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The holiday shopping season is already in full swing. In fact, 40% of U.S. shoppers have already started their holiday shopping, according to new research from Google and Ipsos.1

Following the biggest ever holiday season for digital spending in 2020, the retail landscape continues to shift. COVID-19 has led to logistical challenges, resulting in delivery delays and product scarcity, but the potential release of pent-up demand and people’s excitement about spending the holidays with friends and family this year means there is cause for optimism as well.

To help your brand navigate the 2021 holiday season, here are the early retail trends and consumer behaviors you need to know.

Holiday shopping is starting earlier

Calendar inside circle graph: 31% of U.S. consumers started their holiday shopping in June.

While we have seen the start of the holiday shopping season creep forward over the last few years, in 2021, the festive season was on people’s minds even earlier than before. As of June, 31% of U.S. consumers had already started their holiday shopping.2 And 44% of U.S. consumers who are planning to shop for the holidays say they will start their shopping earlier than they did last year.3

“With the holidays around the corner, shopping and the competition for shoppers’ hearts and wallets is in full effect. Retailers need to capture consumer interest early on and personalize the message and experience throughout the journey for each shopper in order to break through the noise,” says Elliott Nix, head of YouTube sales. “72% of consumers are more likely to be loyal to a brand if they offer a personalized experience with additional rewards and benefits.4 By personalizing the message on what they can offer consumers now, retailers will be well positioned as we get deeper into the holiday season.”

People preparing earlier for the holiday season is likely a response to their experiences last year, when traditional holiday shopping became challenging due to the pandemic. This year they’re excited to see their friends and family again, and want to get ahead of any potential disruptions.

Expected scarcity due to supply-chain challenges

Shopping bags inside circle graph: 47% of U.S. consumers expect COVID-19 to impact how they shop this holiday season.

The pandemic continues to disrupt people’s lives and their shopping behaviors, with 47% of consumers in the U.S. saying they expect COVID-19 to impact how they shop during the holidays.5 Some of these effects are smaller and more commonplace these days, such as wearing a mask and planning store visits in advance. Others will have a greater impact, requiring shoppers to look for new retailers and gift options if they’re unable to purchase specific items due to shortages.

Pandemic-related supply-chain challenges are already causing delivery delays and stock shortages for the holiday season. This has worried many holiday shoppers, with more than half of U.S. consumers saying they will confirm online that an item is in stock before going to buy it.6

“People are aware of the supply-chain challenges expected this season and are more open than ever to trying new brands to get what they need. As a result, they are turning to Google Search to help them navigate this season to find which retailer can deliver for their gifting needs, whether they want to purchase online or in-store,” says Kevin Fried, industry director, specialty retail at Google.

“If expected shortages hold true this session, we’re likely to see the current trend of people searching for product availability accelerate even more. By using features like local inventory ads and shipping annotations, retailers can highlight the products they have in-store and how quickly people can expect delivery.”

More support for local, small businesses

Wrapped gifts inside circle graph: 60% of U.S. consumers who are planning to shop for the holidays say they will shop more at local small businesses.

Another way the pandemic has changed consumer mindsets and behaviors is by making people more conscious about who they buy from. Smaller businesses have had a trying time during the pandemic, and campaigns such as “buy local or bye local” have popped up across the world in response.

This is a topic that has become more front of mind for people, as 60% of U.S. consumers who are planning to shop for the holidays say they will shop more at local small businesses.7

Tools like free listings and Business Profiles can help businesses promote their products and stand out to local shoppers, ensuring people see up-to-date information, like accurate business hours, in-store services, and safety measures across Google.

There is still a lot of uncertainty about the upcoming holiday shopping season, from potential delivery delays and stock shortages to concerns about whether new restrictions might be introduced. This makes it more important than ever for retailers to provide a frictionless and clear experience throughout the purchasing journey so customers know what to expect.

And given that the holiday shopping season is already underway, it’s important that retailers provide this now. For more ways to be there for holiday shoppers, check out our latest guide for retailers and brands.