There's no doubt that the months of November and December are lucrative for many ecommerce retailers: in 2021, holiday retail sales—excluding automotive—increased by 8.5% year over year, and online sales grew 11.0% compared to the same period last year.
Yet, not every industry has to ramp up for increased sales, work to navigate supply chain challenges, or plan ahead for shipping delays over the holidays. For some, the later months of the year are simply business as usual—or even slower than usual—thanks to the variable impact of ecommerce seasonality.
Ecommerce seasonality refers to fluctuating consumer demand that occurs due to recurring external factors. One of the most notable examples of ecommerce seasonality is the holiday shopping season, which represents nearly 19% of some retailers' total yearly sales, according to the National Retail Federation.
Ecommerce seasonality over the holidays comes with pros and cons. Consumer demand is high over the holidays, which means there’s a lot of money to be made for ecommerce sellers. However, relying on the holiday season to make or break the year can also be risky. Because it consolidates the bulk of a company’s profit into a few short months, underperforming promotions, understocked inventory, and unexpected shifts in consumer purchasing patterns can all have a disproportionate effect on annual results.
For this reason, many ecommerce entrepreneurs stake their claims in industries that aren’t quite so subject to the whims of the holiday shopping season. The following are a few of these types of industries which may experience sustained demand throughout the year or see multiple peaks of seasonality throughout the year.
If you’re looking for a more stable space to sell in, give these industries a look.
Automotive sales are increasingly taking place online, thanks to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Alan Haig, “Nearly 30% of U.S. new car sales last year were completed online. Before the pandemic, less than 2% of vehicles were purchased digitally.”
Unlike retailers facing holiday-centric seasonality, auto sellers encounter some of their leanest months in the winter. Instead, automotive sales peak in the spring—as the weather gets warmer and shoppers receive their tax refunds, according to Investopedia—and in the fall, when new models and model years are released.
The aftermarket auto parts sector is similarly season-agnostic—and it’s growing. As data from Prescient & Strategic Intelligence suggests, “ecommerce in automotive aftermarket revenue stood at $38.2 billion in 2019, and it is set to grow at a CAGR of 23.3% during 2020–2030.” Different seasons present different automotive challenges, from the demands of hot summer temperatures to the damaging effects of cold winter weather, making this industry particularly stable year-round.
People have to eat and drink everyday, so it should come as no surprise that grocery is now the top online consumer packaged goods (CPG) category, according to research by the Food Industry Association (FMI) and NielsenIQ. As of the year-long period ending November 30, 2020, grocery purchases accounted for roughly 44% of all CPG ecommerce sales.
Food and beverages may see some peaks in demand around major holidays when people are more likely to host events and gatherings. However, this seasonality is modulated by consistent consumer demand for groceries throughout the year, which serves to make this industry more stable overall.
Though the much-lauded ‘lipstick effect’ may not be quite as predictive as Estée Lauder Chairman Emeritus Leonard Lauder initially hypothesized, it is fair to say that sales of beauty supplies and personal care items experience more consistent demand throughout the year than other more seasonal industries.
But while shoppers will always need beauty and personal care items, there’s some evidence that seasonality is sneaking its way into the sector. In 2015, Mintel research found that “Seasonal products accounted for as many as 11.1% of all beauty and personal care launches in 2014, up from 9.8% in 2011.”
The pet supplies market—which surpassed $100B in industry sales for the first time in 2020—represents another stable sales opportunity. As long as people have pets, they’ll need pet supplies and care items, including food, bedding, toys, and more.
To understand seasonal fluctuations in demand for pet supplies, John Gibbons, the ‘Pet Business Professor’, tracked the consumer price index (CPI) of four pet market segments from 2010-2013. Although he found that some fluctuations did occur, the total CPI increase over this time period was just 6.5%, suggesting that any month-to-month changes were generally small.
Despite fluctuations due to pandemic-related office and school closures, demand for office and school supplies is quite stable, if not increasing slightly. The NPD Group reports that the office supplies industry in the U.S. is likely to end 2021 up 8% in revenue compared to 2020.
The Group does note one seasonal fluctuation: the back-to-school season, which tends to peak in August and September, before tapering off towards the end of the year. Declines here, however, are bolstered by year-round demand for office supplies, including the new items required to support increased remote work requirements.
No matter what industry you’re in or how much seasonality it experiences, the real key is to understand the purchasing patterns that affect your specific business. With this information, you can better forecast demand, plan your inventory appropriately, and time promotions to periods of increased activity.
Stay on top of trends and new data in your industry, and use any customer sales records you have to pinpoint past peaks. Based on your findings, give yourself plenty of extra time in advance of peak seasonality to manage your inventory and avoid both stockouts and overstocks. Remember, every pattern of seasonality presents the potential for profit. By planning ahead, you’ll be better prepared to capitalize on opportunities as they arise.
As a senior content manager at Narvar, Michelle has a finger on the pulse of the ecommerce industry. She's spent close to a decade helping online retailers make sense of their post-purchase processes.