While most holiday forecasts are calling for a reasonably respectable season, the latest crop of predictions points to bigger-than-expected gains in digital. And brick-and-mortar stores are likely to be the biggest losers.
Forrester says it expects U.S. online holiday sales to reach $112 billion in 2016, barreling through the $100 billion mark for the first time. That represents a 13% gain from 2015. (Last week, comScore predicted a gain of between 16% and 19%.)
The increase, says Forrester, doesn’t seem to mean that shoppers are spending more “but that internet-savvy users plan their purchases earlier each year,” writes analyst Susan Wu. While online sales account for about 12% of retail sales throughout the year, they leap to 16% of total holiday sales during November and December.
“Our social listening data shows that shoppers are starting their holiday planning earlier,” she writes. “This shift in online research behavior indicates that retailers need to prepare their holiday marketing collateral earlier to direct shoppers to their brand. However, early shopping habits simply spread out holiday budgets and do not add incremental sales to the holiday season.”
And while well-designed digital marketing programs may steer people to physical stores, other research suggests otherwise. A new report from Salesforce, the cloud computing company, says that 77% of people it surveyed plan to avoid physical stores this season. And connected shopping has become so powerful a shopping habit that 80% say they research products before buying them online. It finds that mobile is an increasingly powerful component, driving 51% of all digital traffic. By comparison, computers create 40% of traffic and tablets, 9%. (Its report is based on a survey of 4,000 adults in the U.S., Canada and the UK.)
also reporting that online spending is outpacing physical shopping so far this year. Its biweekly Omnibus survey, which includes some 1,200 adult respondents, finds that 58% have purchased holiday
gifts online, compared to 40% from big-box retailer stores and 25% at department stores.
“With a growing appetite for all things digital, online platforms will have a more significant role in helping consumers both research and purchase gifts during this holiday season,” writes Jordan Rost, Nielsen’s VP of Consumer Insights, in its outlook. “Virtual environments present opportunities and unlimited growth potential for merchants, especially with the millennial, digital consumer.”