It’s again the time of the year when retailers are eager for the attention and wallet share of holiday shoppers. And the stakes are high: With rebounding household incomes and strong consumer confidence, consumers are projected to churn out a total of $678.75 billion to $682 billion this year on holiday shopping*, up from $655.8 billion last year.
It’s no secret that e-commerce is expected to account for a bigger share of the pie compared to last year, bolstered largely by the continued rise of shopping on mobile devices. And consumers will embrace omni-channel strategies, be it shopping online and picking up by the curbside or researching products on their smartphones while browsing in stores. What else should marketers be aware of this holiday season?
- Increasingly, quality beats quantity and price: Apple’s iPhone X, the company’s priciest handset ever, may have just arrived at the optimal time. Americans’ price sensitivity, which peaked during the recession, has waned with the economic recovery: According to the latest findings from GfK Consumer Life, the amount of Americans declaring that price is the most critical factor in their purchase decisions dropped to 36%, down from 41% in 2011 and 39% in 2016. On the other hand, a growing number (35%, up 3 pts from 2011) prefer to own fewer but higher quality products. Also on the rebound is enthusiasm towards new products: 38% admit that they like to buy the newest or latest version of a product, up 6 pts since 2011.
- Deals still matter: A willingness to pay for quality, however, does not mean that bargain hunting is going out of style. In fact, over three quarters of American consumers feel really satisfied with themselves, even excited, when they get a really good deal – and this is fairly consistent across income brackets. Our persistent deal-seeking mentality is reflected in the continued success of off-price retailers such as T.J. Maxx, Ross and Nordstrom Rack, whose combined sales surged by $14 billion since 2011 and is poised to grow further, as department store sales plummeted by $25 billion.
To woo bargain hunters, retailers are kicking off the holiday season well ahead of Black Friday by offering steep discounts now. Amazon, for example, touts best ever deals on electronics, hot toys, home goods and more when it opened its Black Friday Store on Nov. 1st. Kohl’s also started November with an aggressive one-day deal of $15 in Kohl’s Cash for every $50 spent. The company will begin to offer its actual Black Friday deals on Monday, November 20 online.
- Think beyond products: Not all gifts that Americans will purchase this season can be wrapped up in a nice little bow. According to the Deloitte’s 2017 Holiday Survey, over a quarter (27%) plan to gift experiences, such as concert tickets, vacations and dining out. Behind this is a broader trend that demands attention.
GfK Consumer Life data reveals that nearly three quarters of American consumers today consider experiences more important than possessions. Vacation destinations and the food they eat now represent the fastest growing forms of self-expression in the nation, as enticing vacation and ‘food porn’ photos flood social media. At the same time, cars and clothes/jewelry saw declines as personal statements. This shift in priority is reflected in consumption. According to HSBC, America’s expenditure on recreation, travel and eating out as a percentage of total spending has been trending up over the past 15 years, whereas spending on durable goods and clothing has decreased.
But stores can also tap into consumers’ growing zest for experiences. Shopping itself is often seen as a leisure pursuit well beyond finding and buying the right product. Brick-and-mortar stores have long been drawing holiday shoppers in with picture-perfect decorations and Santa interactions for kids. With the inroad of e-commerce, stepping up the ‘experience’ element is ever more crucial for physical stores to maintain relevance. Walmart is doing just that– the world’s largest retailer is to host 20,000 holiday parties this holiday season, allowing customers to take pictures with Santa, see product demonstrations, and get gift ideas.
- Look beyond the holiday season: While the holiday season still contributes to a large share of the retail sales, its role has dwindled: Since 1992, the contribution of the fourth quarter to annual sales has been on the decline, shifting from 32.8% of total sales back then to 28.9% in 2016. Consumers’ growing accessibility to deals throughout the year, thanks in part to the proliferation of deal sites and apps, may be partly to blame – the same way that the role of Black Friday has weakened as retailers increasingly spread out blowout deals throughout the season.
As retailers prepare for the final stretch of the holiday race, it’s also important to have a long-term strategy to connect with the ever more experience-driven, smartphone equipped, savvy omni-channel shopper, who is still motivated by deals but willing to pay for the products that matter.
Veronica Chen is Vice President at GfK Consumer Life. To share your thoughts, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.
*Spending excludes automobiles, gasoline and restaurants