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Illustration of e-commerce holiday shopping

2020 E-Commerce Holiday Shopping Trends

As we close out one of the most turbulent years in recent history, consumers are looking ahead to the holiday shopping season for some much-needed levity and relief. But the holiday season will look different in more ways than one this year, and retail is no exception.

With COVID-19 and the recession continuing to impact the lives of consumers, brands will need to adjust their strategies to overcome negative sentiments about holiday shopping.

The majority of shoppers plan to direct money toward essentials instead of holiday spends: 58% of consumers said they plan to spend less money during this holiday season than in past years. As a result, earning your market share will be tougher this year as established selling tactics fall short.

Without the promise of major in-store events like Black Friday doorbusters, retailers are considering how to reimagine the shopping experience and attract shoppers with less disposable income (considering the 30 million collecting unemployment in the U.S.) to splurge on gifts.

We wanted to know how consumers are really feeling about the upcoming shopping season:

  • Are shoppers eager to be back in stores, or are they embracing the move to digital platforms?
  • What’s driving consumers to make purchase decisions this year, and how will their buying patterns be impacted by retailer marketing?
  • Are shoppers eager to purchase products as soon as they’re in stock, or will they wait for sales events?

Holiday Shopping: Iterable’s Consumer Survey Findings

To answer these questions, Iterable surveyed over 1,000 consumers across the U.S. Our results show that even though consumers are concerned about the upcoming holiday season, there’s an opportunity for retailers to make an impact by choosing the right timing and channels.

Here’s what we found.

1. The surge in e-commerce demand will continue beyond the pandemic.

Two-thirds (67%) of shoppers plan to complete most or all of their holiday shopping online, and just 3% said they will continue to do all their shopping in stores.

Now that we’ve tasted the convenience of online and mobile experiences, consumer expectations aren’t likely to go backwards. Just 7% of respondents across generations say they would prefer to shop exclusively in-store, meaning companies need to adapt to build better customer experience on e-commerce platforms.

67% of shoppers plan to complete most or all of their holiday shopping online

But consumers aren’t entirely ready to do away with in-store shopping. Surprisingly, digitally native Gen Zers were the second most likely group (behind baby boomers) to report plans to spend half their time shopping in a brick-and-mortar shop—30% of Gen Z respondents said they would do half their shopping in-stores.

What’s more, Gen Zers were least likely to report doing all their shopping online and most likely to report that given the opportunity, they would complete most shopping in-store, demonstrating there’s more to the e-commerce equation than just digital literacy.

These findings may relate to consumers’ desire to spend more time supporting small and local businesses. Consumer support for small and local businesses has grown (22% say this will be a priority this holiday season)—as long as these businesses are able to provide affordable solutions in a convenient purchasing channel.

Moving forward, all retailers will need to offer great prices and bring low-touch pick-up or delivery options to shoppers. Even though big retailers like Amazon dominate online (35% say they will use Amazon more than in previous years), there’s still space for small local businesses to sell online to customers seeking them out.

The world may be moving toward e-commerce out of necessity now, but expect the shift to stick. The majority of respondents reported that even if COVID-19 didn’t factor into their shopping decisions, they would still choose to shop online at least half the time.

2. Emotional connections to a brand are increasingly important in a digital-first world.

A whopping 83% of respondents said they were more likely to purchase from a brand they have an emotional connection to. That means brands with less mission-driven messages or messages that don’t align with consumers’ values may see a drop in sales.

Straightforward promotional advertising messaging that clearly describes a product is most preferred by older generations, zeroing in on product specs, pricing and exciting new innovation.

83% of consumers are more likely to purchase from a brand they have an emotional connection to.

But product descriptions won’t cut it for Gen Z, who needs empathy to convert. That means advertising messages need to demonstrate they understand the experience of Gen Z—so marketers need to take the time to learn what that means.

In addition to Gen Zers, high earners are significantly more likely to purchase from a brand they have an emotional connection to. More than 50% of those making more than $100,000 said they are “much more likely” to make a purchase when they connect with a brand, whereas the majority of those earning less said it makes them just “somewhat more likely.”

3. Consumers are willing to wait for sales, but when retailers message them is critical.

In spite of expected shipping delays in the upcoming shopping season, consumers are twice as likely to wait for an online sales event to buy an item than they are to purchase an item as soon as it is in stock. One-third (36%) of consumers said they were currently waiting for an online sales event, while just 17% plan to purchase items as soon as they are in stock.

Retailers hosting sales events should be careful about how and where they market events. Shoppers with budget constraints, for example, need more warning in order to plan for holiday promotions—at least a week.

36% of consumers are currently waiting for an online sales event before shopping for the holidays.

Meanwhile, those making over $100,000 are more likely to want to hear from brands “a few days prior.” Almost two-thirds (65%) of consumers prefer to receive promotions no sooner than two weeks before a sales event.

After shopping events, retailers should give consumers time to recover from shopping fatigue. Twenty-eight percent of consumers say it takes them about two weeks to feel ready to receive alerts from retailers again after the holidays.

This preference is true across income brackets and locations, but lower-income shoppers prefer a longer break, with the majority preferring between two weeks and a month before they hear from brands.

What This Means for Retailers

As consumers strapped for cash enter the shopping season, conventional holiday selling tactics may fall short. As a result, retailers need to communicate with more empathy and play the long game to encourage sales.

Download our Retail Marketing Makeover Guide to learn how leading retailers and beauty brands are taking their marketing campaigns from drab to glam.

With powerful solutions that enable lifelike digital experiences, retailers can make an impact that lasts well beyond the recession. And considering positive attitudes toward e-commerce and digital experiences, this work can’t wait.

Looking for support in creating personalized experiences that communicate empathy across channels? Request a demo of Iterable’s growth marketing platform today.

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