As the pandemic continues to evolve, retailers and consumers are preparing for the most unpredictable holiday season in recent years, surpassing even 2020’s record levels of uncertainty.

This year, the retail industry has been plagued with major ongoing issues, such as inflation, supply chain disruptions, labor constraints, and the chip shortage.

Yet despite these looming concerns, Bain & Co. believes that the 2021 holiday season could see the second-highest growth rate for the retail industry in more than 20 years.

According to Bain & Co.’s analysis, total US holiday retail spending could hit $800 billion during November and December of this year — a 7% sales growth rate, fueled by store sales and continued e-commerce growth. Over the last 10 years, this growth rate has averaged 4.1%, in comparison.

US retail sales have been remarkably strong thus far in 2021— they are up more than 15% year-over-year (YoY) in the retail categories Bain & Company tracks. The firm expects this momentum to continue into the holiday season, with consumer spending intent remaining high across all income cohorts, especially in high-income households.

“The pandemic has impacted nearly every inch of the retail industry, changing channel preferences and altering category spend mixes while also exacerbating labor and supply chain shortages, which could limit growth in some holiday favorite categories, such as electronics and appliances,” said Aaron Cheris, the head of Bain & Co. Americas Retail practice. “However, heading into this holiday season, we also see important tailwinds for nominal retail growth, including boosts from inflation, rebounding employment, healthy savings rates and wage growth.”

All categories included in the firm’s analysis are expected to see increases in sales, with the magnitude of growth varying by sector. Pandemic-boosted categories like grocery will likely transition back to their historical trends, while industries pinched by the pandemic, such as apparel, are expected to make strong comebacks from their 2020 lows.

Currently, in-store sales are expected to account for about 75% of total US sales this holiday season. Although e-commerce growth has tapered in the past few months as consumers shifted more of their spending back to stores, Bain expects this segment to rebound to high-single-digit growth during the holidays.

Despite the favorable outlook, retailers will need to navigate challenges to meet consumer demand over the holidays. Supply chain and labor constraints are expected to cause disruption in product availability, delivery timeframes, and overall customer experience. As the pandemic recovery progresses, potential shifts in consumer spending toward non-retail categories, such as travel, restaurants, and services, could also hinder retail spending.

“The retailers that come out ahead this holiday season will proactively plan for supply chain headwinds, keeping marketing nimble and finding new opportunities to delight customers both online and in stores,” said Darrell Rigby, a partner in Bain & Co. Retail practice. “As for consumers, they should do their holiday shopping early this year, in case there are snafus such as shipping delays, and avoid waiting for deals, which may not materialize due to higher logistics costs and lower inventory this season.”

Source: Bain & Co.