Online shopping rates lift total holiday sales [Part 2]

January 17, 2020
6 min read

In part 1, we took a look at how consumers and retailers benefit from online sales that went beyond the Black Friday weekend, as well as Target’s disappointment in holiday sales after a strong third quarter.

Here, we take a comprehensive look at some of the other big players and how retail shopping shook out during the 2019 holidays.


According to Mintel research on winter holiday shopping, one in five winter holiday shoppers do their shopping later because they’re buying more online. Amazon, with its introduction of free one-day delivery for Prime members, made sure procrastinating consumers had the confidence to hold off. Shoppers could order as late as December 23rd and still get orders in time for Christmas. Non-Prime members could also get free shipping on orders with a $25 or more value.

Amazon fulfilled an endless number of products requested on its AmazonSmile charity lists, donating more than 5,000 blankets, 30,000 toys and educational items for kids, and 60,000+ food and pantry items. Amazon also surprised several organizations whose mission is to support those experiencing homelessness with more than $1 million in monetary and in-kind donations. Charitable efforts by brands and retailers can lead to increased brand loyalty and sales, as more than one-third of survey respondents said they would support a retailer because of its affiliation with a cause or charity. Amazon reported another sales record during the time period and said its third-party sellers saw double-digit growth compared to 2018, selling more than 1 billion items.

While Amazon naturally provides convenience to its customers through its Prime membership, Amazon’s biggest hurdle was managing PR during a period of record number of shipments. The ‘e-tailer’ had been in the spotlight for its treatment of shipping facility workers and workplace conditions. Amazon took matters into its own hands, pushing a video campaign surrounding the holidays that touted the benefits of working for Amazon. The campaign featured interviews of warehouse workers and their love of working for Amazon.


Kohl’s pulled all-nighters, opening its doors 24 hours a day from December 20-24, offering last-minute shoppers the convenience of getting their goods when it worked best for them. The retailer also gave in-store shoppers gift ideas through the use of Pinterest pincodes, appealing to consumers who actively turn to social media for gift inspiration. Additionally, Kohl’s dialed up the fun and experiential aspect of shopping with its augmented reality window shopping experience in New York City. Those who couldn’t see it live could still experience it, as Kohl’s partnered with Snapchat and its portal lens feature to create a tailored experience whereby customers could see an AR version of Kohl’s actual pop-up store. Customers could pivot around the space and explore various collections.

Kohl’s also debuted its “Kohl’s Cash Snapchat lens” which allowed customers to play in a virtual football game and fill their carts with gifts, collecting rewards as they made their way down the field. Kohl’s also faced a sales decline of .2% in November and December, citing weakness in women’s apparel as the main reason.


Nordstrom is known for its customer service and rose to the occasion for the holiday season in all aspects. Nordstrom in-store offered a “Pop-In@Nordstrom shop-in-shop” featuring a plethora of Peanuts-themed gift ideas as well as “The Gift Shop” in more than 70 stores with items such as affordably-priced hats, candles and tote bags. An online gift guide was also available. To alleviate some of the logistical stress of the holidays, the retailer provided free gift wrapping services on all purchases and allowed online shoppers to pick up their order 24 hours a day from December 8-24.

Nordstrom also hosted a series of in-store events such as a Santa Breakfast that benefitted all of Nordstrom’s charity partners, appealing to shoppers who like to participate in experiences that stores and malls offer during the holidays. The retailer extended its charitable efforts by committing to support Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada (Nordstrom Rack) and Good+Foundation (New York City). It allowed customers at all Nordstrom stores and location to support these organizations beginning on Giving Tuesday.

Best Buy

Best Buy joined Walmart in offering one-day shipping to all consumers, a direct attack on the convenience of Amazon. To stay abreast of competition, Best Buy lengthened potential holiday revenue streams by introducing Black Friday deals in the weeks leading up to the sale. Best Buy paired this strategy with a high-investment, broad-reach video campaign that cast a wide net for potential customers.

Value(d) customer

The holidays are an ideal time for companies who lead with conviction to let their beliefs and efforts shine. Consumers are shopping more than ever with their values and will support retailers whose values are aligned with their own. For a fifth year in a row, REI closed its doors on Black Friday and invited customers to join its fight against climate change as they “opted outside.” REI encouraged shoppers and employees to sign up for a 52-week action plan of ‘small steps’ to curb carbon emissions and live more energy-efficient lives.

Everlane partnered with Oceana on Black Friday and promised to donate $15 to Oceana for every order placed, up to $300k. This strategy was on brand with Everlane’s transparent and ethical approach to retail, and was met with successful results, as the company reached its $300k goal. The results indicated that if a retailer’s message is authentic and in line with the target audience’s values, consumers will show up, even when the market is saturated with competitive deals.

What we think

Although consumers had less time to shop and retailers had less time to drive sales, they both ended up coming out ahead. While 2019 holiday shopping increased 3.4% year-over-year, online sales increased nearly 19%, cementing the importance of prioritizing an omnichannel shopping experience and providing convenient services. It also confirmed that consumers, more than ever, relied on online shopping to achieve convenience during a stressful time period – a trend that successful brands capitalized on in their holiday strategies. Brands that prioritized ease-of-use for consumers through order-and-pickup, immediate delivery, and omnichannel experiences beyond Black Friday weekend and into December saw increased revenues and continued success.

The 2019 holiday season proved that retail is far from dead – instead, it is evolving into something that leverages omnichannel strategies to inspire online and offline traffic to stores. Retailers can look for opportunities in the new year to continue deepening the relationships that were fostered during the holidays, especially during the ever turbulent “returns” season.

Diana Smith is the Associate Director – Retail & Apparel at Mintel.

Lierin Ehmke is the Senior Digital Marketing Analyst at Comperemedia.

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