pace. Remote working has become the norm across many sectors, while Zoom, Teams and the like have become commonplace. Retail has also moved online, with e-commerce sales increasing over the past months.4 Shopping patterns have also changed: in the UK, while some industries have flourished throughout the lockdown, such as health and fitness, sales in others, including fashion retailers, have plummeted.5
Over the past years, e-commerce sales tended to be particularly high during the last quarter of the year, with major sales and holidays boosting volumes. During normal years, Singles Day held on 11 November would kick off the holiday season, being the first in a series of e-commerce peak days. This year, however, the season kicked off a bit earlier as Amazon’s Prime Day was postponed from mid-July to mid-October. With Prime Day moving into the holiday peak season, it is expected to take some volumes from Black Friday and Cyber weekend.6 Moreover, Alibaba’s Singles Day promotion was held over ten days, starting on 1 November.7 The sales period not only started earlier, but it also came close to Amazon Prime Day, with a bit over two weeks between the two promotions. Many retailers also launched early Black Friday deals in the week running up to the actual day, resulting in even less time between the two events.
Over the past decade, we have seen every peak season break the e-commerce sales records set the previous year. This year will be no exception, but with e-commerce sales already being higher than usual, 2020’s peak season might see exceptional growth, at least in share of total retail sales. Deloitte, for instance, is expecting holiday e-commerce sales to surge by 25% to 35%.8 We do need to note that this year’s conditions are different than previous years, with increased online shopping, longer sales events and less time between the events. Therefore, a comparison will be difficult to make.
In this article, we will give an overview of the main e-commerce trends and sales as they come in. We start with Amazon Prime Day (13-14/10), Alibaba’s Singles Day (11/11) and Black Friday (27/11).
Amazon Prime Day
- Amazon’s sales on Prime Day hit US$10.4bn globally over the two-day period spanning 13 and 14 October, up 44% from US$7.2bn during the 48-hour event in July 2019, according to an analysis by Digital Commerce 360.9
- Prime Day sales for SME retailers on the Amazon marketplace increased 60% year on year.
- The best-selling products in the US were, once again, Amazon’s own products: its Alexa-enabled Echo Dot, gift card reloads, Amazon Smart Plug, Fire TV Stick and Echo Show 5. Other big sellers include iRobot Roomba Robot Vacuum, LifeStraw Personal Water Filter and LEGO Star Wars Stormtrooper Helmet.10
Amazon Prime Day is a yearly event where subscribers of its premium Prime programme can pick up special deals on the Amazon marketplace. While Amazon did not disclose total sales figures, it did report that SME sellers on its marketplace made more than US$3.5bn during Prime Day, a 60% increase from last year’s sales. The company also said that third-party sellers’ sales grew more year over year than Amazon’s retail business.11
- Alibaba’s Singles Day sales totalled US$75bn between 1 and 11 November.
- JD.com sales totalled US$41bn during its ten-day sales event.
Singles Day is one of the major e-commerce holidays, often seeing more sales than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.12
The event — also known as Double 11 — is pegged to China's informal, anti-Valentine's Day holiday that celebrates people who aren't in relationships. It takes place on 11 November, a date that was chosen because it is written as four ones, or singles.
With 2020 being a difficult year for most brands and retailers, many Chinese sellers focused on Singles Day to make up for the economic impact caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As China reported encouraging economic recovery over the second half of 2020, the Chinese e-commerce market seemed poised to see strong e-commerce growth.
Alibaba started offering Singles Day discounts in 2009 and since then the event has been breaking e-commerce sales records year after year.
On Thursday 12 November 2020, Alibaba announced that this year’s event recorded the highest number of e-commerce sales ever with a total of RMB498.2bn (US$75bn), a 93% year-on-year increase. The total includes an earlier three-day period that was added to boost post-pandemic sales.13
Other Chinese e-commerce platforms like JD.com, Pinduoduo and Red, as well as regular brick-and-mortar stores also took part. JD reported a new sales record of RMB271.5bn (US$41bn), growing 33% compared to last year.14
Black Friday and Cyber Monday
- Shopify – a global e-commerce sales platform – announced that it had seen a very strong growth of sales among e-commerce merchants using its online platform. From 27 November through 30 November, total sales on the platform grew by 76% from the US$2.9bn reported for Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend in 2019.15
- Total US sales for Black Friday turned out to be US$9bn.
- Compared to 2019, PostNord handled approximately 26% more parcels in Norway, 26% more in Sweden, 38% more in Denmark and 70% more in Finland.
- Canada Post reported that Black Friday and Cyber Monday e-commerce sales, which saw some retailers kick-off sales as early as the prior Monday, were up more than 42% year-on-year for the sales period as 2.2m households around the country went online to score some sales.
Meanwhile in the US, in-store shopping fell 55% on Thanksgiving and 37% on Black Friday, compared with same period in 2019.16
Expectations were high - eMarketer estimated that Cyber Monday would once again be the biggest online spending day in US history with sales of US$12.89Bn, up 38.3% from previous year. Black Friday was expected to be the second-biggest day of the season, with sales anticipated to increase by 39.4% to US$10.20bn.17
Total US sales for Black Friday turned out to be US$9bn, falling short of the estimated growth due to the postponed Amazon Prime Day making a dent in the holiday spending just before Black Friday discounts happened. The total e-commerce sales on Black Friday were up 21.6% year over year, according to Adobe, which analyses website transactions from 80 of the top 100 US online retailers.18
According to Adobe’s data, a record US$10.8bn was spent online by the end of Cyber Monday, an increase of 15.1% year on year. While not as high as some estimates, these figures make it the largest online shopping day in US history and beating last year’s US$9.4bn record.
In the UK, the year 2020 has seen a 74% surge in online shopping because of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns. As many as 45% of adults in the UK received more parcels during the lockdown than ever before.
The latest research from Whistl on the impact of lockdown measures on online shopping behaviour has found that 64% of the UK population consider shopping online to be the new normal. The figure rises to 70% for those at home during the day including working from home and on furlough.19
With UK retailers expecting 90% of their customers to shop online for Black Friday, an extended period of sales in 2020 was introduced by many with retailers with an early kick-off and discounts being available until Sunday night.
UK figures from Barclaycard show payments made in physical stores and online fell by more than 10% compared with Black Friday a year ago. Barclaycard shared that overall payments made to retailers between midnight and 4pm on Black Friday had plunged by 16.7% compared with the same time a year ago.
Nevertheless, Shopify released figures from its online platform, where it saw 122% year-on-year sales growth during the 27-30 November period for UK merchants using its platform.
In early December, Royal Mail revealed the top ten areas where shoppers made the most online purchases over the course of Black Friday weekend in 2020. Rural locations dominate the top ten list. For many of these customers, online shopping has become central to their way of life as they have negotiated the impact of lockdown.20
According to research from Royal Mail, nearly half (45%) of UK adults received more parcel deliveries in the first lockdown. The research revealed that parcel deliveries had an emotional significance for many during lockdown, with more than a third (36%) claiming that receiving a parcel is the highlight of their day.
In the Nordics – Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland – the volume of e-commerce parcels resulting from Black Friday – which has now become an entire week of reduced prices and discounted offers – was already expected to be unusually high due to the coronavirus pandemic and associated limited opportunities to shop in physical stores.
PostNord reported that it had processed 9.1m parcels and letter packets in the Nordic region during the Black Week (23–29 November 2020), which is an increase of over 31% compared to 2019, when the volume was 6.9m parcels.22
Parcel volumes were very high in all PostNord’s markets. Compared to 2019, PostNord handled approximately 26% more parcels in Norway, 26% more in Sweden, 38% more in Denmark and 70% more in Finland. In both Sweden and Denmark, new records were set during the night between Monday and Tuesday in the week after Black Friday: close to 1.3m parcels in Sweden and over 0.7m parcels in Denmark in one day.
In Finland, Posti said at the end of October that they were expecting a record peak season in e-commerce for late 2020, based on the lessons learnt during the COVID-19 spring and research on the increase in Finns’ online shopping.23 More than 2.5m Finns or 57% of the respondents to a Posti survey, conducted at the end of November, said that were expecting to buy their Christmas presents online. More than 700,000 of them said that they have already ordered gifts for Christmas.24
By late November, Posti processed a total of 1.5m parcels in the week running up to Black Friday – a new weekly record. This record was short lived, as the following week Posti set another record in parcel volumes: a total of 1.9m parcels in a week.25
Over the last days of November, Canada Post delivered almost 3m parcels, including 2.1m parcels delivered on Monday 30 November, after a weekend with approximately 800,000 parcel deliveries.
Australia Post was already seeing huge volumes prior to the Black Friday and Cyber Monday period, with over 40m parcels delivered by 30 November and an average of over 2m parcels being delivered daily across the network every day.26
Australia Post expected Cyber Monday to be its biggest parcel delivery day ever, with more than 3m parcels set to be delivered.27 The post had already delivered more than 3m parcels across the country over the Black Friday weekend, with drivers working across Saturday and Sunday.
The post reported that Black Friday and Cyber Monday e-commerce sales, which saw some retailers kick-off sales as early as the prior Monday, were up more than 42% year-on-year for the sales period as 2.2m households around the country went online to score some sales.
Popular purchases included variety stores, fashion and apparel goods and home and garden items, up 20%, 41%, and 50% year-on-year respectively. Shoppers were also eager to buy from major and discount stores and pet products, both up over 80% when compared to 2019.28
New eCommerce Spotlight research by New Zealand Post shows that New Zealand consumers spent NZ$585m online in November, with NZ$115m spent online in Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. November retail shopping volumes – driven by Singles Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales hit new all-time highs, with online shopping up 27% on this period last year. 29
PostNL delivered more than 10m parcels during the last week of November, traditionally a busy period when consumers are snatching up Black Friday and Cyber Monday bargains and parents are buying presents for their children for Sinterklaas (a traditional holiday in Belgium and the Netherlands when a saintly man with a beard comes bearing gifts for all children, similar to Santa Claus).30
Every year, postal and logistics operators prepare for the peak season rush by hiring seasonal workforce and expanding their network and operational capacity with additional vehicles, aircraft and sorting installations. The sanitary and safety measures implemented in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have further complicated delivery operations.
CEO of An Post, David McRedmond said: “Our €30m investment in parcels automation ensures we have the capacity to deal with this surge. We have 1,000 extra staff helping us this Christmas and our delivery staff have new scanning technology and electric vehicles to help them get parcels and letters to customers as quickly as possible.”31
In early November, An Post delivered 2.5m parcels per week and this is set to hit 3.3m per week by mid-December.
The mix of high street store closures during COVID-19 restrictions, online retail offers, and early Christmas shopping is driving a 230% increase in parcels, from 1m to 3.3m items compared to the same period last year.
An Post said it had been delivering more than 3m parcels weekly across Ireland during the first two weeks of December and its system is at full capacity.32 More than 3.3m parcels were delivered in the week of 14 December, up from 1m during the same period the previous year, together with more than 5m Christmas cards daily. 33
During the current peak season, running from end-November until Christmas, Deutsche Post DHL expects to handle more than 11m shipments on the busiest days, compared to a daily average of 5.2m items for the year.34
The company has already topped last year’s record total of 1.58bn parcels as the corona pandemic boosts online shopping. It expects to end 2020 having delivered about 1.8bn items across the country, which would be 15% more than last year.
After already taking on 4,000 additional parcel staff during the first corona lockdown in April, the company will hire about 10,000 temporary workers for sorting and deliveries up to the end of the year. About 13,000 extra vehicles will be deployed alone with 600 extra E-Trikes.
Deutsche Post DHL reported a new parcel volume record in the third week of December, delivering 61m parcels, breaking the 56m record set just one week earlier.35
Le Groupe La Poste has also prepared for the increase in volumes, with 9,000 additional hires for the peak season. The postal operator had also added four new state-of-the-art sorting facilities to ensure the rapid handling of parcels. It also added 8,000 temporary pick-up locations to its network, which now totals 25,000 locations across the country.36
La Poste set a new parcel delivery record with 4m items a day by the third week of December. The postal operator expected its peak season volumes to rise by about 20% to 100m parcels.37
DPD meanwhile reported record volumes, with 13.9m shipments handled on 30 November alone – a 85% higher than the average daily volumes. The company predicted it will be handling 14m shipments daily on the peak days. To ensure these items are handled on time, the group has hired 17,000 seasonal delivery agents and 5,000 additional sorting operators. Moreover, DPDgroup added 400 international routes to its network and set up 120 additional warehouses to cope with the increased volumes.38
DHL Express France expects to handle nearly 4.5m parcels in December alone which would mean a 35% increase compared to the rest of the year and 20% more parcels compared to last year’s Christmas period.
On its busiest days, DHL Express expects to process up to 300,000 parcels per day across France.39 DHL also announced that it would hire 500 seasonal workers. The company is also stepping up its air network with four extra daily flights taking the total number (each day) to 40 which will connect 49 French operational sites with the rest of the world. Moreover, 250 road routes will be added, which will increase the total number across France to 2,000.
Belgian national postal operator bpost also saw record parcel volumes, especially as stores closed during renewed lockdown measures and end-of-the-year shopping kicked off. With a view on preparing for early peak days including Black Friday and the local Saint-Nicolas Day – on which children traditionally receive presents from family members – bpost launched “Local Pickup”, aimed at small retailers who had to switch to online sales. This ‘click & collect’ allows retailers to drop off purchases at a local bpost pick-up point, where the item will be held for two weeks and can be picked up by shoppers in a safe way.40
The post also announced that it had hired over 4,000 seasonal workers to boost operations and added 2,000 vehicles to its fleet. Moreover, the post extended retail outlet opening hours and tripled shifts in sorting centres to process the increased parcel volumes. With more than 650,000 parcels delivered per day, the 2020 holiday season was a record-breaking period for the post.41
UPS announced that it expects to hire over 100,000 seasonal employees to support the anticipated annual increase in package volume that will begin in October 2020 and continue through January 2021.42 It had also hired 39,000 new permanent employees between April and June.
UPS also said it had invested in its physical network as well:
- 20 new facilities
- 14 additional aircraft
- Expanded weekend operations
New Zealand Post said they were expecting record volumes, with about 2m parcels in the week following Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. This compares to almost 1.8m parcels for the same period last year. . By 21 December, the post reported having processed nearly 14m parcels during the 2020 holiday season.43
To ensure the post timely delivery, New Zealand Post planned for a range of different scenarios to prepare for the busy season: “These volumes are similar to the surge following the move from Alert Level 4 into Alert Level 3 earlier in the year, but the good news is that for Christmas we have been able to plan and prepare, bringing on hundreds of extra people, vans and flights to deliver these parcels.”44 The post added three additional sites to manage surges in volumes, 200 more courier vans, 185 extra flights, more than 1,500 extra transport runs and 350 additional processing people to deliver Christmas presents for New Zealanders.45
Canada Post began ramping up early this peak holiday season to respond to the expected demand and the need to maintain important safety measures. The postal operator’s sorting facilities have been operating around the clock.46 Canada Post also added more than 4,000 seasonal employees, increased its fleet by more than 1,000 vehicles, worked with commercial customers to manage the flow of parcels and encouraged Canadians to shop and ship as early as possible, beginning in early October.47 The post also expanded delivery on weekends in many communities, added more Parcel Pickup locations and hours at many post offices were extended.
After seeing high volumes over the Black Friday / Cyber Monday period, the post reported having delivered 1.1m parcels during the second weekend of December and expected high numbers of deliveries to continue through the following weeks.
By 21 December 2020, PostNL was delivering up to 1.7m per day.48
Austrian Post has seen parcel volume record after record being broken. At the beginning of December, the post already saw multiple days with more 1m parcels a day, compared to the highest daily parcel volumes in 2019 of 765,000 parcels processed on 11 December.49 On 7 December, the post processed 1.3m parcels, the highest number ever.50
The postal operator said that the lockdown measures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic boosted e-commerce volumes in the country – it had seen a 40% increase during the first half of 2020 compared to the same period the previous year. While the post had prepared for high volumes, the amounts of parcels they are seeing went past their expectations.51 Over 2020, Austrian Post processed 165m parcels, up from 127m in 2019.52
To be able to cope with these high volumes, Austrian Post increased its staff with 1,300 temporary workers and added extra vehicles to its fleet.
Australia Post announced that they had added more than 60 new or repurposed facilities to support additional parcel processing and retail parcel pick up locations. They also said that new automation was coming online right across the country.53
The post also hired 5,000 extra people, chartered 18 freighter flights, and would have 3,000 extra vehicles on the road. Moreover, Australia Post was able to get temporary regulatory relief which enabled the upskilling of 2,700 posties including 2,000 now delivering in vans.
To prepare for the record peak season, Posti has taken several actions, including significantly expanding its pick-up point network and investing in safe home deliveries, which are expected to increase due to COVID-19.54
The number of parcels delivered by Posti during the season reached an all-time high: during the four weeks before Christmas, a total of 7m parcels were delivered, one and a half times compared to the same period last year and just over 60% higher than at the busiest time of spring in April.55 Over entire holiday season, 7.7m parcels were delivered, as well as 18m Christmas cards – also a record and an increase of 20% compared to 2019.56
By the end of 2020, Posti had approximately 850 outlets that provide personal service and 2,200 parcel lockers. For the peak season, Posti is setting up an additional temporary network corresponding to the capacity of 200 pick-up points all round Finland. During the 2020 peak season, customers could order their shopping directly to temporary pick-up points, too, and that is, in fact, recommended. Posti’s pick-up point capacity has been increased by more than 30% during the peak period.
Posti hired approximately 2,500 employees for the Christmas season throughout Finland. Throughout the season, Posti was also delivering items for pick-up on weekends to make parcel traffic smoother. Seven-day parcel delivery covers almost half of the entire population.
On Monday 4 January 2021 – Takeback Monday – returns of online purchases are predicted to increase by 63% compared to the average number of return parcels per day in December, according to Royal Mail. Takeback Monday is the day that most Brits will return their unwanted and ill-fitting Christmas presents. Nick Landon, Chief Commercial Officer at Royal Mail said: “January is the busiest time of the year for returns – and we expect it to be even bigger this year given the significant move to online shopping over the 2020 festive period.”57
According to a study commissioned by Royal Mail, the average online shopper in the UK sends back an online purchase every month. Three in five online shoppers would be unlikely to use a retailer again if they have a difficult returns experience. The returns experience is a key part of the online shopping puzzle. It is very important to get the returns experience right first time.
Over six in ten (61%) of online shoppers returned clothing, 38% returned electrical goods and 35 per cent returned footwear. The most common reasons for making returns is for clothing not fitting properly (39%) and non-clothing goods not working properly (23%).
4 https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/18/e-commerce-sales-grew-more-than-30percent-between-q1-and-q2.html, https://www.groupelaposte.com/fr/article/hausse-des-volumes-colis-dpdgroup-deploie-des-mesures
47 https://www.canadapost.ca/cpc/en/our-company/news-and-media/corporate-news/news-release/2020-12-10-canada-post-seeing-unprecedented-demand-for-shipping-supplies-and-stamps-at-the-post-office-as-canadians-connect-through-the-mail-this-holiday-season 48 https://www.postnl.nl/en/about-postnl/press-news/news/2020/postnl-up-to-17-million-parcels-per-day.html
53 https://newsroom.auspost.com.au/article/australia-post-set-for-biggest-delivery-day-in-history-after-massive-online-sales-weekend 54 https://www.posti.com/en/media/media-news/2020/posti-ennustaa-loppuvuodelle-ennatysvolyymeja--kovimpana-paivana-jopa-300-000-pakettia/
Overview of main e-commerce days
Amazon Prime Day - 13-14/10
Singles Day - 11/11
Black Friday - 27/11
Cyber Monday - 30/11