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How Big Will Online Shopping Be This Holiday Season?

By Daniel B. Kline - Updated Nov 2, 2018 at 3:51PM

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E-commerce is only growing, but you may be overestimating how much of our purchasing is done digitally.

In the popular story of the retail apocalypse, malls are being devastated by Americans' massive shift to e-commerce. In reality, though, while a significant amount of sales have shifted online, they remain a relatively small percentage of the whole -- and that will continue to be the case through this holiday shopping season.

Online sales in the United States will rise by 14.8% year over year for the period between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, bringing that number to $124.1 billion, predicts Adobe. That's a big number, but it's still only around 19% of the $717 billion to 720.89 billion in total sales the National Retail Federation forecasts for the season.

While Amazon dominates the e-commerce scene, the shifts in the U.S. marketplace have benefited traditional chains as well. And while some retailers have been hurt by the move to digital, those ones that have embraced omnichannel models stand to gain.

"As online shopping surges with another record-breaking holiday season, the retailers with compelling websites coupled with physical store locations will have the advantage," said Adobe Head of Consumer Insights John Copeland in a press release. "Many shoppers want to interact with retailers' products and the brand in-store, and the ability to pick up online orders in-store within a matter of hours can't be underestimated."

A person holds a credit card over a laptop keyboard.

Online spending will continue to rise this holiday season. Image source: Getty Images.

How will the sales break down?

Cyber Monday, you won't be surprised to read, leads the season for digital sales. Adobe expects the nation to make $7.7 billion worth of online purchases that day, a 17.6% increase over 2017. Thanksgiving Day's online sales are expected to be less than half that -- $3.3 billion -- while the total sales from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday should come in at $23.4 billion, about 20% of the holiday season's total for digital sales.

Retailers will also benefit from the shifting calendar this holiday season:  There's one more day between Cyber Monday and Christmas than there was in 2017 -- and that should result in a $284 million increase in sales, according to Adobe.

"A record number of days will hit new revenue milestones, with 36 days surpassing $2 billion compared to just 22 days in 2017," the forecast indicated.

How can you get the best deals?

For consumers, the holiday season can be daunting. To fully take advantage, you need to do your homework, researching prices and hunting up deals that will let you maximize your gift budget.

For some serious bargain hunters, the process may mean checking prices at every retailer, and mapping out the best points on the calendar to buy each item on their list. For most of us, though, a less-intensive approach is probably more manageable.

Make a shopping list, and research the best times during the season to buy the biggest ticket items on it. For all items, check prices in at least a couple of retailers, but remember to place a value on your time as well. Driving across town or setting up accounts on new websites you won't use again may not be worth it just to save a few dollars. Be frugal -- but also reasonable -- as you head into what can be a hazardous time of year for budgets.

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