Here’s what you should know about 3 trends driving this year’s holiday season

Jane Butler / October 2019

The holiday season is the most important time of year for a lot of brands. It’s also the most competitive. And thanks to a shorter shopping window between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, the pressure may feel ever greater.

Instead of the 32 shopping days we had last year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, we’re looking at only 26 days this year. That’s almost a full week less of peak shopping time.

Hand shops on smartphone. Text reads $853 billion spent on retail shopping in 2018, with e-commerce sales growing 18% year-over-year.

The silver lining? Overall retail spending is higher than ever, with people spending a record-breaking $853 billion last year.1 And that upswing isn’t just for brick-and-mortar, as e-commerce sales saw the most significant growth in more than a decade, an increase of 18% year-over-year.2

If those numbers are an indicator, businesses are likely pinning their hopes on a healthy holiday shopping season. But with so many brands and products competing for a slice of the holiday season pie, it’s more critical than ever for marketers to reach and engage shoppers in key decision-making moments.

To help, we’ve taken an in-depth look at three key behaviors of this year’s shoppers so you can exceed their expectations and have plenty of reasons to celebrate in the new year.

1.85X increase in mobile searches for “gift box” in past 2 years. 1 in 4 shoppers think stores give them best deals. But 58% believe better deals are online. 70% of shoppers like it when companies make it easy to shop without having to talk to anyone.

Holiday shopping trend 1: They’re begging to be inspired

Shoppers are making their lists and checking them twice — and they’re heading online for inspiration. Thirty-four percent of people say that discovering new products and getting ideas are aspects they enjoy most about shopping.3 This is the perfect time for you to be there to inspire these curious shoppers.

And the great news for marketers? Shoppers aren’t just looking for inspiration during the holiday season. They’re searching all the time. In fact, 37% of holiday shopping overall has been completed before the week of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.4 So, while it can be tempting to think that consumer purchasing patterns are consolidated around big days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, shoppers are on the hunt well in advance of these days and continue to buy just as frequently into the new year.

One way to connect with these ever-curious consumers is to leverage keyword trends throughout the season — not just around two key days. For example, mobile searches for “gift box” have increased over 85% in the past two years, and not just around peak gift-giving days.5 And deals on electronics, which are a Cyber Monday staple, are being sought long before and after the end of November. Mobile searches for “best electric” (for example, best electric toothbrush, best electric shaver) have grown by over 100% in the past two years.6

If you’re hoping to reach these always-on consumers, you may want to redefine your holiday timelines and extend your marketing efforts beyond the standard peak holiday shopping period.

Holiday shopping trend 2: They’re thrill seekers

While some may get a head start on their research, many shoppers hold off hitting the buy button until they know they’ve got the best deal. And for 52% of shoppers, finding a great deal is the most enjoyable thing about shopping — even better than getting the lowest price.7

Black Friday has traditionally owned the bragging rights for “biggest in-store deal day,” but we’re seeing a shift in consumer thinking. Today, only 1 in 4 shoppers believe that brick-and-mortar stores are giving them the best deals possible. But a majority of shoppers, 58%, believe they’ll get a better deal online.8

People still turn to search first, even if they plan to buy in a store. Around 40% of shoppers from all over the world say they use Google to find the best deals.9 We’ve seen similar trends in keyword searches. In the past two years, mobile searches for “best deals” have grown over 90%, and searches around “rewards apps” and “Black Friday deals” are up 200%.10

Holiday shopping trend 3: Time is their most valuable asset

There are always folks, 13% of shoppers, in fact, who don’t want to do research.11 They either don’t enjoy, or don’t have time, to embark on a lengthy process. When they want to buy, they want to buy now, and in the easiest and fastest way possible.

But shoppers have other parameters that shape their decision-making. For example, they want flexible options for returns, with 47% of shoppers factoring in the type of return policy offered before they buy.12 They also prefer a totally autonomous and self-service experience: 55% say they like it when companies make it easy for them to do what they want without having to talk to anyone.13 When you can beat the competition, make sure you show it by highlighting seamless shopping experiences, like easy returns, fast and free shipping, or in-store pickup.

Are you ready?

There is one constant across these three unique shopping trends. The way people shop around the holiday period is evolving. Brands would be wise to broaden their marketing strategies to incorporate these new behaviors so they don’t miss out on valuable customers — both within and outside peak holiday shopping times.

Want to win the holiday season? Get to know these four types of shoppers