Proof Lab in Tam Junction.

Consumers’ seemingly unrelenting appetite for online shopping, exacerbated by more than two years of a global pandemic when many of us were limited at times to only online shopping, took an unanticipated turn in 2021.

The U.S. Commerce Department disclosed late last month that physical stores beat online shopping in 2021, according to the New York Times.

“Americans spent 18 percent more on food, cars, furniture, electronics and other retail products last year compared with 2020,” Times tech reporter Shira Ovide reported. Online retail sales increased by 14 percent, so e-commerce lost ground last year to brick-and-mortar stores.

“Admittedly, 2021 was a strange year for shopping,” Ovide writes. “More of us had the urge to browse in person than we did in the scary first months of Covid in the U.S.”

“The comeback for physical stores also points to how difficult it can be to predict the speed at which technologies alter our behaviors and the effects if and when they do,” Ovide writes. “The future does not necessarily arrive in a straight line…Much has changed, but a lot has not.”

Juozas Kaziukėnas, the founder of the e-commerce research firm Marketplace Pulse, posed an interesting question: Did the coronavirus really compel us to shop online more — or just shop more, period? “Human behavior can change slowly, until the point when it swamps us,” Ovide writes. “We might feel as though online shopping were ubiquitous, but even now more than 85 cents of each retail dollar in the U.S. is spent in physical stores.”