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The Top 5 Things We Learned From the 2015 Holiday Shopping Season

/ By CivicScience

The 2015 season, saw some retailers implement major changes. While some promoted sales early in the season, other retailers defied the norm by staying closed on Thanksgiving Day (and some even on Black Friday). Did this have any effect on consumers? What new trends emerged that retailers need to be thinking about for next year?

Beginning at the end of September 2015, CivicScience tracked consumers’ holiday shopping behaviors and intent. We polled over 89,000 consumers on their holiday shopping behaviors; diving deeper into their shopping progress throughout the season, their intent on shopping during the Thanksgiving weekend, their in-store shopping annoyances, and more. After numerous posts and reports, we’re sharing with you our top 5 discoveries from the 2015 holiday shopping season.

 

#1 The shift to online shopping shows no signs of slowing down.

It was the 10th anniversary of Cyber Monday and it did not disappoint. This year, Cyber Monday set a new record for single-day online sales and beat analyst forecasts. When compared to its door-buster counterpart, Black Friday, it is the preferred shopping day among consumers. According to our shopping intent data from November 2015, nearly 1 in 5 (18%) U.S. consumers ages 18 and older were very likely to shop on Cyber Monday, a growth of several percentage points over stated intent in 2014. Only 3% of consumers told us they were very likely to shop this year on Thanksgiving Day and 6% said they were very likely to shop on Black Friday (both of those days show slight declines in shopping intent over last year). The National Retail Federation reported that this was the first time that more shoppers went on-line than shopped in stores during the Black Friday weekend, which leads to our second discovery…

Our polling also showed that 40% of online adult consumers who planned to shop over the holidays said they would do at least half of their shopping online; which is 8% more than last year.

2015 holiday recap report - online shopping

 

This increased amount of gift buying online brings us to our next discovery:

 

#2 Cyber Monday may soon eclipse Black Friday as the official start of the holiday shopping season.

Although many consumers (a little less than half) started taking advantage of pre-black Friday deals, the majority started their holiday shopping around the Thanksgiving weekend. As we saw above, Cyber Monday beat analyst forecasts in 2015. From what we saw, Cyber Monday really seemed to get consumers shopping:

2015 holiday recap report - shopping progress Thanksgiving weekend

During the week of Thanksgiving (11/26) and Black Friday (11/27), we found that 48% of adults had started their holiday shopping, and after taking another pulse after Cyber Monday, which was on 11/30, we found 63% of adults have started their holiday shopping.

 

#3 Retailers need to fix the in-store shopping experience, fast.

Forty-one percent of adults don’t enjoy anything about holiday shopping in stores. As more consumers trade the in-store holiday shopping experience for the convenience of online shopping, retailers will need to get creative in order to find ways to attract consumers to their brick-and-mortar stores. One way to begin solving this problem is to pay attention to consumers’ in-store grievances.

Our partner, The NPD Group, used our data to find The Top 5 Things People Hate Most About Holiday Shopping in stores. The top in-store shopping complaint is that it is too crowded. Although this is difficult for retailers to control, there are some ways they can minimize the feel of a crowded store. Here are a few examples:

  1. Be mindful of heavy traffic areas and think of ways to disperse the crowds. For example, if the checkout area tends to get crowded around the holidays, create additional pop-up checkout “counters” where sales associates can take credit or debit card purchases using technology such as Square or Apple Pay.
  2. Make sure there is a clear walkway and strategically place popular displays/merchandise throughout the store, so consumers aren’t crowding in one area.
  3. Experiment with extended hours. Maybe invite your most loyal customers to shop without the crowds – whether it’s for an hour early in the morning or in the evening.
  4. Provide personal shoppers for customer. Having a more customized and personalized experience may make consumers overlook the crowd or not care as much since they are getting an added service.

Curious what consumers enjoy most about the in-store holiday shopping experience? They love a festive store.

 

#4 There’s plenty to understand about the last minute shopper.

No matter the deals and sales throughout the season, some consumers will always wait until the last minute to start their holiday shopping. As of December 20, 2015, there were still 17% of consumers who hadn’t started their shopping. When you add that to the number of people who still had some shopping to finish, there was a total of 71% of adults who still needed to purchase gifts.

2015 holiday recap report - shopping progress end of season

 

By understanding the last-minute shopper, retailers can better target them and possibly get more of them shopping in their store.

When compared to the average adult holiday shoppers, last-minute shoppers are…

  • 33% more likely to be men over women (probably not a surprise to retailers).
  • 75% more likely to be under 25 years old. They are also 24% more likely to not have children. Maybe they don’t have as many gifts to purchase as others, therefore they start shopping in the days prior to the holiday.
  • Likely to have a lower income than average, which isn’t surprising given their younger age.
  • 83% more likely to say none of their holiday shopping will be done online this year. It doesn’t seem like they plan ahead enough to be able to shop online and receive their gifts on time.
  • 15% more likely to eat at quick service restaurants at least once a week.
  • Less likely to be loyal to any brands. With the right targeting and messaging, they may be persuaded to buy your brand or come to your store when they do get around to shopping.

 

#5 Shoppers become less budget-conscious as the season progresses.

CivicScience witnessed consumers’ spending intent change dramatically throughout the holiday season. In October, we found 13% adults planned to spend more this holiday while more than double that (28%) planned to spend less this holiday than the previous year. We tracked this topic throughout the holiday season and closer to the holiday we saw a notable difference.

When looking at the 1,200 adult consumers who responded from December 11 to December 18, 2015, 21% of them expected to spend more this holiday season than last. This compared to the 13% who said the same in early October. As the season progressed, the majority of consumers planned to spend more on the holidays. Although the number of adults who said they will be spending less this holiday has not changed from earlier in the season, we don’t know how much more or less consumers will be spending.

2015 holiday recap report - spending intent

This finding could mean that as the holidays near, consumers either realize they will go over their budget or they are more willing to spend more later in the season. This could tell retailers to shift their strategies away from discounts in the waning days of the holiday season and focus more on convenience and speed.

 

Final Thoughts

The pace of consumer change in retail is almost dizzying. Despite their best efforts to drive shoppers into a physical store, retailers are seeing more and more holiday buyers migrate online. Are we nearing a future where Black Friday, itself, is a primarily online event? Is there anything retailers can do to make the in-store shopping experience more attractive?  It won’t be long before CivicScience begins looking forward to the 2016 holiday season and, rest assured, these are just some of the big questions we will be trying to answer.

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