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Holiday Shopping Trends Are Changing — Here’s Why

[RETHINK Retail] — Deck the halls! The holiday season is finally here and as the holiday ham and scents of pine and ginger fill the air, holiday shoppers are lacing up their running shoes to tackle the latest sales once again — or they used to. The holiday season is synonymous with holiday sales, but in recent years these shopping habits have been recalibrated to fit a habitually connected, digital world. 


Novelty trumps convenience

Conventional wisdom says brick-and-mortar shops represent an old guard of outdated shopping habits. However, when it comes to holiday shopping physical storefronts still reign supreme. In many ways, tradition is seen as a negative word in regards to the changing cultural landscape, but the social tradition of visiting various department stores and boutiques looking for deals, overtakes the otherwise convenience of e-shopping. 

While 31 percent of respondents to a November 2-6 expansive Morning Consult poll said they prefer to holiday shop online; conversely, 37 percent said they prefer to traverse the aisles of physical stores. Interestingly, the poll also found that while consumers prefer to holiday shop in-store, more respondents planned to shop during Cyber Monday as opposed to Black Friday by a slim margin: 48 percent compared to 46 percent, respectively. 

Granted, this does not account for people who planned on doing their holiday shopping before either of those consumer shopping sales, which is likely to tell a different story, but it gives us insight into consumer trends of the late 2010s. Contrary to popular belief, the poll also found that younger consumers are more likely to prefer in-store holiday shopping compared to their older cohorts. Fifty-eight percent of people aged 18-29 prefer to in-store shop, while 62 percent of those 55-64 preferred online shopping.  

About 23 percent plan to equally do online and in-store shopping creating a large minority. The conversation becomes a bit more nuanced when multi-channel purchasing is considered where some consumers might browse online but purchase in-store or vice versa. Consumers will often employ a cyber and physical means of shopping as retailers have found the benefit of integrating marketing campaigns via exclusive in-store deals offered through their mobile apps.


Holiday shopping isn’t just for the holiday season

Black Friday is not what it used to be. In the past, it was a day of mass shopping where people across the country would gather into a frenzy seeking door-busting deals of severely marked down products and goods. Year-by-year, Black Friday has become an extended metaphor for the second half of November as more and more consumers are getting their on-sale shopping done a bit early. Brand Keys surveyed over 11,000 American consumers in a report published in 2018 and found that only 20 percent of respondents did their shopping on Black Friday. 

In some cases, the holiday sales are not solely regulated to the holiday season. Since 2015, Amazon Prime has hosted it’s international “Prime Day” in July. According to Marketing Land research, Amazon’s 2019 Prime Day event saw over 175 million items sold with sales exceeding $2 billion, which is more than the company saw on Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined

Competitors have since saw the success of this and launched sales to directly compete against Amazon in what is now being dubbed “Black Friday in July” by marketers. While the results for other retailers were more modest in comparison, they are still notable. They saw a 64 percent increase in sales on Black Friday in July, according to Adobe Analytics. Even small businesses saw a small increase of 30 percent during this time period. What is more fascinating is the amount of shoppers who see this as a holiday shopping event. 

A survey of 2,500 holiday shoppers across the United States and Europe conducted by Bazaar Voice found that 18 percent of consumers started their shopping during “Black Friday in July” with more than 1 in 10 or 12 percent, completing the bulk of their shopping during this period before the holiday season. These are called SOBO shoppers, which stands for “seizes opportunity, buys often” as they are more interested in getting deals to gift people as opposed to waiting for the holiday spirit to take hold to start gifting. 

Shoppers are interested in flexible, frictionless shopping experiences that prioritize efficiency. Therefore, more are opting to start, or even complete, their holiday shopping at earlier and earlier times. This comes in many different avenues whether it’s the browsing potential of online shopping or the visual approach to in-store shopping. 


The Takeaway

While shopping trends are evolving, holiday shopping is one of the last hold outs as tradition beats out the massive expansion of recent technology, if only for a moment. The landscape is in constant flux and the preference for in-store shopping may not always hold steadfast. Larger retailers including Target and Walmart have already adapted to these shifting holiday dynamics and for others hoping to survive this retail climate that was previously anchored to shopping events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday — well, they would be wise to do the same.