Holiday Trend 3: Shopping Starts Sooner — With Tighter Budgets
Holiday shopping is a beloved tradition the world over — and so is putting it off until the last possible minute. Or, at least, that’s how it used to be. However, this year, Sensormatic Solutions global consumer survey found that shoppers around the world are starting their holiday shopping earlier than ever. Of course, there will still be plenty of last-minute scrambling, but globally, November is shaping up to be the busiest shopping month of the 2021 holiday season. That’s not just due to Black Friday, in fact, in many countries, retailers’ busiest days will happen in mid-November — or even earlier.
What does this mean for retailers as they prepare for the holiday season ahead? Where do today’s consumers plan to spend their money amid so many economic uncertainties? Let’s unpack all of that — and more.
More consumers now start shopping well before Black Friday
Black Friday has become a global holiday — and for good reason, it makes our predicted busiest days list for countries around the world, and is still the busiest shopping day in North America. In fact, it looks to be even busier this year than last: 45% of North American consumers said they plan to shop in-store this Black Friday weekend, compared to 30% last year.
However, more consumers will start shopping before Black Friday. In China, for example, the holiday shopping season will start in early November with the e-commerce juggernaut that has become the biggest shopping period on the globe, in terms of revenue: Singles Day. And in North America, consumers will start shopping well before Black Friday. In fact, 51% of U.S. shoppers started before November, compared to 43% in 2020.
Canadian consumers, on the other hand, are more likely to stick to tradition and delay their holiday shopping until later into the season. Just 36% of Canadians said they would start prior to November. Globally, 28% of Europeans said they’ll start prior to November, and 17% of Latin American shoppers said the same. In fact, Brazilians are the least likely to start before November, with just 13% saying they would start shopping in October.
What factors influence these shoppers’ decisions to start shopping when they do? According to our survey, North American shoppers make these decisions largely based on budget (45%) and the timing of sales and promotions (44%). For retailers wondering if all the news about shipping delays and clogged ports had reached a wider consumer audience, it certainly seems it has. Forty-one percent of North American consumers said concern over shipping delays influenced their decisions on when holiday shopping starts in earnest.
However, even with more shoppers starting early, November will still prove to be a very busy shopping month around the globe. In fact, in every country we surveyed, more respondents said they would start shopping in November than any other month.
Ultimately, this — albeit gradual — shift to earlier holiday shopping means retailers will need to consider stocking holiday-focused inventory earlier than previous years. While the busiest period of holiday shopping remains essentially unchanged, the shoppers retailers see in September and October may already be doing their holiday shopping — and as we’ll see in the next section, that may be all the holiday shopping some of those customers will be doing in 2021.
Economic worries may temper spending
Despite economic uncertainty and logistical challenges, some industry analysts still expect retailers’ registers to overflow in certain regions this holiday season. In North America, for instance, the National Retail Foundation anticipates spending this holiday season will be up as much as 10.5% over 2020, while more conservative reports from Bain, Mastercard, and Deloitte each predict growth of 7-9%. And China’s Singles Day is expected to bring in $85 billion this year — doubling the gross merchandise value of 2019 — with an estimated 900 million shoppers and 290,000 participating brands.
That’s great news for retailers — and we certainly hope it comes true. It is important to note, though, that the findings from our survey offer a different perspective.
Our study found that, globally, 58% of consumers said they plan to spend at least somewhat less than last year. Thirty-three percent plan to spend the same as they did in 2020, and just 9% said they plan to spend more. North American consumers were most likely (12%) to say they plan to spend more, while just 9% of Europeans agreed. The situation in Latin America is the most pessimistic for retailers, with only 7% saying they plan to at least somewhat more this holiday season.
With most consumers aiming to spend less this year, retailers can win new shoppers with savvy promotions that help save money.
They also need to consider that consumers who are shopping on a budget are likely to buy fewer but more meaningful things. This means they’re not just shopping for a great deal — they’re also shopping for a thoughtful purchase. Instead of buying multiple gifts, they’re likely to buy a single, meaningful item, and they may be more disappointed than usual when an item they’ve had their hearts set on is out of stock.
Apparel still sells best
When shoppers do spend, it’s primarily on clothing and apparel. That category was the clear leader across the board in every country we surveyed, with a global average of 68% of consumers including apparel in their top three target categories for spending this year. American shoppers were least likely (48%) to target apparel this holiday season, while Colombians were most likely (88%) to say the same.
Electronics were a distant second (40%) globally, followed closely by gift cards (39%) and toys, books, and other media (34%). On the opposite end of the spectrum, experiential gifts were the least popular (7%), though home decor came perilously close (8%) to being tied for the least-desired gift category this holiday season.
In Latin America, apparel is most popular (85%), followed by health and beauty products (44%) and electronics (38%). In Europe, apparel (60%) is followed by toys, books, and other media (46%) and electronics (35%). North American shoppers, on the other hand, showed the most diverse set of preferences, with apparel (52%) being followed by electronics and gift cards (both 39%) and toys, books, and other media (34%).
For retailers, the takeaway here is clear: If your stores sell the most-wanted items this holiday season, getting that inventory to stores in the right quantities should be a priority, as should managing that inventory with sophisticated inventory intelligence systems and protecting it with the latest loss prevention technology. After all, having these items in stock — and keeping them there — can mean the difference between a satisfied shopper and a disgruntled customer, lost to the competition.
Consumers — particularly those in North America — are shopping earlier this year, but they’re largely doing so with tightened belts. That likely means shoppers will be buying fewer, more meaningful things, giving retailers fewer chances to create exceptional holiday shopping experiences. To keep pace with this shift, retailers should consider implementing or improving inventory management and loss prevention systems and processes. After all, if you only have one shot at creating holiday magic for a consumer, you’d better make it count.
To help you make the most of the 2021 holiday season, we’ve crafted a wealth of resources:
- Schedule smartly: download our global guide to the 2021 holiday season's busiest shopping days.
- Understand your store traffic and how to optimize your locations for in-store shopping and omnichannel: get your copy of our 2021 Holiday Guide to In-Store Success.
- Protect your merchandise and your bottom line: review our 2021 Loss Prevention Checklist.
Be sure to read the rest of our 2021 Global Holiday Retail series. If you missed the first installment on the new realities of in-store shopping, you can view it here, and be sure to check out the second installment that covers key changes and customer preferences when it comes to omnichannel shopping this holiday season.