It’s beginning to look a lot like the holiday shopping season is upon us. So, what can retailers expect from their customers this year?
The holiday season is a critical time for retailers – a time many brands plan for months in advance. With technology making it easier than ever for people to research, compare, and shop around, how should brands expect their customers to interact with them this holiday season?
As we do every year, we’ve scoured numerous reputable sources and compiled some of the predictions, forecasts and insights about the 2019 holiday shopping season that most stood out to us.
So kick your feet up, grab your egg nog, and let's dive in.
Side note: Make sure to check out the sources for these stats, predictions, and forecasts at the bottom of this post. We’ve curated only a handful of their findings here.
Will we add another “0” to Total Sales this holiday season?
After coming up just short to the 1-trillion dollar mark during the last holiday season, holiday retail sales in the US are expected to surpass this milestone. Many projections also expect online sales to exceed $130B, with $1 of every $5 being spent online.
How much do customers in the US expect to spend this holiday season? According to the National Retail Federation, about $1,050 on average, a 4 percent bump from last year. That takes into account gifts and other holiday-related items like food and candy.
In a Deloitte press release announcing their projections for the 2019 holiday season, Daniel Bachman, Deloitte’s U.S. economic forecaster, states:
“The projected holiday season growth is, in part, due to the current health of the labor market. Near record-low unemployment rates, coupled with continued monthly job creation, may encourage people to spend more during the holiday season.”
Cyber Week is expected to break records (again)
Cyber Week, which spans from Thanksgiving Thursday to the end of Cyber Monday, is forecasted to account for almost 20 percent of all spending in November and December 2019, according to Adobe Digital Insights.
Worth noting is that Cyber Week will spill over into December this holiday season. That means fewer shopping days from Thanksgiving to the end of the holiday season, a shift that could impact many shoppers’ habits this holiday season.
It’s looking like for this holiday season, the early bird gets the (frozen) worm.
The role of smartphones in holiday shopping continues to grow
Think back five years ago. How much of a role does your smartphone play on your holiday shopping now compared to then?
Probably a lot more. This holiday season, our phones are expected to factor in more of our shopping habits than ever before.
Deloitte predicts that 70 percent of shoppers will use their smartphone to make a purchase (up from 59 percent in 2017). At the same time, Adobe predicts that 47 percent of overall holiday sales growth will come from smartphones.
Periscope by McKinsey reports that smartphones will soon surpass computers/laptops as the device of choice to make online purchases for US, Canadian, and German shoppers.
With smartphones becoming an increasingly critical part of both the shopping and purchasing experience, the need for brands to deliver positive, seamless Mobile experiences has never been greater.
The staying power of Brick-and-Mortar
We've looked at how eCommerce sales are expected to grow considerably this holiday season. At the same time, Deloitte predicts that 36% of all money spent will be in-store – down from 46 percent in 2015.
Despite these differing trends between offline and online holiday shopping, in-store will continue to play a significant role for many shoppers this holiday season.
For example, Accenture predicts that 72 percent of US shoppers plan to shop in-store at some point during the holiday season. Accenture also reports that after seeing an item in-store, holiday shoppers were much more likely to purchase that item in the store than to price-shop and buy it online.
To expand on this finding, Jill Standish, Senior Managing Director and Head of Accenture’s Global Retail Practice, stated that:
“While having a strong online proposition has become table-stakes, physical stores will still play an important role in the future… With creativity and ingenuity around the store footprint, retailers have an opportunity to leverage the surge in holiday foot traffic not only to increase holiday revenues but also to find those special customers who will be the loyal ones they depend on all year.” 
In an article for Econsultancy, Callum Saunders of Zeal Creative refers to the “thrill of (re)discovery” that physical retail stores can provide shoppers in an increasingly digital world. Saunders argues that physical stores can act “not only as visual prompts that help to reinforce and build memory structures, but as opportunities for shoppers to ‘discover’ and interact with brands, ironically, in a far less transactional fashion”.
There will undoubtedly be many instances where holiday shoppers do all of their shopping only online or only in-store. However, the reality today is that many shoppers will intertwine these channels in some way during the shopping process.
Speaking of which...
Omni-channel shopping behavior will be in full force
The omni-channel customer will thrive and channel-hopping will be prevalent this holiday season.
Deloitte reports that over two-thirds of holiday shoppers will research online and buy at least some gifts in store. At the same time, Periscope by McKinsey says that 51 percent of in-store shoppers plan to use their smartphones to compare prices against competitors, and 30 percent will use them to look up further product information.
But one omni-channel behavior that is expected to be more prevalent than before this holiday season? BOPIS, or Buy Online and Pick Up In Store.
About four or five out of ten holiday shoppers are expected to use BOPIS this holiday season. As well, a bonus for brands is that the majority of users (82 percent) said they would likely shop for more items while they are in the store picking up their online orders, according to Adobe Digital Insights.
In terms of what might be in store (sorry) for future omni-channel holiday shoppers? According to Periscope by McKinsey, here is what is only many shoppers’ wish lists for how to improve the in-store experience:
1. Ability to browse products from a digital panel (24 percent)
2. Self-checkout (11 percent)
3. Offers sent directly to their phone (10 percent)
It will be interesting to see how omni-channel shopping behaviors and the omni-channel customer experience will continue to evolve during future holiday shopping seasons, and how brands will incorporate digital components into the in-store experience.
The predictions, forecasts, and insights that have been made publicly available, including the ones featured in this post, only reinforce the importance of designing simple, positive, and seamless Customer Experience (CX) on all your online and offline touchpoints.
To create these experiences, retailers must make sure they have the measures in place on all their touchpoints to measure the experience and collect customer feedback from their customers, wherever they are in the customer journey.
This is just one of the topics we dive into in our Definitive Guide to CX in 2020 (free eBook), and how to get the most out of your feedback to inform your key CX decisions.
From sales potentially reaching a new milestone to the increasing role of Mobile experiences, to the continued impact of physical stores and the evolving shopping behavior – this holiday season promises to be very interesting.
 eMarketer – Holiday Shopping 2019
 Deloitte - Holiday Retail Sales Expected to Jump Between 4.5–5% (Press Release)
 Salesforce - 2019 Holiday Shopping Predictions: How the Short Season Will Shape a Strong Holiday for Retailers
 Adobe Digital Insights – 7 Holiday Online Shopping Predictions
 The National Retail Federation - Holiday shoppers plan to spend 4 percent more this year (Press Release)
 Accenture – Most US Shoppers Expect to Spend as Much or More This Holiday Season than Last Year, with Many Turning to Physical Stores for Inspiration, Accenture Survey Reveals (Press Release)
 Periscope by McKinsey – The 2019 Holiday Season: Shoppers are ready to spend but retailers need to personalize
 Deloitte – Deloitte 2019 holiday retail survey (PDF)
 Accenture - 2019 Annual Holiday Local Shopping Survey (PDF)
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