The best technology breakthroughs are those that clearly alleviate “pain” that exists in some form or other. Online tax software. Social media, so that we can scale communication and keep in touch. Online and mobile banking. And, e-commerce. The ability to shop online for an ever-broadening list of product categories makes this time of year much merrier for many – and 2014 is extremely merry for online retail.
This year, we saw even greater blurring of the sales event (soon-to-be-formerly) known as Black Friday – as retailers seek to trump each other by moving their in-store sales earlier and offering deals across longer periods of time. Partly because of these sales time-frame extensions, this year’s Black Friday/Thanksgiving weekend spending dropped 11% compared to 2013, says the National Retail Federation. Our consumer intent data predicted this.
Despite those blurred lines, Cyber Monday this year was the biggest e-commerce day ever. Consumers seem eager to continue to move more holiday spend online; a report we recently published with our partner The NPD Group found that 27% of U.S. adult shoppers plan to do as much of their holiday shopping as possible online this year. Our data also found that 29% of consumers expect to conduct more than half of their holiday-related shopping online.
And this is happening despite widely-publicized credit card and customer data security breaches in the past 12 months at retailers including Target, Home Depot, and Bebe.
Why such growth amidst headline-making risks?
To simply state a statistically meaningful and recurring correlation: Most consumers don’t enjoy shopping in stores around the holidays. And let’s face it, online shopping has become so…. easy. From our above-cited study with The NPD Group, we found that in addition to the 27% who are shifting as much spend as possible to online shopping, another 36% say they either “tolerate” or “don’t like” holiday shopping in stores and try to make as few trips as possible. And 17% of consumers simply don’t do holiday shopping.
We wanted to get more specificity around consumers’ distaste for in-store shopping during the holiday season, so we asked them to select what aspect of it they dislike the most. Among 2,277 U.S. adult respondents, here are the top picks and some insights on who is more likely to choose that answer:
It seems that even some of the in-store shopping lovers can still pick something they dislike the most about the experience; true fans with no bone to pick number only 5% of respondents.
- Crowds: Those 30-39 years old are 39% more likely to say Crowds than the average. Those making over $150,000 per year in annual household income are somewhat more likely than other income groups to pick this. When it comes to holiday shopping, these respondents are more likely to make only one big trip to “get it all done at once.”
- Lines: This choice is fairly age-neutral, but with a strong gender split; 68% of these respondents are women. (Women also make up 74% of respondents who picked “Carrying bags, coats, etc.”) The Lines group is more likely to earn $75K-$100K per year. They are 81% more likely than the average to go to the movies on a monthly basis. And when it comes to their holiday shopping trips, they are much more likely to say they make “too many to count.”
- Lack of customer service/staff availability: These respondents are more likely to be over age 55. They are more likely to be spendthrifts vs. tightwads, meaning they have more difficulty controlling their spending. And they are more likely to make 4-5 trips when it comes to holiday shopping.
But granted, not everyone dislikes holiday shopping in stores and we don’t want this post to be Grinch-y. In fact, 21% of consumers from our study with The NPD Group said that they “love” or “mostly enjoy” going. So we asked a specific question: what did over 9,000 U.S. adult consumers say they like the most about the experience?
You see that the in-store shopping “haters” number (38%) is pretty consistent with our other poll study (36%), as is the percentage of those who don’t shop for the holidays in stores. Among those who remain, these are the top likes:
- Holiday music, decorations, displays: So the festive “ambience” seems to be the leading choice in making the activity more enjoyable. Respondents for this answer are 63% women and are more likely to be 30-34 years old. When they holiday shop, they tend to make at least 4 separate trips to the stores. Interestingly, they are more likely to say that traveling is a passion of theirs (so taking in the sights would seem to be of high interest to them in general).
- Deals: Those aged 18-24 index 50% higher than average for this choice. These respondents are 68% women. They tend to make 2-5 trips when it comes to holiday shopping in stores. The deal fans are more likely to love to bake. They are also big on using their smartphones: they are more likely to buy and download mobile apps and games and to frequently use their devices to research purchases.
- Being able to see and touch the products: While this answer was fairly representative across all age groups, it also biased towards women: 66% are female. This group also frequently uses their smartphones to research products they want to buy, and when it comes to holiday store shopping trips, they make “too many to count.”
So what’s a bricks-and-mortar retailer to do?
Based on these consumer insights, we have some holiday food for thought:
Play up the benefits of the in-store shopping experience that are highlighted by what consumers do like (physical interaction with the product, in-store only deals) – and make that experience better for the customer. Find ways to improve their service experience, expedite lines, and manage crowds or crowd perceptions. NPD’s expert analyst Marshal Cohen has some great thoughts on this topic.
Dress up your store – Create displays that have appeal and potentially spread word of mouth. Locally-focused retailers may even wish to engage their communities, such as by having students co-design displays or contribute crafted decorative items. Book some a cappella singers. In general, give shoppers conversation pieces and a chance to hit pause on the hassled shopping experience.
Increase the service touch – Having a member (or members) of the team assigned to keep a pulse on shopper mood could go a long way, especially in very large stores and/or if the crowds or lines start to ramp up. This may have highest pay-off if directed at older shoppers (55+).
Leverage omni-channel strategies – Retailers who also have an e-commerce site can use that channel to drive in-store traffic, such as by offering special deals, “trunk shows” or preview events, and other tactics to bring shoppers into the physical store.
As noted, we are not proving causal effect between in-store shopping sentiment and e-commerce, nor do we suggest it is the only factor, but there is an undeniably strong correlation between these two areas of study.
At any rate, we’ve only 8 days left to Christmas Day. And we’ve already used our data to do a mini-profile on the more-likely “last minute” holiday shopper. With the growing popularity of online shopping during this time of year, those who hit the stores in these remaining days may see less of the crowds and lines that they so dislike.
But their experience may determine what they do at this time in 2015.