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Year in Review: How Strategist Readers Shopped in 2021

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

As much as we love talking about our own shopping finds on the Strategist, we’re equally interested in what our readers are buying. And while we regularly round up your favorites in our monthly “Your Shopping Cart” feature, at the end of the year we like to take a bird’s-eye view, analyzing the shopping trends and patterns that emerged during the previous 12 months.

So we surveyed what landed in your virtual shopping carts over the very strange year that was 2021 to answer some of our most nagging questions. Like what was the best-selling product in January versus June? What was the most purchased item on Black Friday? And which “What I Can’t Live Without” column most intrigued Strategist readers this year? Here’s a closer look into how you shopped in 2021.

What were our top sellers every month?

Let’s go with the big picture first. If you look at the actual number of items sold (rather than the amount of money spent), this is what we’ve got.

As we close out year two of the pandemic, it’s clear that COVID has significantly altered our consumption habits. While past years saw items such as massage pillows and pimple patches topping our best-seller lists, in 2021 masks were the most popular item in eight out of 12 months — that’s two-thirds of the year. And whereas readers in 2020 were often shopping for cloth masks to reserve medical-grade masks for health-care workers, in 2021 readers flocked to the more protective KF94 and KN95 masks as supplies stabilized.

In April, as the U.S. vaccine rollout gained momentum, Strategist shoppers picked up clear plastic holders to keep their precious immunization cards protected. And toward the end of the year, as a somewhat normal-feeling holiday-shopping season kicked off pre-Omicron and readers wondered what to gift the teen girls in their lives, many settled on these Turbie Twist hair towels, which boast the Emma Chamberlain stamp of approval.

What was the busiest shopping day of 2021?

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photo: Retailer

No surprise here: The biggest shopping day of 2021, when we had the most users on the site buying the most things, was Black Friday, November 26, followed by Cyber Monday, November 29. Black Friday is consistently our highest-traffic day of the year, though we’ve been keeping a close eye on Prime Day, which gains more traction as a bona fide shopping holiday every year.

What was the most purchased item on the busiest shopping day of 2021?

Glossier holds only one annual sale, on Black Friday, so when November rolls around, readers are eager to stock up. The brand’s cult-favorite Balm Dotcom has consistently appeared as a top product in Strategist shoppers’ carts; it was also our top-selling Black Friday item back in 2019 and a reader favorite in 2020. Celebritiescool teens, and our resident beauty expert Rio Viera-Newton have all gushed over how “hydrating and long lasting” this nourishing lip balm is.

One interesting note: This OXO electronics cleaning brush was not on sale for Black Friday, but Strategist shoppers still bought quite a few over the course of Cyber Week — possibly because of its inclusion in our guide to stocking-stuffer gifts under $25. Plus, it’s a legitimately useful tool. Considering how much time we’ve been spending on our screens, they could certainly use a good dusting now and then.

What was the Strategist’s most shared story?

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

Our top-performing story on social media this year was our guide to the best gifts on Amazon under $10, which is chock-full of items that are both thoughtful and budget friendly. Whether they were shopping for a hot-sauce enthusiast or a wannabe TikTok influencer, Strategist fans on Facebook and Instagram were eager to share this cornucopia of delights for everyone on their gift lists.

What was the Strategist’s most read story?

Photo: retailer
From $115

As more people got used to the idea of working from home over the long haul, more of them consulted our expert-recommended guide to ergonomic office chairs, making it our most read story of the year. Chiropractor Dr. Rudy Gehrman, the founder of New York City–based wellness center Physio Logic, suggested this Modway chair for its supportive mesh backing and the ability to adjust its armrests and seat height. It’s been a regular hit with our readers, making our best-seller roundups in September 2020 and March 2021.

What was the most expensive thing anyone bought?

Speaking of chairs, this splurge-worthy massage chair from Kahuna once again took the crown as the most expensive item purchased by one of our readers (it was also awarded this distinction in 2020 and 2018). The chair’s eye-popping price tag comes with a host of amenities, including sensors that automatically scan the body to deliver a custom massage experience, plus extra settings such as a zero-gravity angle and spine-roller speed. It’s beloved by celebrities such as Jamie Foxx, Daymond John, and Martha Stewart — and we’re sure the Strategist reader who treated themselves is enjoying a blissfully relaxed state as well.

What was the Strategist’s most popular Deal of the Day?

Photo: Retailer

Every day, we scour the internet sales bins to bring you the best Deal of the Day — and lots of readers took advantage of the Black Friday deal on Apple’s AirPods Pro, which were down to $159, the cheapest we had ever seen them. Our tech writer Jordan Bowman is a fan of these statusy wireless earbuds for their “thoughtful upgrades like immersive noise cancellation, a superior battery life, and swappable ear tips for a more custom fit.” (Note: This deal has since expired, but you can still snag these AirPods for a great price at Amazon.)

What was the Strategist’s most popular “What I Can’t Live Without”?

Photo: Getty

Back in June, we asked ten New York City mayoral candidates to reveal the products they can’t live without, and though Andrew Yang didn’t end up winning the election, his “What I Can’t Live Without” was the most popular installment of our celebrity shopping column all year. He sang the praises of an electric toothbrush, a reusable-straw set, and a stylish bike helmet, but readers were most interested in this white-noise machine, which has “become a bit of a family ritual,” Yang told us. Whenever he hears the machine’s low hum, it “activates a certain part of my brain that’s like, Okay, no matter what I was doing today, now it’s time to sleep.”

What was the Strategist’s most popular “Steal My Vacation”?

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photo: Rhianna Rule

In 2021, we introduced a new series called “Steal My Vacation,” in which we ask obsessive travelers with impeccable taste to walk us through their favorite vacations. Strategist readers were especially enthralled by Rhianna Rule, the photo director at large for More or Less magazine and the image director for Christy Dawn. Rule has made five trips to Santa Teresa, a sunny, laid-back surf town by the Costa Rica seaside. She suggests bringing a pair of slip-on sandals that you “don’t mind getting all dusty and dirty” to carry you from morning yoga and poolside lounging to jungle hikes and ATV rides.

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

Year in Review: How Strategist Readers Shopped in 2021