Accenture Says Online Gains, Earlier Shopping To Dominate Holiday Season

As brands and retailers hone their holiday strategies, forecasters are predicting bustling stores and busy Web sites, based on consumers’ eagerness to make this year especially jolly. Accenture is expecting “more of more,” says Renato Scaff, managing director in its global retail practice. “It’s not so much that we’re seeing new things this year,” he says, “as an acceleration of all the trends we’ve already seen. People are going to be shopping even earlier, looking for even higher discounts, spending more time researching purchases on the Internet, and buying more online.” He fills Marketing Daily in on the consulting company’s holiday spending research:

Q. First, online spending…. your survey says 51% of people plan to spend 50% or more of their total holiday gift dollars online. (And the National Retail Federation is predicting that consumers will do 44% of their shopping online.) Others, who point out that online spending only accounts for about 14% of total sales, think that’s nuts. Do you think it’s realistic that online spending during the holiday could be that much higher than the rest of the year?



A. I think we are approaching an interesting tipping point. And these numbers do sound bolder, especially when you think online spending is just beginning to hit the double digits in total retail. But the holidays are different, and it’s a much more concentrated period of time, with a much greater focus on finding the best deals early on. There’s a promotional intensity that isn’t there the rest of the year.

Q. Some retailers say the distinction between online and brick-and-mortar channels matters less anyway. Do you agree?

A. Well, every retailer is struggling to provide this seamless experience that they know consumers want. Forget about multichannel or omnichannel -- they are trying to get away from the use of the word “channel” at all. They’re saying, 'we’re one company and we want to provide one experience.’ But that doesn’t mean they're doing it yet, despite lots of investment. At this point, I’d say the opportunity to frustrate and disappoint customers is as great as the opportunity to delight them.

Q. What other trends will have the most impact?

A. Definitely the earlier shopping. For better or worse, retailers have trained people to eat your turkey fast and get to the mall, and consumers have been taught to expect that the best deals will happen earlier, rather than waiting until the last minute and hoping prices drop.

Q. Does the increase in their annual gift budgets signal that people may be a little more carefree this year?

A. No. Our survey finds them being cautious, and the last few years of the recession are still very top of mind — they are looking for more of a deal on prices. There’s a little less uncertainty, and it’s nice that there is no cloud from Washington, like a potential government shutdown, hanging over people’s heads this year. But income hasn’t really changed that much, and we are still in this tale of the haves and have nots. And especially among those with lower incomes, they are not in a ‘let’s-get-crazy’ mood at all.

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