The holiday shopping season is already in full swing. In fact, as of mid-October, 39% of Canadian shoppers say they've 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 behaviours you need to know.
Holiday shopping is starting earlier
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, 20% of Canadian consumers had already started their holiday shopping.2 And 44% of Canadian consumers who are planning to shop for the holidays say they will start their shopping earlier than they did last year.3
"Each year, we see Canadians start their holiday shopping earlier and earlier," says Swathi Sadagopan, strategic insights lead, retail at Google Canada. "Cyber week has turned to Cyber month, and is likely to be a Cyber quarter.
"We are seeing elevated levels of search interest for several known items like jackets as well as never-before-seen items like shackets. And many retailers are responding by starting their deals early, too."
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
The pandemic continues to disrupt people’s lives and their shopping behaviours, with 49% of consumers in Canada saying they expect COVID-19 to impact how they shop during the holidays.4 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 67% of Canadian consumers saying they will confirm online that an item is in stock before going to buy it.5
“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, 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.”
More support for local, small businesses
Another way the pandemic has changed consumer mindsets and behaviours 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 around the world in response.
This is a topic that has become more front of mind for people, as 64% of Canadian holiday shoppers say they will shop more at local small businesses.6
Tools like free listings and Business Profile 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. For small businesses in Ontario and Alberta that are not yet online, ShopHERE powered by Google provides free support on building, launching, and managing an online store. And Grow My Store provides customized recommendations to help businesses optimize their websites, increasing the likelihood of converting a website visitor into a customer.
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.