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By Brad Tuttle
November 9, 2021
Laptop showing an online store with a  Sold out  sign
Money; Getty Images; Shutterstock

American consumers have been extra eager to scoop up early holiday shopping deals this year. Unfortunately, they've also been underwhelmed by what they've found — namely, mediocre discounts and shortages of hot products like the Sony PS5.

For months, shoppers have been hearing that supply chain problems will wreak havoc on holiday shopping. Traditional gifts like toys and TVs are expected to be available in short supply or at prices higher than we've grown accustomed to.

Retail experts have been advising people to buy early to avoid the chaos. On the surface at least, it seems like major retailers have obliged: Amazon and Target were among those announcing big sales starting in early October, and Walmart has been rolling out new Black Friday deals every few days throughout the month of November.

The problem, from the shopper's perspective, is that while there have been some genuinely good deals, overall the discounts have been noticeably smaller compared to last year. New data from Adobe Digital Insights shows that "despite earlier deals this season, discounts are weaker across several categories."

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For example, electronics were being discounted by an average of 8.7% in early November 2021 compared to one month earlier. During this same period a year ago, the average discount was 13.2%.

Sporting goods are seeing discounts of just 2.8% over the past month, versus 11.2% this time last year. The discounts for appliances, tools and home improvement goods have also been weak compared to those shoppers enjoyed in 2020.

Meanwhile, Adobe's data indicates that early discounts on TVs and computers are roughly the same as last year, at around 7.5% and 12%, respectively. (Bear in mind that other analysts are forecasting that the average TV will cost $100 more during the 2021 holiday promotional season, even after factoring in discounts.)

Higher prices are hardly the only frustration for today's shoppers. Adobe finds that "out of stock" messages in October product searches are up 250% compared to the pre-pandemic month of January 2020, and they're up 325% compared to October 2019.

Even with higher prices and inventory problems, American shoppers have been buying more, with $72.4 billion devoted to online shopping purchases in October 2021 — an increase of 8% year over year. And the rise in holiday spending will likely only go higher: Salesforce has forecast that U.S. shoppers will spend 20% more on holiday gifts this year.

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