Dashing to the stores: Last-minute holiday trends to watch

Emily Eberhard December 2018 Search, Consumer Insights

This year includes a bonus weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And that means the holiday gift hunt is far from over. New research shows that holiday shoppers continue to browse and purchase over longer stretches of time, right up to Christmas Day.

To help you reach and meet the needs of people dashing to the store, we’re sharing real-time holiday shopping trends that highlight how last-minute shoppers are making their final decisions — and what they’re buying — this season.

Shoppers still have a lot left to do — and they’re doing it on mobile

Even as we head into the final weeks of the holiday season, shoppers admit they still have half their shopping left to do.1 While many people have gone to actual stores in the past few weeks, shoppers estimate that nearly 60% of their shopping time so far has been spent online.2 In fact, nearly as many shoppers have used their smartphones to search for holiday items as have shopped for those items in a store.3

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As the window for online purchase delivery dwindles, shoppers are turning to their phones for last-minute efficiency. So far, nearly 2 in 3 online purchases this season have been completed on a smartphone.4 Meanwhile, over 60% of shoppers have used apps, with half of people downloading new apps.5 Shoppers on mobile are on pace to complete more shopping than those purchasing offline.6

And when the shipping cut-off date comes and goes, last-minute shoppers turn to their phones to find where they can buy their gifts nearby. During the 2017 holiday season, searches for “can i buy” increased throughout the month of December, peaking on the 22nd, just three days before Christmas,7 and searches for “store hours” peak on Christmas Eve, the biggest day of the year.8

Purchase decisions are being made online, not in the aisle

There’s no doubt shoppers put a lot of effort into researching and finding the perfect gift for those on their list. In fact, search interest for “black friday” in 2018 was the highest it’s been in the last five years,9 an indication shoppers are going into their purchases — either in stores or online — more informed than ever.

So far this season, only 1 in 3 purchases were made on impulse, including in-store purchases.10 But don’t fret: 2 in 3 shoppers still have decisions to make about the gifts that remain on their lists.11 In fact, fewer than 2 in 10 have decided on the brand or retailer for the items they are thinking about or actively researching,12 which means that holiday shoppers are still up for grabs.  

Already this season, more than 30% of shoppers have shopped with a retailer they hadn’t purchased from before.13 In some of the categories, we’ve seen brand consideration take a back seat secondary to product attributes. People search more by brand when shopping for candles, perfumes, colognes, and handbags, and by more description when shopping for books, candy, or greeting cards.14 For example, some popularly searched attributes we’re seeing for books this season include “cooking,” “travel,” and “photography.” And for candy, keywords “Christmas” and “candy cane” top the holiday shopping search trends.

What last-minute shoppers are adding to their wish lists

Seasonal searches for categories such as books, toys, and games; cosmetics, apparel, and accessories; and home goods, peak in December, compared with electronics, which is more popular in November because of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.15

The season's top trending gifts

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We looked at trending products from Shopping Insights16 going into December, and here are a few gifts topping the list:

See the full list of trending toys and trending gifts in other categories. (Also see the mobile versions: Trending toys and trending gifts)

Rather than pin their hopes on bagging the perfect Black Friday sale, many shoppers are taking the time to do their research online, discover new brands and products, and find physical stores that will get products in their hands when they’re ready to buy. This season, keep your campaigns running to meet the last-minute shopper in these varying moments, and make this holiday your merriest one yet.

Your guide to the consumer's shopping journey