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Retailers dealing with some (radically) new factors this holiday season

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By: Bryan Pearson |

Posted on October 30, 2018

Halloween candy has yet to be doled out, but the ghost of Christmas present is already upon us in the form of holiday spending predictions. And while the outlook is aglow, some underlying findings could come back to haunt retailers for seasons to come.

Holiday spending is projected to rise by 4.5% this season, to $807 billion (including food and beverages), according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. That alone suggests retailers will have to work harder to keep shoppers happy — and interested. There are simply too many places to spend holiday dollars, and too many physical and online stores selling the same things, for retailers to expect lasting success through the same-old, same-old strategy of price competition. Those that do are likely to blend into a cauldron of promotions, extended hours and “one-time-only” commerce.


[dropshadowbox align="center" effect="lifted-bottom-right" width="70%" height="" background_color="#ffffff" border_width="1" border_color="#dddddd" ]In retail, the hard, sobering reality of consumer expectations cannot be masked by fun-sized candy sales or the nostalgia of holiday cheer.[/dropshadowbox]


Several recent surveys have produced figures that can be viewed as ominous for retailers if they do not prepare to meet shopper demand and behavioral trends. Here are seven.

1. Blackout concerns.

Shoppers generally have long had mixed emotions about Black Friday, and these feelings have been exacerbated by the rise in sales specials on Thanksgiving Day. This year is no different, although indications are shoppers may be growing wearier of Black Friday. Less than half believe the day after Thanksgiving is the best day to get deals, states a holiday report by the advertising-technology provider OpenX and The Harris Poll. Six in ten shoppers find Black Friday overwhelming and do not plan to participate.

2. Hire love.

Retailers are expected to hire as many as 650,000 seasonal workers this year, according to the National Retail Federation. That represents an increase of 10% over 2017 and occurs at a time of low unemployment, triggering heated competition for limited talent. This could place retailers in a vulnerable position. How favorable is the employee pool for retail? Will merchants have time to train all of these new hires properly to ensure positive customer experiences and steady sales in 2019?

3. Wheeling and dealing. 

Lots of shoppers still plan to shop in physical stores, turning up the heat among retailers to ensure their seasonal workers can provide positive experiences. Nearly 70% of shoppers plan to holiday shop at department stores, according to RetailMeNot’s annual holiday guide. And when they are in those stores searching for holiday gifts, 87% of these shoppers said they expect to find deals.

4. Buying and flying.

Fewer shoppers are brand-loyal, in part because the same products and labels are readily available in more places, from dollar stores to warehouse clubs. Just 17% of shoppers described themselves as “fiercely loyal” to a handful of brands, according to a recent report by InMoment, a customer experience consultant. Nearly one-quarter of shoppers said they tend to make purchasing decisions in the moment, depending on new products and services, price, promotions and recommendations.

5. The weight of the wait.

When it comes to the service or experience consumers most want in their in-store shopping trips, it’s the ability to get out — fast. Nearly half of shoppers (47%) said they prefer to check out without having to wait in line, states a report by Alliance Data, a leading global provider of data-driven marketing and loyalty solutions. The emergence of checkout-free stores, such as Amazon Go, is leading to broader acceptance of the concept among consumers, and pressuring more retailers to find ways to eliminate checkout friction, especially during holiday rush time.

6. That shipping’s saled.

Shoppers also expect low-cost or no-cost shipping. The same Alliance Data report reveals that 56% of online shoppers prefer free shipping at checkout; 91% said free shipping had at least some influence on their decision to buy. And they want that free shipping to be speedy: 40% of consumers said they would not purchase from a merchant that takes more than two days to ship; 63% expect delivery within three days, reports Kibo, a buying and selling platform for retailers.

7. Less stuff, more goosebumps. 

Almost a third of shoppers said this year they plan to give experiential gifts, such as wine tastings, travel or craft classes, instead of or in addition to physical gifts. This figure scales up to 46% among Millennials, according to retail consultant Bazaarvoice. Even kids will be unwrapping more experiences, and possibly fewer toys, as 42% of parents said they are leaning toward this option.

As retailers consult these figures, they likely are also determining their post-Halloween clearance sales. Potentially, the amount of inventory left over will modify their holiday approaches. But one point all of these numbers won’t change is this: In retail, the hard, sobering reality of consumer expectations cannot be masked by fun-sized candy sales or the nostalgia of holiday cheer.

Bryan Pearson a Featured Contributor to The Wise Marketer and is the President of LoyaltyOne, where he has been leveraging the knowledge of 120 million customer relationships over 20 years to create relevant communications and enhanced shopper experiences. 

This article originally appeared in Forbes. Be sure to follow Bryan on Facebook and Twitter for more on retail, loyalty and the customer experience.