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E-commerce News and Insights | January 7, 2021

2020 Review: The Year Every Week Felt Like BFCM (Just Missing the Holiday Cheer)

I hope you had a relaxing holiday break, because if you worked in e-commerce in 2020, you sure earned it. Last year was difficult and unprecedented (hi, global pandemic). Widespread stay-at-home orders and quarantines fueled an incredible acceleration of online shopping. An influx so large, in fact, that many e-commerce businesses saw spring and summer 2020 volumes rival 2019’s holiday surges. 

2020 was the year online retail grew dramatically. Case in point: e-commerce now accounts for one in every five dollars spent. 

How did these trends impact shipping and logistics in 2020? We’re lifting the curtain, looking at aggregate Shippo data to reveal last year’s insights. 

Weekly 2020 Volume Matched the Holiday Spikes of 2019 

Traditionally, retail sees a large spike in orders during the holiday selling season (November and December) that dissipates with the new year. Sure, many sellers experience an upwards trajectory as they expand their customer base, but it’s rare for holiday volumes to be truly maintained after the stockings are packed in the basement with care. 

But, that’s exactly what happened in 2020. The average weekly package volume for all of 2020 was 2.73 percent higher than the 2019 holiday season (All of 2020 vs. Nov. 1 – Dec. 31, 2019). 

2019 Holiday Spikes Versus All of 2020Breaking it down even further, most of that increase is due to the 2020 holiday season. In fact, the average weekly spike of the 2019 holiday season was within one percent of the average weekly volume for January through October 2020. 

2019 holidays versus 2020 Pre-holiday volume

2020 Holiday Growth Somewhat Flattened by Sustained, Elevated Volume 

Because package volume was high through the entire COVID-19 pandemic (so far), the holiday peak of 2020 was a bit more shallow than what we’ve seen in the past. Shipping volume still saw a large YOY increase, but the holiday season was not as pronounced as prior years. 

In 2019, weekly volume averaged 44 percent higher during the holiday season than the first 10 months of the year. However, in 2020, the holiday season saw a mere 21 percent increase to the pre-holiday months’ weekly volume averages.

2020 holiday volume growth versus 2019 holiday growth

A Cyber Monday Close-up

Shopping holidays, like Cyber Monday, followed the same trend lines. 2020 volume was significantly higher than its year-over-year comparison; however, the historic peak we usually see was somewhat flattened by the sustained increases throughout the pandemic. 

  • In 2020, Cyber Monday volume was 95 percent higher than the days leading up to Thanksgiving (Nov. 1 – 25). 
  • That being said, the Cyber Monday spike was much bigger in 2019, at a 131 percent increase.
  • However, Cyber Monday volume in 2020 was 77 percent higher than what it was in 2019. 

Biggest Weeks for Returns are Between Thanksgiving and Christmas

Contrary to popular belief, more return labels are scanned the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas than the weeks following the holidays. The 2019 and 2020 holiday seasons saw the same Top 3 weeks for returns: 

  • The week after Thanksgiving (Cyber Monday is part of this week; the third-highest week for returns) 
  • Two weeks after Thanksgiving (the No. 1 week for returns) 
  • Three weeks after Thanksgiving (the second-highest week for returns)

During the 2019 holiday season, the first week of January saw the fourth-highest return volume. We don’t yet have the January data, but 2020 trends have thus far matched those of 2019. 

Weekly Return Volume Comparison

2020 shipping in review

What’s in Store for 2021? 

This brings us to the question of the hour: what will the future of shipping look like? With many experts predicting another quarter or two (at least) before widespread COVID-19 vaccinations, we expect to continue the evolution toward a world fueled by e-commerce. 

For many, the convenience of online shopping will push strong e-commerce adoption even as travel and in-person events begin again. Now that consumers have gotten a taste of the wonders of digital commerce—some for the very first time in 2020—it’s nearly impossible to picture the world any other way. 

It’s no wonder our CEO and co-founder Laura Behrens Wu keeps her 2021 predictions short and sweet.

We wish your business great selling (and shipping) success in 2021 and beyond! 

Michelle McNamara is a Senior Marketing Manager at Shippo

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