Online Shopping in 2020 by the Numbers

By Elizabeth Renter

Had the coronavirus pandemic hit 20 years ago, ordering groceries and toilet paper from the comfort of your sofa wouldn’t have been nearly as easy. But in May alone, Americans spent over $77 billion through online retailers, and the industry saw sales growth typically reserved for the holiday rush.

Retail sales contribute trillions of dollars to the U.S. economy each year and support millions of U.S. workers. Despite global economic uncertainty and unemployment hitting the retail industry particularly hard in 2020, data indicates online sellers are not experiencing the economic impact of the pandemic the way others are. Indeed, retailers and consumers both benefited from the convenience of buying online, as virtual shopping carts and free shipping may have kept more Americans indoors and helped keep the economy afloat.

This holiday season may be unusual in many ways, but don’t look for the online shopping boom to lose much steam. Fewer people plan on buying holiday gifts this year than in years past, according to the recent NerdWallet Holiday Shopping Report, perhaps in part due to still-high unemployment rates. However, among those who will buy, ordering online is more popular than ever, and these shoppers have had several months (and plenty of practice) to nail down their favorite retailers.

Online Retail Boom Came Early

Online sales typically stay relatively stable through spring and summer months before beginning their annual holiday climb in October, according to monthly retail sales data from the U.S. Census Bureau. However, in 2020, the data reflected skyrocketing online sales beginning in March.

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