Adobe: 21 consecutive months of inflation driving e-commerce growth

Live Brief:

  • Following projections of e-commerce sales growth, Adobe’s Digital Economy Index found that consumers spent $1.7 trillion online during the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, ending February 2022. Shoppers spent $138 billion online in the first two months of 2022 and are expected to break a record this year by spending more than $1 trillion online.
  • Electronics, apparel and groceries combined comprised a little under half (41.8%) of all e-commerce spending in 2021. Electronics accounted for 18.6% of overall e-commerce sales, followed by apparel (14.3%) and groceries (8.9%), according to Adobe’s analysis.
  • Between March 2020 and February 2022, shoppers saw 60 billion out-of-stock messages, and features like curbside and buy now, pay later gained steam. Buy now, pay later orders surged over 500% in the fall of 2020, but year-over-year growth in the past two months slowed to 53%.

Live Insight:

Adobe’s research partially attributes the increased e-commerce sales to inflation, which began in June 2020 and has continued for 21 consecutive months. Last year, inflation was responsible for $22 billion worth of e-commerce sales growth, and over the whole two years measured Adobe, $32 billion of the growth was the result of higher prices rather than more purchases.

In January and February 2022, higher prices drove $3.8 billion in online sales growth, but consumer demand has not faltered yet. The report predicts that inflation could lead to consumers spending as much as $27 billion more in 2022 on the same amount of purchases.

Adobe expects sales of the three biggest e-commerce categories — groceries, electronics and apparel — to grow in 2022 as well. Signaling a similar trend so far this year, US Census data Found a 24% year-over-year increase in clothing and accessories sales in January 2022.

“E-commerce is being reshaped by grocery shopping, a category with minimal discounting compared to legacy categories like electronics and apparel,” Patrick Brown, vice president of growth marketing and insights at Adobe, said in a statement. “It highlights a shift in the digital economy, where speed and convenience are becoming just as important as cost savings.”

As online sales continue to grow, research suggests that using physical stores to fulfill online orders may need to continue to meet long-term omnichannel demand. The Adobe report noted that in 2022 so far, curbside pickup accounted for one-fifth of all online orders among retailers that offer it. A 2021 report from Edge by Ascential predicted that stores could devote up to a third of their space to online order fulfillment in the future, a conclusion it reached based on the prediction that 34.8% of global chain retail will be online by 2023.

Despite the recent increases in online sales, research from Forrester foresees far more sales coming from brick-and-mortar storefronts for the next few years at least. The firm’s July 2021 report said that nearly three-fourths of retail will still occur in physical stores in 2024. Another report the firm issued in October 2021 reaffirmed that finding.

The demand for buy now, pay later purchases seems to be cooling off following the holiday season, but the space is still growing. Adobe found that BNPL orders spiked by 528% between October and November 2020 compared to the previous year, but demand in early 2022 has been much lower. Another report from Bank of America found that app downloads for Affirm, Afterpay, Klarna and Zip increased to 3.47 million in December 2021, a 20% bump from the previous year. However, regulators are keeping an eye on the space, with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau looking into the risks of BNPL firms to consumers who take on more debt than they can handle.

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