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2021 E-Commerce Holiday Shopping Trends in the U.S. and UK

At the end of the day, marketing is meant to make people happy. It doesn’t matter if your target audience is sipping Bellini’s under the Space Needle, or catching a show in the West End, every person deserves to be delighted. Especially during the holiday season.

So, while twinkling lights and home-cooked meals are sure to spark joy this season, it’s also incumbent on the marketer to deliver on the promise of delight this festive season. Which requires marketers to think from the customer’s point of view.

At Iterable, we’re big on people and joy. Our mission, in fact, is to connect people to the products that bring them joy. Keeping a pulse on martech industry trends and consumer preferences is essential to ensuring we deliver on this mission.

Last year, we surveyed over 1,000 consumers across the U.S. Our results showed that even though consumers were concerned about the upcoming holiday season, there was an opportunity for retailers to make an impact by choosing the right timing and channels to share their marketing messages. This year, we wanted to go global with our research and find out where shopping trends converge and diverge across two major markets: the U.S. and UK.

Here’s what we found in our poll of 1,500 consumers across the U.S. and UK:

Different Shopping Trends Between UK and U.S. Consumers

1. Both U.S. and UK will spend online (but UK will spend more than in years past).

Ok, it’s only October. But Christmas cheer has never been dependent on timing.

This year, 51% of UK shoppers are planning on spending more this holiday season.

And where are they planning on spending it? Online, of course! COVID-19 accelerated the adoption of e-commerce. We weren’t surprised when we found that 84% of U.S. shoppers and 86% of UK shoppers plan to complete at least half of their shopping online this holiday season.

Brands can capture the greater UK market share by focusing their efforts on first-time customers. Attract customers with the right mindset and profile—the ones who have the potential to become loyal customers.

And remember, a first purchase could be the start of a customer journey. The real growth potential often comes from developing repeat and returning customers.

2. In the UK, shoppers prefer promotions that have a tone of trust and transparency.

2021 is all about personalization. But the right message, at the right time, on the right device only goes so far. Now, marketers need to focus on landing the right tone in their promotions.

We asked consumers to think back over the last six months, and tell us which attributes best describe the tone of their favorite promotion from brands.

For 29% of our UK respondents, promotions with a transparent and trusting tone took priority.

Take a look where other tones stand on the promotional hierarchy:

  • Transparent and Trusting (29%)
  • Empathetic and Comforting (23%)
  • Inspirational and Motivational (11%)
  • Cutting Edge and Exciting (13%)

Transparency is always a best practice when it comes to consumer messaging, and this season, with the rise in supply chain issues and shipping concerns, brands have an opportunity to set a precedent of trust early on.

Brands need to be honest with customers, setting expectations and ensuring they have everything in place for sales success, whether that’s shipping timelines or stock availability. The holiday season is an incredible time to capture new customers and set the precedent for a mutually beneficial and trusting relationship, setting yourself up for success beyond the season.

3. Brands Should Strategize to Ensure Your Promotional Campaigns Are Seen.

There are unique business uses for different marketing channels but the key is understanding how your customer, as an individual, uses each channel. Communicating with your customers in a way that they’re comfortable with is crucial to optimizing your strategy and, in turn, can increase customers’ LTV.

For the majority (56.2%) of UK consumers, email leads as the channel of choice when it comes to receiving promotional messages.

With a consistently high ROI, email communication is an important tool for any marketing team.

Next in popularity, at almost 10%, a brand’s website. According to expert web designers Fernandez, Duke and Brown, “It takes about 50 milliseconds (that’s 0.05 seconds) for users to form an opinion about your website that determines whether they like your site or not, whether they’ll stay or leave.” For users to get to your site and stay there, the UX has to be intuitive and frictionless on mobile and desktop. Upon their first glance of your site, users should know exactly where to click to complete the task they set out to do. After all, people use computers for their ease and efficiency. If your site isn’t making the experience easier, someone else’s site will.

Similar Shopping Trends Between U.S. and UK Consumers

Apart from soccer versus football, are we really all that different? At times, preferences do converge.

1. Creating an Emotional Connection Matters Across the Board.

Our consumer survey made one shopping trend abundantly clear: relationships matter.

More than three-quarters of UK and U.S. respondents (76%) reported that they are more likely to purchase from a brand they have an emotional connection to.

While this is a slight decrease from last year’s findings (83%), the statistic is still substantial. Given this continued majority preference from respondents, mission-driven statements from brands still hold high value in 2021.

When looking at the data on a generational level, however, there are nuances marketers should be aware of in their efforts to emotionally connect with target audiences. Younger generations strongly desire a connection to the brands they shop with. 90% of Gen Zers and 85% of millennials say they’re more likely to shop with a brand they have an emotional connection with, as opposed to only 60% of baby boomers.

Of course, we know that it’s really difficult to understand how someone feels about your brand and then actually use that knowledge to craft relevant campaigns. And even if you know today, tomorrow their feelings may change.

Understanding how customers are feeling about your brand messaging, in real-time and across channels, can inform smarter strategies when it comes to tone, and help build an emotional connection with your audience. Consider leveraging tools that can support these metrics and measurements.

2. Yes, Black Friday Shopping is Still in Vogue

We wanted to take the guessing out of the game for brands this holiday season, so we asked shoppers “When do you plan on completing the majority of your holiday shopping?”. The top two responses? Black Friday and November in general.

41% of U.S. respondents and 49% of UK respondents plan on completing their holiday shopping during the month of November, with a focus on Black Friday.

Global brands would do well to remember that Black Friday is a firm fixture in the UK shopping calendar as well. Whilst it does not have the tie to Thanksgiving, brands need to work hard to stand out and ensure UK shoppers know what to expect from their sales event. Find a way to differentiate your brand messaging in November. Lean in on the above learning to capture customer attention.

3. Local is Lucrative in All … Locales.

As our post-pandemic shopping personalities start to settle, one shopping trend has really crystallized: shopping small. Consumers are ditching the large scale shopping centers in favor of browsing at local shops, spending their cash at the village boutique and spreading the word about independent brands.

29% of UK shoppers said they will shop more at small or local businesses than previous

UK shoppers ranked supporting small or local businesses as their third highest priority when purchasing from a brand this holiday season—above customer service, online reviews, and variety of selection.

While shelter-in-place lifestyles could have escalated the shop small trend to new heights, consumers are likely gravitating towards local markets because of a new psychology that emerged earlier this year. In our previous poll, we found that 87% of consumers were more receptive to a brand’s messages if they know the company’s beliefs and values.

What do these findings mean for brands and businesses? For small businesses, it means you are already set-up for success. However, smaller shops still need to ensure they are meeting consumer expectations in other ways, perhaps by elevating e-commerce experiences.

Larger brands, on the other hand, have a bit more work to do, and should consider integrating the appealing “shop local” ideologies into their businesses. What makes small businesses stand out to consumers? Personality and community. Shopping with a small business, for many, means investing in the entrepreneurial ideology. By leveling up personalization efforts, big box brands can emulate a “boutique” experience.

Brand-Customer Relationships Must Go Beyond the Transaction

To thrive in today’s digital economy, marketers and businesses have to put the customer at the center of everything they do. Today’s modern consumers expect brands to understand them on a human level. What does this mean in practice? It means brands delivering individualized, authentic experiences in relation to shopping trends and what customers are doing across both traditional and digital interactions—anytime, anywhere.

Now that you have the insights, it’s time to act. (And we’re here to help!) Schedule a demo to get in touch with our team.


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