Consumers plan to get started early on Christmas shopping

Photo: RetailWire
Nov 01, 2017
George Anderson

Fewer and fewer consumers are likely to be heading out to malls and stores in the final days before Christmas as more go shopping earlier in the season, according to new research from The NPD Group.

This year will mark the first time when more consumers will start shopping Thanksgiving weekend and Cyber Monday than in early December, according to NPD, which surveyed 3,785 U.S. adults. According to the firm’s “2017 Holiday Purchase Intentions Survey,” consumers have been gradually moving to earlier starts on their Christmas shopping for the last 10 years.

“The consumer that used to wait until after Thanksgiving weekend now shops during it,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD, in a statement. “Despite all the efforts in recent years to get shoppers shopping before Black Friday week we see little to no movement early in the season, but the last-minute shoppers have moved their timing up.”

Nearly 30 percent of those surveyed by NPD plan to start shopping for the holidays over the Thanksgiving weekend. That’s up from 12 to 16 percent in the years before 2014. Part of the reason that consumers are shopping earlier, according to NPD’s analysis, is the shift online. Two-thirds of consumers plan to do at least some of their Christmas shopping online this year.

“The excitement of Thanksgiving Day store openings has now faded, making them a low risk, low reward proposition. While choosing to close on the holiday will not be detrimental to those retailers, the retailers who open won’t see a significant boost this year either,” said Mr. Cohen.

The Christmas shopping season promises to be a strong one for retailers. A survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics for the National Retail Federation found that consumers plan to spend an average of $967.13 this year, up 3.4 percent over 2016. This new survey follows NRF’s annual holiday spending forecast, which projected retail sales in November and December to increase between 3.6 percent and four percent.

Online will be the most popular shopping destination this year, surpassing stores for the first time in history, according to NRF, which has estimated that 59 percent of consumers plan to shop online and 49 percent plan to pick up online orders in stores.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How will the shift to earlier shopping, particularly online, affect how retailers approach the holidays in terms of marketing, merchandising, store operations, etc.? Where do you see this shift having the greatest impact on how retail businesses operate during November and December?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"I caution retailers to remain vigilant in their holiday plans — there may be fewer shoppers, but there will be shoppers … lots of them."
"...those who successfully apply Big Data and artificial intelligence to help can become winners."
"Since online shopping will eclipse in-store for the first time, retailers must take note and plan promotions accordingly."

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13 Comments on "Consumers plan to get started early on Christmas shopping"

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Mark Ryski

The shift to online and an earlier start is good for retailers. Instead of the mass pandemonium that is the hallmark of seasons past, retailers can be more deliberate and focused. While there will be less traffic in physical stores this season, retailers should be very aware that those shoppers who do visit the store will likely be very predisposed to purchase and the focus should be on reducing conversion friction — minimizing stock-outs, aligning staff schedules to traffic patterns and fast sales traction processing. Notwithstanding the survey results, I caution retailers to remain vigilant in their holiday plans — there may be fewer shoppers, but there will be shoppers … lots of them.

Bob Amster

If this is, in fact, going to happen, it will smooth the flow of customers and transactions and will reduce the last-minute freneticism. Retailers may have an increased opportunity to move in-store inventory around to where there will now be earlier and more meaningful signs of sell-through.

Charles Dimov

Great news. It gives retailers a greater opportunity to balance out inventory availability, and gives shoppers a chance to order online — then do a pickup to check out the product before wrapping it up. However, I have to admit that this takes some of the charm out of the season. I fondly remember those last-minute frantic dashes to the store to find something for that (oops!) forgotten cousin. Oh well.

Kim Garretson
2 years 2 months ago

This will be a big year for individualized alerting on e-commerce sites. Those retailers who have embedded the technology for shoppers to sign up for alerts on back-in-stock, price drops, release of highly-anticipated items, new reviews posted etc. will be able to capture the data and intent of the early shoppers and convert them before the holiday.

Neil Saunders

The shift earlier is inevitably down to higher rates of online shopping. That consumers are spreading this out over the season is good news for retailers and logistics companies, which often struggle to cope with dramatic spikes in demand over short periods of time. However, higher online penetration is not good news for retail profit margins as most retailers make less money selling online than they do in stores.

Michael La Kier

It is becoming harder and harder for retailers to forecast store traffic and proper inventory levels. The holiday season is such a critical time, but poorly understood by many. Holidays are an opportunity for disruption and those who successfully apply Big Data and artificial intelligence to help can become winners.

Steve Montgomery

The shift to earlier shopping allows retailers to better plan their inventory adjustments and promotions. Their margins should increase as the earlier shopping and better inventory control will result in less last minute discounted merchandise. Over time this will educate customers not to wait until the last minute thinking that they will enjoy large discounts with a large selection of items from which to choice.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

I believe this is a mixed message for brick-and-mortar retailers. The bad news is that online will continue to take share. Should anyone doubt the continued onslaught of Internet shopping, take a look at today’s email from eBay: Your holiday shopping begins on eBay! The good news is that total holiday spending is projected to show a reasonable increase over last year. The most successful retailers are those with an omnichannel presence — remembering that it is about customers, not channels. For these retailers, they can participate in the continued growth of the online segment and reposition their stores to cater to shoppers looking for an authentic holiday shopping experience. As for those operating is a single (physical only) channel, there will be even more pressure to create an attractive and valuable offering during this season.

Peter Messana

The more the curve is a bell the better. We have to insanely increase infrastructure to account for the spikes. The more retailers can smooth it to be a curve and remove spikes the better for us in the e-commerce technology space and the happier my product and development teams are.

From a personal standpoint, I hate Christmas in October but I prefer a happier work life over happier personal opinion. 🙂

Ralph Jacobson

Online shopping has simply become too easy not to take advantage of. However, by nature, most people procrastinate, so I still expect the vast majority of true holiday shopping to take place closer to the holidays. When I say, “true holiday shopping,” I’m referring to shopping done for gifts, not taking advantage of promotions for yourself. Most gift shopping still comes late in the game, so retailers both online and offline need to capture the attention of shoppers as early as they can to create a shopping journey that continues until their gift lists are completed.

Dave Nixon

With the increase in online sales, and the variable delivery/distribution methods, this will help to “connect” disparate shopping peaks, and smooth out those demand periods, and therefore, retailers can be much more methodical at inventory, predicting demand and providing a higher level of customer experience. There will be no excuses for not doing so as these “peaks” flatten out. Let’s face it, it’s incredibly difficult to provide a positive customer experience on Black Friday, but not if the demand stays more consistent.

Ricardo Belmar

I think this highlights the fact that retailers need to worry less about distinguishing between online and physical channels. Overall, the earlier shopping is a good thing — spreading out those shopping visits whether online or in-store will only open the door for more marketing opportunities to drive add-on purchases later in the season. Perhaps, reminder emails about needing “one more gift” for someone you forgot that entices shoppers to make one more visit — again, online or offline, either way is a win!

Min-Jee Hwang

Retailers have been slowly moving their promotions further back to make the holiday shopping season longer. Getting consumers to shop earlier is a great idea to increase the potential of them coming back before the holidays are over. Since online shopping will eclipse in-store for the first time, retailers must take note and plan promotions accordingly. Why not hand out coupons to in-store customers with a percentage off offer that is only valid online up until a week or so before Christmas? Give shoppers an offer they can’t resist and one that retailers can deliver without any logistical hiccups.

"I caution retailers to remain vigilant in their holiday plans — there may be fewer shoppers, but there will be shoppers … lots of them."
"...those who successfully apply Big Data and artificial intelligence to help can become winners."
"Since online shopping will eclipse in-store for the first time, retailers must take note and plan promotions accordingly."

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