Countdown for the Holidays

The leaves haven’t even turned yet in my part of the country, but the holiday onslaught is already well under way. Specifically, the annual deluge of forecasts and predictions as retail consultants, analysts, economists and others try to read the tea leaves with regards to the upcoming holiday season.

I’m always been cautious of actual holiday sales projections (especially the ones early on). Far more helpful, at least to my way of thinking, are the surveys that try to judge the mind-set of the consumers as they head into the industry’s most crucial selling season.

To that end, global management consulting firm Booz & Company has issued its annual Holiday Retail Outlook, which surveys not only consumers but also retail store staff and executives in an effort to determine buying habits and potential trends.

According to the results, in-store competitive browsing, heavy online shopping and downloadable gifts top the shopper behaviors expected this holiday season. 

Here are some key findings:

• 52% of consumers will closely consider affordability in their shopping decisions;

• 73% of consumers said they expect to find great deals this season, compared with 62% last year;

• More than 80 million shoppers plan to purchase gift cards this season, about 4% more than last year;

• Downloadable gifts are becoming a distinct and fast-growing category, as 45% of consumers expect to give at least one downloadable gift (i.e., an e-book, a music download or a movie) this holiday; and

• 42% of consumers intend to buy apparel items as gifts, up from 37% last year, and 53% intend to buy at least one luxury item (up from 41% last year), and the item is likely to be one the whole family can enjoy.

The report makes it clear that multichannel shopping will be a core part of how consumers shop. Expect most customers to be simultaneously browsing in-store and on their smartphone. Forty percent of surveyed consumers describe “showcasing” as their new shopping strategy.

“The biggest challenge this season for brick-and-mortar retailers is determining how to drive more than their fair share of ‘showcasing volume’ to their websites rather than or another competitor,” said Thom Blischok, chief retail strategist, Booz & Company, New York City.

As to winning holiday retail strategies, the report offers the following recommendations:

• Develop seamless digital and physical experiences; for example, use QR code-driven promotions to convert a sale, consider free shipping on targeted items, use loyalty points to drive conversion or use online competitor price matching sparingly to drive price perception.

• Prepare online and mobile technology platforms for high volumes, because crashing apps will discourage consumers.

• Ensure that sales associates are very familiar with the website and any mobile offerings so they can help customers navigate among different buying channels in real time.

• Offer free shipping on targeted items or basket sizes. Shoppers are increasingly savvy about their all-in costs; last year, free shipping was a major online sales driver. Booze expects more of the same this year.

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