As the weather begins to turn and decorations light up storefronts, Americans find themselves gearing up for another winter holiday shopping season. The 2014 holiday season produced the highest retail sales in recent history, presenting a challenge for the retail industry to surpass this benchmark in the upcoming months. However, new research from Mintel reveals that retail sales are estimated to reach $700 billion in 2015, an increase of 4.3 percent over the previous year. This would represent the largest year-over-year increase since 2011.

“There are many positive macroeconomic factors at play that point to confidence that the upcoming winter holiday shopping season should again be strong for US retailers. The job market is stable and improving, which leads to higher consumer confidence and more discretionary spending. What’s more, there is one additional shopping day between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year compared to last year,” said Diana Smith, Senior Research Analyst, Retail and Apparel at Mintel.

Holiday cheer found online, in mobile shopping

69% of US consumers plan to do at least half of their holiday shopping online in 2015

Shopping behavior is shifting away from physical stores to online channels more than ever this holiday season as consumers take advantage of the convenience that online options provide during the busiest shopping time of the year. According to Mintel research the amount of shopping done online will increase this winter holiday season. An outstanding 69 percent of consumers plan to do at least half of their shopping online in 2015, up from 67 percent in 2014. An additional 16 percent of consumers plan to buy all of their holiday gifts online, including one third of older Millennials (36 percent).

There are a few key measures retailers can take to ensure happy online holiday shoppers. Mintel research shows that three out of five consumers (62 percent) agree free shipping from online retailers would improve their holiday shopping experience. Another 44 percent expect fast delivery times, and 39 percent want gift cards or coupons for post-holiday purchases.

While online shopping offers ease and convenience, for many Americans the recession is not over, and budgets are pivotal to the gift purchasing process. A strategic focus on getting the best deal remains a key goal among savvy shoppers who are not willing to pay more than they deem reasonable, and comparison shopping is helping them save. Nearly half of consumers (47 percent) who purchased products for the 2014 holidays or plan to do so for the 2015 holidays agree with the statement, “I compare prices online for big ticket items during the holiday season.” An additional two in five (39 percent) “research items online and then wait to see which items are on sale in-store before buying.”  

“We’re seeing continued strong consumer interest in online holiday shopping, especially among Millennials, America’s largest generation to date. This has significant implications for retailers, who must ensure they are equipped to handle delivery of high-volume orders in a timely manner,” continued Smith. “Our data indicates mobile traffic and sales will grow substantially during the 2015 holiday season due to the availability of bigger phones with easier-to-see screens and marketers improving their mobile sites and apps. Consumers are coming to expect omnichannel consistency when shopping at their favorite brands, and as such, marketers need to ensure their mobile sites and apps are optimized and ready to handle this expected increase in traffic.”

Gift cards top the list for givers and receivers

Food and beverages were the top purchased items during the 2014 winter shopping season (77 percent), regardless of holiday. Despite the notion that gift cards lack a personal touch, a majority of consumers still plan to purchase them (59 percent) and would like to receive them (56 percent). The second most popular gift to give and receive (45 percent each) in 2015 is clothing and footwear. The third most popular gift to give this year, according to Mintel data, is toys and games (35 percent), most likely indicating adults plan to gift these items to children, while the third most popular gift to receive, at 34 percent, is electronics.  

“Personalization and customization are key shopping trends in general this year, and gift cards allow people to have control over what they want to buy. Despite price being a key purchase driver, nearly a third of consumers say getting the right items as gifts is the most important factor when shopping during the holidays. Further, many shrewd shoppers take advantage of deals during the holidays to buy items for themselves, especially higher-ticket items,” continued Smith.

Black Friday fatigue

For many Americans, Black Friday has always been a tradition in its own right. However, Mintel research indicates that consumers’ traditional excitement for this shopping day may be waning. An outstanding 69 percent of consumers said they plan to avoid Black Friday and its crowds this year compared to 25 percent of consumers who plan to do the majority of their shopping on Black Friday. The convenience of online shopping coupled with the addition of Cyber Monday has motivated some consumers to take to their computers in order to reap savings benefits as 8 percent of consumers plan to do the majority of their shopping on Cyber Monday.

26% of Americans plan to start holiday shopping the week of Thanksgiving, including Cyber Monday

According to Mintel research, over half (51 percent) of Americans plan to begin their 2015 holiday shopping prior to Thanksgiving. An additional one quarter of consumers (26 percent) plan to start shopping the week of Thanksgiving, including Cyber Monday. For those hoping to score last minute deals, one in five consumers plan to shop in the two to three weeks prior to Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, with a mere 3 percent waiting until the week before the holidays.

“Our research shows half of consumers are starting their holiday shopping before Thanksgiving, likely to manage budgets, avoid crowds and mitigate the stress of waiting until later. While we find that very few wait until the last minute to make their holiday gift purchases, the reality is that many are still finishing their shopping during the final pivotal week. Furthermore, while the five-day period between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday certainly sets the tone for the winter holiday retail season as a whole, it doesn’t necessarily determine the ultimate outcome, as evidenced by the 2014 season when higher sales in December helped to boost slower than typical traffic and sales momentum in November. As such, retailers need to strive to remain as nimble as possible in order to react accordingly to the pace of the season. This includes not locking down prices and inventory on websites and maintaining a streamlined supply chain that can handle adjustments based on consumer demand,” concluded Smith.

Press copies of the Winter Holiday Shopping US 2015 report and interviews with Diana Smith, Senior Research Analyst, Retail and Apparel, are available on request from the press office.

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