Get ready for 5 big shifts in shopping behavior this holiday season

Bill Ready / October 2020

If you’re anything like me, the holiday season always seems to sneak up on you. Last year, when I realized I hadn’t finished shopping for gifts, I had just enough time to buy online. I barely hit my usual retailers’ final shipping windows. It was a close call, and while I want to say I learned my lesson, I know that if this holiday season is like the last, I’ll do the same thing.

That said, given what the last six months have looked like, this holiday season won’t be much different. The pandemic has dramatically shifted shopping behaviors. In order to adapt to things such as items being out of stock and shipping delays, I’ve tried new services like curbside pickup to get what I need quickly. I’ve purchased items online earlier than I would need them. And I’ve bought from new brands offering the best deals or interesting new products.

Retailers know all too well that people are behaving very differently this year. At Google, we’re able to see consumer behavior firsthand from the hundreds of millions of people who do shopping-related searches on our platforms each day. And I can tell you that people have already begun their holiday shopping.

To help retailers be ready for this holiday season, we’ve identified five shifts in shopping behavior:

In a stylized illustration, a woman with her laptop sits next to a pile of gift boxes. The image is accompanied by text that lists five holiday trends to expect this season: Monthlong Cyber Monday; digital newcomers driving growth; a skew toward online SK

1. Be ready for a monthlong Cyber Monday

Shoppers are seeking deals due to tighter budgets and starting holiday shopping sooner. As of the end of August, 27% of U.S. shoppers said they have already started their holiday shopping,1 and in June, searches for “best affordable” had grown globally by over 60% year over year.2

2. Be ready for digital newcomers driving growth

More people are using digitally enabled tools and buying online for the first time. And they’ll continue to do so. More than 50% of surveyed shoppers tried a new shopping service for the first time,3 and in May, searches for “best grocery delivery” had grown globally by over 700% year over year.4

3. Be ready for a skew toward online SKUs

Shoppers are browsing and researching online more than ever and using that information to plan their store visits. Searches for “fashion online shopping” are up 600% year over year,5 and as of May, searches for “available near me” have grown globally by over 100% since last year.6

4. Be ready for the purpose-driven shopper

People are looking to help each other by supporting local businesses and by shopping with retailers who represent their values. In fact, 46% of surveyed U.S. shoppers agreed that “I make a deliberate effort to shop at businesses that align with my values.”7 Relatedly, searches for “support local businesses” have grown globally by more than 2000X year over year.8

5. Be ready for something new and something known

While shopping online, people are willing to buy from new brands to get what they want, but they’re still seeking safety and familiarity. For example, during the pandemic, almost one-third of U.S. shoppers have purchased from a brand that was new to them.9 But when it comes to shopping in store, 35% of U.S. shoppers said they only shop at stores they are familiar with.10


While there’s no question that the holidays will look different this year, it will continue to be a season of peak demand and a critical time to connect with shoppers. Explore our guide to learn more about trends we’re seeing, and the solutions that will help you stay ahead of them.

_Bill Ready.jpg

Bill Ready

President, Commerce at Google

Sources (10)

1 Google commissioned Ipsos COVID-19 tracker, U.S., CA, U.K., FR, DE, IT, AU, JP, RU, IN, CN, BR, MX, ES, ZA, KR ~n=400-800 online consumers 18+ per market who will shop for the holiday season. Aug 27-30.

2, 5 Google Data, Global English, March 25, 2020 – May 23, 2020 versus March 25, 2019 – May 23, 2019.

3 Google/Ipsos, Shopping Tracker, online survey, Americans 18+ who conducted shopping activities in past two days: n=1000. March 2020.

4 Google Data, Global English, March 11 – May 9, 2020 versus Mar 11 – May 9, 2019.

6 Google Data, Global English, Feb. 26 – April 25, 2020 versus Feb 25 – April 25, 2019.

7 Google commissioned Ipsos COVID-19 tracker, U.S., CA, U.K., FR, DE, IT, AU, JP, RU, IN, CN, BR, MX, ES, ZA, KR n=1000 online consumers 18+ per market. June 25-28.

8 Google Data, Global English, July 1, 2020 - Aug. 29, 2020 versus July 1, 2019 – Aug. 29, 2019.

9 Google commissioned Ipsos COVID-19 tracker, U.S. n=1000 online consumers 18+ per market. June 25-28.

10 Google commissioned Ipsos COVID-19 tracker, U.S., CA, U.K., FR, DE, IT, AU, JP, RU, IN, CN, BR, MX, ES, ZA, KR n=1000 online consumers 18+ per market. Sept 10-13.

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