Online Shopping Gains Momentum

More Americans are getting used to the convenience of shopping online for everything from groceries to gym gear. Learn why new virtual shopping habits may be here to stay.

By Randi Gollin | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor

5 Min Read | October 28, 2020 in Money



More and more people have begun to shop online.

The push towards virtual shopping shows no signs of slowing down.

While some spending categories like online grocery shopping seem to be taking off, other industries that traditionally rely on physical stores may need to reconsider their retail strategy to meet customer desires for convenience.

Online shopping has undergone a sea change. Americans are shifting from in-store to online purchases, and many online retailers are seeing their sales grow. Meanwhile, industries that have traditionally relied on a physical presence – like the fashion industry – may need to reimagine retail strategies to embrace people’s rising desire to shop digitally. 


Here’s a look at how spending habits are evolving as online shopping grows in popularity – and what it could mean for the future of all our shopping experiences.


Online Shopping Is Growing in Popularity

Online shopping has recently seen a growth surge. In the first six months of 2020, online spending made up 18.6% of all retail sales, a leap from 14.7% for the same stretch in 2019.1 Looking ahead, online retail sales are expected to rise to $6.5 trillion by 2022, from $3.5 trillion in 2019 and $1.3 trillion in 2014.2


Why? Shopping online is often easy and convenient. Apps and websites streamline our ability to add items to our cart, check out, and even create standing orders to restock on goods we need regularly. We can make purchases on the go with our mobile phones without even needing our credit cards handy, and some devices let you store payment information so you can check out with nothing more than your fingerprint.


Online Shopping Trends Reflect Changing Ways People Spend Money

As people grow more accustomed to shopping online, it seems that new shopping habits may be transforming how and where people spend their money. Here are some of the ways Americans are spending increasing amounts of their virtual shopping dollars:

  • Online grocery shopping. 2019 seemed to be the first year that online grocery retailers began to see major growth, with more first-time shoppers dabbling in online shopping and an increase in how often people shop in virtual grocery aisles.3 In 2020, sales data compiled by an e-commerce software provider showed changes happening: People were shopping online for daily home goods – from milk, cream, and vegetables to toilet paper and dog food – far more often than ever before.4
  • Home fitness equipment. Online sales of home fitness items boomed in 2020 compared to 2019, according to the same e-commerce sales data. For example, sales of weight training equipment grew by 307% and yoga equipment by 154%.
  • Home office goods. Further, a 2020 shift toward working from home led many people to shop online for home office equipment. Sales of computer monitors increased by 172% and office chairs by 104%, for instance.
  • Culinary gear. Bread machine sales grew by 652%, along with an uptick in baking ingredients, seasonings and spices, oils and vinegars, and even refrigerators.
  • Car dealerships. Even car sales, seemingly impervious to online shopping trends, have trended digitally, with dealerships selling more cars online and dropping them off at customers’ doorsteps.5

Meanwhile, some spending categories seemed to be vulnerable to macro shifts in the economy. One report found that online sales of clothing fell by 30% to 40% in the U.S., likely because people began to emphasize necessary spending over discretionary spending.6 The fashion industry is also traditionally reliant on a brick-and-mortar presence since many people try on clothes and shoes before buying.


How Shopping Online Could Shape the Future of Retail

Online shopping patterns show signs of becoming long-lasting, if not permanent. For example, when asked how they expect their own habits and behaviors to change going forward, 27% of shoppers said that they would shop online for grocery delivery more than before, and 24% said they would order groceries online for pick-up more than before.7 But for online shopping to truly stick around, experts suggest that businesses must really take a customer-first approach by making online shopping totally seamless, being transparent about delivery delays, and helping people new to online shopping by providing clear navigation tools and online support.8


Looking further into the future, the growth of online shopping could be the catalyst for adoption of technology-enabled solutions that change shopping experiences – and could change other everyday experiences, too.9 Specifically, Nielsen expects that some technology could further enhance how we shop online, including the use of QR codes, augmented and virtual reality, and personalized location alerts. In isolated examples, augmented/virtual reality technology popularized in videogames is already helping online shoppers see themselves in new outfits and get better-fitting blue jeans.


The Takeaway

As people become more comfortable with online shopping, it’s likely that online sales will continue to grow. In order to keep up the momentum, experts suggest physical stores will have to support online sales and ensure that shoppers can enjoy a seamless physical-and-online shopping experience.

Randi Gollin

Randi Gollin is a freelance writer and editor who’s covered topics including shopping, travel, food, and celebrities for tech and media brands and digital publications.


All Credit Intel content is written by freelance authors and commissioned and paid for by American Express. 

Related Articles

Local Small Business Shopping Surges Online


Americans turned to local small businesses in 2020—online. Gain insight into this online ‘shopping small’ movement toward local online shops and services.


Tell me more

Online Grocery Shopping: What You Need to Know


Online grocery shopping can be a convenient time-saver for families of all sizes. Learn about online grocery shopping and how it works.


Tell me more

Earning Rewards and Cash Back While Shopping Online


Web and smartphone apps can earn you shopping rewards and cash back when you spend online, in addition to your credit card rewards. Here’s a look at this growing trend.


Tell me more

The material made available for you on this website, Credit Intel, is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax or financial advice. If you have questions, please consult your own professional legal, tax and financial advisors.