Earlier and More Online: How Consumers Are Shopping for the Holidays

Online shopping for the holiday season

For many shoppers this year, the holiday season started well before normal.

In an effort to capture the consumer’s dollar early in the fourth quarter, many companies began offering deals upon deals, none bigger than Amazon, which held its annual Prime Day sale in October.

Why these changes? According to Anne Roggeveen, Charles Clarke Reynolds Professor of Retailing and Marketing, it’s due to the rollercoaster year that has been 2020, which has led retailers to identify and feed consumers countering economic, political, social justice, and pandemic-related stresses with holiday festivities.

An Unusual Shopping Season

High unemployment claims have resulted in fewer spending dollars among consumers, which has prompted retailers to try to extend the holiday season with more deals to better meet targets, Roggeveen says.

It’s fair to say that strategy has worked. According to the National Retail Federation, 42% of respondents in its November 2020 Consumer Holiday Survey reported starting holiday shopping earlier than normal this year.

“Amid all the uncertainty, the holidays are increasingly important and meaningful to people,” Roggeveen said. “Retailers are trying to play on those emotions.”

In that same survey, the NRF reported a 4% increase in consumers who planned to shop online in 2020 compared with 2019, and an 8% decrease in consumers who planned to shop in department stores over that same time period.

“This holiday season, there isn’t going to be an ability to have crowds in stores. The amount of things people are buying online has gone up substantially.”

Anne Roggeveen, Charles Clarke Reynolds Professor of Retailing and Marketing

“This holiday season, there isn’t going to be an ability to have crowds in stores,” Roggeveen says. “The amount of things people are buying online has gone up substantially.”

Big-box retailers such as Walmart are finding ways to cater to customers who wish to shop outside their walls, offering the ability for curbside pickup, in addition to fortifying their warehouse, shipping, and online support teams.

Whether these trends could dictate the long-term future, Roggeveen says, remains to be seen.

“Do I think (the pandemic) has shifted consumer behavior? Yes,” Roggeveen said. “But, is it going to be permanently at this heightened level? I don’t know.”

Posted in Research & Insights

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