3 under-the-radar winners amid a limp start to the holiday shopping season [Video]

Not every retailer — or consumer company that sells products into major retailers — has

Not every retailer — or consumer company that sells products into major retailers — has received a lump of coal in the kickoff to the crucial holiday shopping season.

Make no mistake though, there has been a lot of coal handed out already to many players since Thanksgiving Day as consumers spend cautiously amid rising joblessness and avoid store crowds altogether during a resurgent COVID-19 pandemic. Online sales on Black Friday rose 21.6% year over year to a new record of $9 billion, according to data crunched by Adobe Analytics. But, the sales result fell far short of Adobe’s high-end estimate of $9.6 billion.

Online sales on Thanksgiving Day clocked in at $5.1 billion, up 21.5% from a year ago, but short of Adobe’s $6 billion forecast.

Underwhelming online sales numbers for Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday suggests sales at physical stores remain under severe strain as shoppers maintain a focus on their health.

Yahoo Finance saw the slow start to the shopping season firsthand in the streets of New York City on Black Friday. Crowds at the iconic Macy’s store in Herald Square were virtually non-existent for most of the day, something not typically seen on Black Friday but indicative of consumer behavior amidst the pandemic. The usually bustling Fifth Avenue — the mecca of luxury store shopping in the city — was anything but in early afternoon as tourism continues to be under wraps as people avoid travel.

A Best Buy store on Fifth Avenue had the most traffic of any store Yahoo Finance visited as people scooped up Apple Watches, work from home gear and smart home items. But even that seemingly solid traffic was far from the normal on a Black Friday.

“Our store capacity is capped at 150 people including staff, but we haven’t come close to hitting that,” a Best Buy employee at the store told Yahoo Finance.

Despite some early gloom, however, there do appear several winners so far in the holiday shopping race.

Pet stores are winning as Fido gets a new bone

Online sales of pet products surged 254% on Black Friday from a year ago, Adobe Analytics said. The number isn’t too much of a surprise as people have adopted pets at a record pace during the pandemic to provide some mental relief. About 20% of respondents to a July Nielsen survey said they adopted more dogs or cats between March and June. A year ago that number stood at less than 5%.

Now all those new furry family additions need a holiday gift.

Investors may want to keep an eye on online pet products retailer Chewy, which reports earnings on Dec. 8. Positive commentary on Chewy’s earnings call could be in the offing judging by Adobe’s Black Friday data and strong sales of pet food at Milk-Bone maker J.M. Smucker recently. Interestingly, Chewy shares spiked 7% on Black Friday following Adobe’s data dump.

These developments are in line the bullish outlook Chewy’s CEO Sumit Singh recently shared with Yahoo Finance.

Smart home gadget makers are winning as homes are getting less dumb

Investing in one’s home — whether that’s installing new kitchen cabinets from Home Depot or 10 new Sonos smart speakers — has been one of the biggest investing themes of 2020. Adobe’s holiday data suggests that theme is far from dying out.

Online sales of smart home items exploded 592% on Black Friday, said Adobe. Amazon’s Echo smart speaker was a top-seller, the report showed.

Sonos CEO Patrick Spence recently told Yahoo Finance demand is so strong right now, it has brought his business to a key inflection point. The way the holiday season is shaping up for smart home players, Spence’s business may already be beyond that inflection point.

Personal care product suppliers are winning as people decide to get made up again

It has been a mixed year for the personal care industry. Makeup and perfume sellers have had to endure big hits to sales as people mingle less out in public and get stuck on less glamorous Zoom calls for work. But sales of face creams, soaps, etc. (see latest earnings from personal care giant Procter & Gamble and L Brands’ Bath & Body Works division) have come on strong with people looking to improve their hygiene given the added time on their hands.

And it’s the personal care players likely selling creams and soaps that appear to be on track for a solid holiday season.

Adobe’s data showed a 556% online sales surge for personal care products on Black Friday. Consumers may be adding personal care items in their online checkout cart. Black Friday saw a 397% sales boost for online groceries, as major retailers such as Target have rolled out buy-online pick up in parking lot services and expanded same-day delivery availability.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and anchor at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

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