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All signs point to an exceptional holiday retail season, with shopping activity starting early and expected to break sales records. But challenges loom this season, ranging from delivery delays to inventory scarcity to labor shortages — many of them driven by the supply-chain squeeze we’ve all heard so much about. These hurdles will disproportionately impact last-minute holiday shoppers. And despite an earlier start to holiday shopping, as of the week ending December 1, 94% of U.S. shoppers say they still have gifts to buy and 64% still have decisions to make on these gifts.1

To help you prepare for the rush and assist customers who worry they might miss out on that perfect gift, here are some essential holiday shopping trends and tips.

A Black woman checks off items from her list with a pencil. 1. Avoid inventory woes. 2. Share shipping deadlines. 3. Highlight in-store shopping options. 4. Prepare for post-holiday shopping.

Avoid inventory woes

As of December 1, U.S. holiday shoppers have completed 44% of their holiday shopping.2 With this in mind, it’s no surprise that product availability is one of the top factors influencing whether consumers make a purchase with a retailer.3 Thirty percent of holiday shoppers worry that things they want will be out of stock,4 and over half of holiday shoppers say they will confirm online that an item is in stock before going to buy it.5 But they’re not always finding the information they need. Thirty-seven percent of U.S. holiday shoppers agree they wish retail stores would do a better job of sharing inventory information.6

It’s easy to help shoppers on Google know which products are in stock in your nearby store. You can list your available in-store products for free on Google, and promote items that are available for in-store or curbside pickup today using local inventory ads.

Inventory scarcity this year may mean you have products in stock that customers can’t find elsewhere. You can use tools like customer interest insights to understand what people are searching for, and then leverage automation tools, like Smart Shopping campaigns, to capture increased demand for sought-after products.

If items are out of stock, last-minute shoppers may look for other options — like gift cards or experiences. In previous years, search interest in “gift cards” consistently peaked the week before Christmas, and, with increased inventory challenges this year, we expect more of these queries.

Over half of holiday shoppers say they will confirm online that an item is in stock before going to buy it.

Share shipping deadlines

Shipping is absolutely on shoppers’ minds, particularly the order cutoff dates that will ensure delivery before Christmas.

Highlight “order by” information very prominently on your site or app to create both urgency and peace of mind for customers who need delivery in advance of Christmas. You can further help people who are looking for your products on Google by using shipping annotations like “Free delivery by Fri., Dec. 24” or “3-day shipping” across free and paid listings. We’ve already seen a 10% increase in click-through rate for free listings when the three-day shipping annotation is used.7

Highlight in-store shopping options

As holiday shipping deadlines approach, more people will seek out gifts in person. For proof, searches for “gift shops near me” have increased by 60% compared with 2020.8

And according to Salesforce, retailers that offered curbside, drive-through, and in-store pickup last year saw their sales increase by 54% year over year in the five days leading up to Christmas, compared with 34% for retailers that did not offer those options.

Make sure your business hours are up to date and fulfillment options are highlighted on your Business Profile on Google. Reach additional nearby shoppers with helpful information about your local store with tools like Local campaigns that let you highlight products available in your store, pickup options, and more across Google. For more ways to reach last-minute holiday shoppers and help them find your store, explore our local holiday guide.

A shop is indicated by a map location pin. Searches for “gift shops near me” have increased by 60% compared with 2020.

Prepare for post-holiday shopping

While we see a flurry of last-minute shopping on Christmas Eve, it doesn’t stop there. In past years, search interest for “holiday returns” have spiked on Christmas Day, and shopping interest tends to remain high in the following weeks.

For some product categories, holiday retail demand in December is highest on or after Christmas Day. For example, in December 2020, search interest for “jewelry” peaked the day after Christmas. Search interest for “furniture” also sees an increase well into January.

To capture continued consumer demand, extend your holiday strategy beyond New Year’s Day to reach shoppers who may be using gift cards, exchanging gifts they just received, or buying additional items related to gifts they received. Make sure you allocate budget to keep campaigns running after Christmas Day, and look at historical performance to inform when to increase budget to capitalize on increased demand.

In any year, retailers must prepare carefully to capitalize on last-minute holiday shopping behaviors. It’s all the more crucial, then, with this year’s combination of increased consumer demand and retailer headwinds, for marketers to lay the proper groundwork for a bell-ringing Yuletide season.