Trends & best practices

What will the 2021 holiday shopping season bring?

July 21, 2021 By: Lori Niquette

Restrictions are lifting, stores are opening and people are looking for a chance to return to a more normal holiday season. But, this isn’t your 2019 or even 2020 holidays. With an estimated 16 percent increase in quarterly online sales for the first half of 2021  we can already tell that this season will set new bars for online holiday shopping.

So, what can retailers expect? To find out, we surveyed 4,000 consumers age 18+, evenly split across the U.S. and UK, on their feelings leading into the 2021 holiday season and how they planned to shop. 

What we found is that consumers are looking for more this year: more meaning, more value and more purchases.  

Emotional investments will lead to greater holiday spend.

With people planning to spend more time with friends and family than they likely have in recent years, two in three consumers in the UK (66 percent) and U.S. (64 percent) say this holiday season will be more important and emotional than prior years. As consumers search for greater meaning in the season, they plan to spend more to make it happen. In both the U.S. and UK, nearly two in three (62 percent) who say the holidays will be more important plan to spend more than they did in 2019.

This emotional spend is driving up consumers’ expected budgets for the overall season, especially in the U.S., with the majority of Americans planning to spend up to $1,000 or more on the holiday season, while Brits plan to spend an average of £500 GBP or more. 

Figure 1. How much do you estimate you’ll spend overall on the 2021 holiday season (including events / activities, gifts, meals, etc.)?

….But consumers still want value.

Consumers’ hearts might be driving what they do with their wallets, but they still want the best value for their money. In both the U.S. and UK the top factor driving holiday purchases is the overall cost of the product and an estimated 70 percent in both regions admit they shop for items in-store, only to search for a lower price online. 

Figure 2. Top factors that influence where consumers will shop for the holidays. 

eCommerce remains king.

Stores are open for holiday traffic, but the majority of shoppers in both the U.S. (62 percent) and UK (64 percent) plan to primarily shop online. In fact, consumers plan to do roughly the same amount of their holiday shopping online, as they did in 2020. 

  • More than half of Americans (56 percent) did at least 75 percent of their shopping online in 2020 and half (54 percent) plan to do the same in 2021.
  • Similarly, more than two in three Brits (63 percent) did at least 75 percent of their shopping online in 2020 and half (55 percent) plan to do the same in 2021.

As more brands adopt native apps, mobile shopping is also becoming a dominant channel for the holidays. Brits are leading mobile adoption with one in three (30 percent) planning to primarily shop on their device, followed by one in four Americans (25 percent). 

Figure 3. What is the primary way you expect to do most of your holiday shopping this year?Online shoppers are even spending more on their holiday gifts. In the U.S., half of those primarily shopping online for the 2021 holiday season will spend more than $500 on gifts, compared to just 40 percent of in-store shoppers who said the same. In the UK, 40 percent of online shoppers will spend more than £500 GBP on gifts, compared to 32 percent of in-store shoppers. 

Netflix & Click: The Rise of distracted shopping.

Consumers today are taking a more informal approach to holiday shopping. Half of Americans (50 percent) and almost two-thirds of Brits (63 percent) have started their online shopping long before Black Friday – and more than one in three in both the U.S. (36 percent) and UK (41 percent) prefer to skip the big sale days altogether! The primary reason? An equal majority (76 percent) say they just prefer to shop more sporadically. 

More casual browsing, especially while many were stuck home during the pandemic, has led to a rise in distracted shopping. The majority of Americans (72 percent) and Brits (68 percent) now prefer to browse and purchase gifts while doing other things, such as watching TV or sitting in meetings at work. 

The 2021 holidays will thrive on personalization. Are You Prepared?

Results show that consumers are looking not just for an online shopping transaction, but a true personalized and intuitive digital experience. To capitalize on the expected surge in holiday sales, retailers need to ensure they have a quantified, real-time view of customer insights, before the coming code freeze. Not sure where to start? Take a look at the resources or video below for additional insight on how to make the most of 2021 holiday shopping season. 

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