Holiday shopping: what shoppers and retailers are really thinking


by Jim Davidson

Brands can use consumer expectations to dictate campaign strategy. Here’s how targeting with special promotions can help marketers gain a competitive edge during the holiday season.

This is a nervous time of year for ecommerce marketers.

While shoppers insist autumn is all about pumpkin lattes and leaf raking, research indicates over half have already started shopping for the holidays.


By now, you should already be getting some indication of whether your carefully laid holiday marketing plans are working. And what if they aren’t?

Examine the difference between what shoppers want and what retailers are offering to help you pull your campaign plans out of the post-holiday ash heap.

Tapping into information from a recent survey of 1,000 holiday shoppers and 100 major retailers provides insight into what shoppers and retailers are really thinking.

Free shipping or bust?

More than a third of holiday shoppers – 38 percent – won’t shop with a site that doesn’t offer free shipping.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, only 16 percent of holiday shoppers said free shipping doesn’t influence their purchase decisions.


Given that only 30 percent of multichannel retailers and only 18 percent for exclusively e-commerce retailers offer free shipping all the time, free shipping is an obvious promotion option you may need to consider if the holiday campaigns aren’t returning what you’d like.

Since season-long free shipping offers can be costly, offering free shipping days, free shipping on orders above a certain dollar value, or free shipping upgrades can introduce some elements of this major holiday sales influencer.

Wallets may open late in the season

Over half of all retailers started their holiday marketing in September or earlier. This initial push drives 44 percent of shoppers to make their first holiday purchases of the season during between September and November.


However, many shoppers will wait until later in the season to start their holiday shopping.

Whether it’s setting expectations for when you will receive a boost in sales or planning how to target your holiday shoppers, here’s what you need to know:


  • Only 3 percent of shoppers plan to start their holiday shopping on Thanksgiving. They would rather spend time with their family members or slip into a turkey and stuffing induced food coma that day.
  • 22 percent of Millennials will wait to start their shopping until Black Friday.
  • And, not surprisingly, nearly one out of four men begin shopping after Cyber Monday.

Anticipating promotional changes

So what do shoppers want that retailers aren’t offering?

At 58 percent, more than half of customers are interested in a Buy One Get One Free (BOGO) deal, but only 38 percent of retailers are planning to offer one.

While these promotions can be costly for retailers, they can offer a much needed boost in engagement and sales for retailers who are experiencing a lackluster holiday performance.

Study your inventory and costs to see where you can create BOGO campaigns to roll out if your holiday sales are not as robust as you had hoped.

You can target these promotions toward your most loyal customers to encourage repeat purchases or to prospects to encourage that always important first purchase. Limiting the target audience can help reign in the costs associated with this type of promotion.

In conclusion

This time of year is full of twists and turns, and it can be challenging for retailers to keep up with the holiday shopper.

But by studying the difference between what shoppers expect and what retailers plan to offer, you can target your campaigns more effectively and be better prepared to make thoughtful, well-informed decisions when those panicked make-or-break moments arise.