Get an Early Start on Your Last-Minute Shoppers

Some shoppers are making their lists and checking them twice, but many of them will wait to shop until the last minute. Data from the National Retail Federation (NRF) shows that 21 percent of shoppers will wait until December to even start their holiday shopping. These consumers are letting Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals pass them by. What are the motivations behind this behavior?


A study by PriceGrabber asked procrastinators why they wait until the last minute to grab their gifts. Understanding these behaviors can help you shape the content, tone, and timing of your holiday promotions to this group of shoppers.


The five reasons consumers wait until the last minute to shop fall into two main categories.

  1. Circumstantial. Either the shopper procrastinated or was too busy to shop early.
  2. Calculated. These consumers believe marketers will offer the sweetest deals late in the shopping season.

Let’s look at ways to speak directly to each group.


These customers are exhausted and stressed. Either they have been too busy with work, home life, socializing with friends, attending tons of holiday parties – or the date just snuck up on them. Two key themes that can be effective for this audience are ease of shopping and speed of shipping. Make it easy and make it quick!

One way to achieve that combination is to create collections of gifts. Sounds fundamental, but many attempts to develop gift guides or “shop by” features fall short. I’m not discounting shopping “for him” or “for her” options or featuring top-rated products in an email. Those can be highly effective tactics throughout the season. But remember, we’re going after those tired and panicked last-minute holiday shoppers who may see such high-level categorizations as too daunting to explore. A shopper who has been your customer all year may have only shopped for herself in the past. Now, she may be shopping for someone of the opposite gender who is 20 years younger. Give her some help!

Rather than showcasing the large variety of products in a comprehensive gift guide, create gift guides that have a narrower focus and more personality, like “The Gift Guide for the [Stylish/Hipster/Fancy] Teen” and dedicate an email highlighting the simple shopping method. In my company’s “2011 Holiday Season Wrap-Up” report, it was found that only 17 percent of brands dedicated an email to these forms of shopping. The additional descriptions will help overwhelmed shoppers match their gifting needs to the personality of the people on their lists.

You can also go beyond the simple gender-based “shop for” navigation links and dedicate an email to shopping by personalities that relate to how your products are used, like “Shop for the [Hiker/Biker/Kayaker] on your List.”


Next, we have those shoppers who have consciously planned to wait until the last minute with the expectation that they will get the best prices of the season. Best prices to a consumer mean big discounts for the marketer. These shoppers have to make up for lost time, so they need to buy big and want to save even bigger. Speak to this population directly by targeting active, non-purchasing subscribers and mailing them promotions that highlight a vast selection of products and an eye-catching promotion. Grab this group’s attention by using promotions that encourage multiple items to be purchased in order to receive the discount, or combinations of promotions where the shopper stacks on the savings like “20% off + free expedited shipping.”

According to the PriceGrabber data, 10 percent of shoppers are looking for year-end clearance sales. My company’s “2011 Holiday Season Wrap-Up” explained that 61 percent of percent-off promotions offered 50 percent off or more for their end-of-year sales. Even steeper discounts of 80 percent or more were offered by 6 percent of retailers. If you are clearing out for the new year, you need to make sure your discount is prominently featured and better than your competitors’ offers. For this group of last-minute shoppers, it’s all in the numbers.

The final group shown in the survey are those who think “last-minute shopping is fun.” Well, they are just nuts.

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