Ready Or Not, COVID-19 Variants Create Hybrid Early Holiday Shopping Model

There are about 140 days until Christmas. Much like last year, this holiday season is sure to look different.

There is much less browsing in stores, and more being done online to prepare for the trip. It’s a hybrid model. Marketers should expect an extended shopping season.

No doubt consumers are thinking about festivities, after last year's were put on hold.

And even if they're not, marketers and retailers like Walmart have begun to prepare. A growing number of retailers are dangling new perks to recruit and retain employees to support an early shopping rush.

Walmart, for example, is giving weekly bonuses to warehouse workers to compete in a competitive labor market. The added pay is intended to get ahead of the holiday rush shopping season.



Target also rolled out a debt-free college education for full-or-part-time employees, beginning in the fall. And then there is the $200 bonus for all hourly workers.

Shopping rewards app Shopkick found that in a recent survey 22% of consumers plan to shop earlier this year, with 25% expecting to do most of their shopping before Thanksgiving and 10% before Halloween.

While 52% report the threat of continued inflation will impact their holiday budgets, 64% plan to spend the same amount as last year, and 15% are increasing their budgets.

The survey asked more than 23,000 U.S. consumers when, where, and how they will shop this holiday season, and the impact the economy will have on their behavior. The study was fielded between July 5 and July 12, 2021.

Although online shopping increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, 43% of consumers expect to make the majority of their holiday purchases in a physical store -- up 9% compared with last year. Some 68% will visit big-box stores like Target and Walmart.

When it comes to the in-store experience, 70% said it’s the ability to try on, touch, and see physical products, and 41% pointed to the in-person interactions with sales associates were ranked as most important to drive them to brick-and-mortar.

Some 20% cited product sampling, 15% cited complimentary gift wrapping, and 13% said holiday activations like on-site Santa.

About 45% of shoppers said they will shop on less busy days at less busy times, and 42% will shop at one-stop shops.

Some 15% of shoppers plan to spend more this holiday season compared to last year, and 26% of Gen Z consumers have larger budgets. Half of Gen Z say the increase in spending is because they have more people to shop for, and 45% say they feel more financially secure.

Consumers also expect in-store safety measures to continue throughout the holiday season, with 48% requesting retailers offer disinfecting spray, 36% enforcing social distancing, 34% installing plexiglass barriers at checkout, and 32% requiring employees to wear face coverings.

Despite all the talk about shopping in stores, 57% expect to make the majority of their holiday purchases online, with 73% reporting Amazon as their primary shopping destination. Outside of Amazon, younger generations — 65% of Gen Z and 60% of Millennials — will shop at Etsy, while 57% the Silent Generation, born between roughly 1925 and 1945, will frequent eBay.

Free shipping and returns remain the top priorities for online shoppers.

Some 94% say free shipping is the most crucial incentive for online seasonal shopping, followed by 60% who cite fast shipping, 31% who cite flexible and long return policies, and 19% who cite buy now, pay later and BOPIS.

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