These are the most popular items bought online in 2021
Buying items online has become commonplace, especially for certain generations. Baby boomers, for instance, have seen a significant shift in their online purchasing habits since the COVID-19 pandemic, and have increased their share of online spending from 25% to 37%. Gen Xers saw an increase as well, rising from 39% to 47%.
While many brick-and-mortar stores were reeling during the height of the pandemic due to lockdowns and social distancing mandates, several businesses have managed to bounce back. But even with stores open for business again, the appeal of online shopping doesn't show any sign of waning. Buying online wasn’t just a pandemic trend—it remains a popular way of purchasing today.
While online shoppers can't get a feel for a shirt's fabric or play around with products before they buy, it does offer several other perks that brick-and-mortar stores don’t. Aside from the convenience of shopping from your couch, buying online means you can skip waiting in lines and can find out ahead of time if your items are in stock. It's also a lot easier to shop around and compare prices for the best deals without driving from store to store.
So what did consumers end up buying during the pandemic? Giving Assistant used Dec. 2021 data from the Statista Global Consumer Survey to determine the 10 most popular categories of items that are bought online. For this topic, Statista surveyed 7,013 people ages 18–64 across the United States.
#10. Household appliances
- Respondents who bought items online: 18%
Household appliances were in high demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. A 2020 Bain survey found that 26% of consumers are willing to buy appliances online now more than they were in pre-pandemic times. According to Growth from Knowledge, an intelligence platform and consulting service for the consumer products industry, 31% of major household appliances and 49% of smaller appliances are sold online globally. Web retailers often feature value match plans to compete with their in-store retail competitors. Shopping for appliances online also offers easy-to-view customer reviews, product comparisons and research, and a ton of delivery options.
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#9. Bags and accessories
- Respondents who bought items: 21%
Nordstrom, Inc., Neiman Marcus Group, Inc., and Macy’s, Inc. holds the largest market share in luggage sales and online handbags, according to IBISWorld. Worldwide global growth for e-commerce fashion is expected to continue. The share of customers purchasing bags and accessories is projected to increase worldwide to 24.2% by 2024. In 2020, Newsweek listed the best American online shops across several categories, including fashion and accessories, with James Allen, Angara, and SuperJeweler topping their list.
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#8. Pet products
- Respondents who bought items: 23%
According to data from a 2020 Statista online survey, 40% of consumers who owned pets in the U.S. purchased their pet products online. These pet owners chose convenience and lower online prices as the biggest reasons why they shopped online versus in stores. Amazon and Chewy.com were among the most popular online retailers for pet products in the U.S. in 2020. Pet food was the top-selling product in 2020, with dry dog food as the most popular choice among American pet owners.
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#7. Drugstore and health products
- Respondents who bought item: 24%
In 2020, the top three online stores in the United States selling pharmacy products in the e-commerce market were Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid. Online pharmacies and drugstores can offer convenience and cost savings, especially when it comes to prescriptions. It is also possible to set up fixed schedules for refills when shopping online for prescriptions. In 2019, e-commerce giant Amazon joined the online pharmacy market after they purchased PillPack, Inc., and their new Amazon Pharmacy program may soon become a leading player in the field.
#6. Cosmetics and body care
- Respondents who bought item: 29%
While brick-and-mortar stores still beat online retailers when it comes to beauty products, things are changing. In 2020, e-commerce revenue generated from personal care products was $32 billion dollars in the U.S.—that's about 7.4% of total online retail revenue.
One of the primary advantages of buying cosmetic and body care products online is the ability to compare many different brands at the same time. Online retailers can often offer a wider variety of products than their brick-and-mortar competitors across the top items in this category, which includes skincare, hair care, cosmetics, perfume, and deodorant products.
#5. Food and drinks
- Respondents who bought item: 30%
Some shoppers might be skeptical that buying food and drinks online could match the quality and freshness of going to the store, but with advances in shipping perishable items, more and more consumers are getting comfortable buying online. Plus, for many, their neighborhood might not have specialty food stores that carry specific ingredients and hard-to-find goods. In 2021, revenue from online food and beverage purchases totaled $34 billion and is projected to increase to nearly $48 billion by 2025.
#3. Consumer electronics (tie)
- Respondents who bought item: 31%
The e-commerce consumer electronics market is expecting significant growth, according to the 2021 Consumer Electronics E-Commerce Global Market Report. The market is expected to hit $511.06 billion in 2025 at a compound annual growth rate of 10%.
Consumer electronics include televisions, digital camcorders and cameras, e-readers, and audio products, just to name a few. According to a 2020 report by Statista, the three leading e-commerce retailers for the sale of consumer electronics are Amazon, Best Buy, and Apple. Amazon led the pack with net sales of $38 billion for 2020 in the U.S. One trending buying behavior for those purchasing online consumer electronics found that more shoppers are signing up for both device protection plans as well as extended warranties.
#3. Books, movies, music, and games (tie)
- Respondents who bought item: 31%
Books, movies, music, and games in this category exclude downloaded media but include purchases of physical items like DVDs, books, console games, and CDs. Amazon was the leader in this e-commerce segment with net sales of $13 billion in 2018, followed by Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and GameStop, according to a 2018 report by Statista.
In 2021, revenue in this e-commerce category reached over $31 billion in the United States. Online shoppers enjoy the competitive pricing offered for these products as well as the availability of many hard-to-find books, games, and movies.
- Respondents who bought item: 43%
One reason so many consumers purchase shoes online is that online retailers carry more inventory than stores. This allows them to feature a larger product selection. Another reason that exists across all online product purchases is convenience. A 2019 study by investment firm UBS confirmed this, adding that many consumers also found lower prices for shoes online as opposed to in stores. The top online footwear stores in 2020 were Amazon, Walmart, Nike, and DSW.
- Respondents who bought item: 54%
The value of clothing e-commerce revenue in 2020 came close to $111 billion, which was up from $72.9 billion in 2018. While some shoppers might prefer trying things on before they buy, many online retailers now offer easy returns and free shipping, which has been a big hit with customers. According to eMarketer, the most valued website feature when shopping for clothes online was free shipping. Overall, shopping online for clothing also offers affordability, convenience, and more selection. Gen Zers have particularly high and specific expectations concerning online shopping, and when it comes to fashion, they will pay more for goods made sustainably.