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The old and new of holiday shopping trends

by Mihir Bhatt , 17.11.2016

With the election season now behind us, Americans can now set their sights onto a new season (with perhaps the same level of uncertainty – for marketers, brands and companies at least): holiday shopping.  This year the National Retail Federation expects holiday sales to reach $630.5 billion.  Additionally, online sales are expected to increase to as much as $105 billion.  While we all wait for Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the rest of the shopping season to arrive, here are a few prominent trends – both old and new – that companies need to keep top of mind.

Deal-seeking mentality

One of the first things that might come to mind for holiday shoppers is deals and sales.  With good measure too – GfK Consumer Life data shows that about eight in ten Americans get “really satisfied, even excited, when they get a really good deal”.  And the timeframes for these deals are only getting longer to help companies stay close to the consumer – Amazon already launched holiday deals on November 1 as part of its Black Friday Deals Store.  We as consumers cannot get away from the ‘value’ we get out of a product based on the price we pay for it.  Whether it’s through coupons or just plain visually seeing a ‘price-slash’, sales and deals will certainly have to be a mainstay to draw holiday shoppers in.

Online + in-store shopping convergence

Innovative shopping experiences continue to emerge as consumers want the ‘best of both worlds’ from both online and in-store.  Nearly eight in ten Americans agree the worst part of shopping in stores is “having to deal with crowds and long lines” (hello, Black Friday…). Yet nearly an equal number agree that “it’s fun to browse in stores to see what’s new”.  Along the same lines, three in four believe they can find “a variety of items online that are hard to find in stores”.  But most consumers also feel that they “don’t like shopping online because they can’t see, touch, or try on things before buying”.

Where are the opportunities then? It seems as though consumers really can’t decide which channel they prefer – so a hybrid of both is an emerging solution that will continue to penetrate.  Successful companies and marketers will combine positive facets from both channels to play into consumer tendencies.  For example, Boston-based retailer Wayfair is implementing virtual reality headsets as a new way for consumers to browse and buy products virtually in the comfort of their own home; it also allows users to drop a virtual product into any room to see how it fits.

Streamlining online retail channels

While consumers will continue to go to standard e-tailers for their online shopping, look for them to further streamline.  More than seven in ten (72%) Americans are “always looking for ways to simplify my life”.  Since online shopping itself incorporates streamlining more so than in-store shopping (as noted above under ‘convergence’), how can companies further simplify for the consumer? More and more, it really is turning into a speed & efficiency game.  Take Instagram’s newest rollout, for example – aligning product links between social apps and retailer sites can be far more efficient than finding a product of interest on a standalone site, only to have to “re-find” it again on a separate site.


While ‘more of the same’ still exists with holiday shopping (see: sales & deals), innovations in both the online and in-store shopping areas are continuously emerging.  The smart company and marketer will still leverage deal-based promotions to target the basic inclinations of the holiday shopper, while balancing the ‘good’ from both online & in-store outlets. New and innovative ways that appeal to their needs around simplification & efficiency of the shopping process will also generate success this season and beyond.

Mihir Bhatt is a Senior Consultant on the Consumer Life team at GfK. He can be reached at mihir.bhatt@gfk.com.