Consumers Are Shopping Smarter This Holiday Season

Goodbye back-to-school, hello holiday!

Just as soon as kids are sent off to school, retailers are already looking ahead to the upcoming holiday season.

This year’s back-to-school shopping season was a mixed bag for retailers. Sales perked up, but consumer confidence is still trending down. Back-to-school retail sales in August were excellent by comparison to last year. In fact, same-store-sales were up 3.6 percent in August from a year ago; trumping analysts’ expectations by two percentage points, according to the Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S Index. And big brand retailers such as the GAP and Nordstrom saw much larger sales increases from last year, up 9 percent and 21 percent respectively. Despite the sales boom, The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index fell to its lowest level in nine months in August.

Will strong back-to-school sales translate into a robust shopping season for holiday retailers? Are the August retail results a harbinger for what’s to come?

Economists often look to back-to-school sales as an indicator of how holiday retail sales will fare, yet consumer confidence foretells a different perspective. How can holiday marketers make the most of this roller coaster retail year?

I recently authored a comprehensive white paper that reveals pervasive trends in consumer holiday shopping. The research included reviewing the spending habits of more than 8,500 consumers during the 2011 holiday season and was cross-referenced with data from over 500 digital holiday campaigns that ran during the fourth quarter of last year.

This is the second in a six-part series that focuses on the top consumer holiday spending trends and how marketers can capitalize on those trends to increase revenue this holiday season.

Economic Uncertainty Does Affect Holiday Spending

The up and down state of the U.S. economy isn’t lost on consumers – and their buying habits for that matter. Last year, more than 62 percent of people said that their holiday spending plans would be affected by the state of the economy, according to consumer research provider, (Oct. 2011).

This year, arguably, with consumer confidence at an all-time low, the news couldn’t be less merry for holiday retailers and marketers alike. Yet, the latest consumer spending poll, with over 8,500 respondents, revealed that in fact, 10.2 percent of consumers with a budget in mind are planning to spend more this year compared to last. Yes retailers, there will be a holiday shopping season – and it’s expected to be fruitful.


How to Speak To Those Planning to Spend Less?

The same survey also shows that a larger than expected 43.4 percent of consumers plan to spend less this holiday season. So the question is what tactics will this group be using to save money and how can a marketer break through the holiday ad clutter to persuade them to purchase, even with a smaller overall budget?

Take careful note of cost-conscious consumer spending strategies. Forty-one percent of consumers plan to buy gifts only on sale. In addition, product research and comparison shopping will also be popular this season, with 33 percent of consumers scouring shopping comparison websites as well as traversing to multiple retailer sites to find the best offers. Almost a quarter of these consumers will either buy online or research online before walking into a store to purchase in order to save money.

These trends are enhanced by the recent ability to research and price shop easily on smartphones and especially, tablet devices.


Clearly, promotions will remain a key driver for consumers this holiday season, especially those Americans with shrinking budgets. Now, it is more important than ever for retailers to fully communicate sales, coupons and “door buster” messages in their advertising strategies. And it’s critical to intercept the digital research and shopping process with cross-channel marketing messages –including mobile devices, display ads as well as email communications – to ensure that holiday offers and messages are seen to draw new customers in-store and online.

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