With the holiday shopping season technically set to begin — although it’s been basically revving its engine for a little while now — it’s not the worst time, here on Thanksgiving eve, to think back 20 years when our shopping habits changed forever.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of what was referred to by some analysts in 1999 as the “Dotcom Christmas” — the year that the phenomenon of online shopping moved from being an intriguing retail supplement to a key component in the American shopping experience.
That holiday season, companies heavily promoted their online presences in an effort to cash in on the quick growth of the internet. A CNN online story from 1999 did an early handicap of the season in October of that year by declaring, “Forget the Grinch — this could be the year the Net stole Christmas.” As it turned out, spending online that season would double from the previous year, and although that $10 billion or so was seen as a small slice of the $184 billion holiday shopping pie, it was also deemed not insignificant by any means.
Fast forward to 2019. For better and for worse, the last two decades have transformed the retail landscape across this country. It’s estimated that holiday shoppers will spend more than $27 billion online just during the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend alone. Spurred by rampant online deals and promotion (as well as the notion that this year’s “holiday season” is compressed because of the lateness of Thanksgiving, online shopping is projected to top $143.7 billion this season — an increase of 14% from last year — with some experts saying this could be America’s first $1 trillion holiday shopping season, with total sales projected to rise about 3.8% from last year.
But not everything has been so bright these past 20 years. Some brick-and-mortar stores are struggling to compete against the ease of online shopping at home. Meanwhile, the rise of online shopping has also produced a menacing proliferation of online scams.
The past 20 years since that first great “Dotcom Christmas” have also played a hand in eroding traditional holiday shopping/marketing habits. Where once Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) was the solid starting line for the opening of holiday shopping, the marketing has now expanded and has gradually turned Thanksgiving Day into an even bigger shopping day than it ever was. Now, “Cyber Monday” is considered another major tentpole of the holiday shopping season. The online marketplace, with its 24/7 reach, has escalated this transition: Fox Business reported that American online spending may surpass $1 billion PER DAY for both November and December this year.
Twenty years ago, the “Dotcom Christmas” was viewed with curiosity, with no one really sure where it all might go. No one then could have truly dreamed of what the holiday shopping season — and what the American retail sector — would become, or what it wouldn’t be anymore, depending on your point of view.
However, the road after the “Dotcom Christmas” wasn’t so smooth for online ventures: That online holiday rush in 1999 was followed months later by the dotcom bubble collapse that swept away many companies that pushed hard for your internet dollars. It was a hard lesson, but the online shopping premise endured, and spectacularly so.
However, the changing times for shopping have also, arguably, placed a new emphasis on the importance of how and where dollars are spent — during the holidays and throughout the year. It would be wise to remember that money spent in your hometown (either in person or on local websites) stays in town and boosts local tax coffers, which in turn helps you, your neighbors and your community. That’s why events like Small Business Saturday and efforts to remind consumers to “Shop Local” have grown in importance, even in the face of the online tsunami described above.
It’s a small suggestion to keep in mind in this busy, compressed shopping season.