Alexis DeSalva
Alexis DeSalva is a Senior Research Analyst at Mintel. Alexis focuses on US Retail and eCommerce reports.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but for brands and retailers, it’s perhaps the most crucial. The 2019 holiday shopping season is unique from the past few years due to timing. A later Thanksgiving means six fewer shopping days, putting pressure on consumers to start their holiday shopping sooner (or get it done in less time) and extra pressure on retailers to ensure they outshine the competition. Additionally, retailers face potential headwinds with spending due to economic uncertainty, which will possibly leave shoppers with smaller budgets along with fewer shopping days.

Here, we take a closer look at what you can expect this holiday season:

The best Black Friday deals happen before Black Friday

Holiday advertising has undoubtedly expanded, with many retailers messaging consumers as early as October. While most consumers aren’t actually shopping that early, many are changing when they begin checking gifts off their holiday lists. The strength of sales events like Black Friday is weakening, at least in terms of a single occasion. According to Mintel research on holiday shopping, nearly a quarter of consumers do most of their shopping before Thanksgiving and nearly two in five don’t feel it’s critical to shop on Black Friday or Cyber Monday because deals are available at other times. Arguably, some of the best deals happen before the actual sales event, demonstrated by more retailers offering similar promotions on Singles Day (November 11th), when discounts are offered and inventory is widely available. Consumers are savvy and while some will play the waiting game, many will hop on the Black Friday deals ahead of the occasion to avoid chaos and check back on Cyber Monday for any additional savings.

Online research, in-store fulfillment

In-store shopping still dominates, with more than four in five consumers planning to shop in-store this holiday season. However, online shopping isn’t far behind. Many consumers are using digital tools to research and plan, with two in five holiday shoppers using online tools to make a shopping list, as well as purchasing items from others’ lists on a retailer’s site. Not all holiday shoppers will fulfill their holiday shopping journey online, but many will begin there. Capabilities that enable seamless shopping between channels, such as reserve online, pick-up in-store, or options to check store availability, will be important to capturing holiday shoppers.

More than four in five consumers plan to shop in-store this holiday season. However, online shopping isn’t far behind.

Expect more price-conscious consumers than years past

Most consumers shop with a price-first mentality but expect deal-seeking to dominate holiday shopping more than in recent years (more than half of holiday shoppers at least somewhat agree they want to spend the least amount of money possible). Despite there being a sizable number of shoppers who will get a head start on the holidays, the shorter time frame between Thanksgiving and Christmas will undoubtedly leave some consumers scrambling and less time to save up for gifts. Some late shoppers may be willing to forego their budget, but given concerns with the economy and the possibility of a looming recession, expect most to consider promotions and deals more than usual.

Promoting charitable causes resonates with younger shoppers

Holiday spending drives consumers outside of their normal routines with nearly three in five shoppers visiting retailers they normally don’t shop at during the holidays. Those that support certain causes and charities will drive shoppers to their stores, particularly Gen Z and Millennials. In general, four in five holiday shoppers have or would support a retailer for their charity affiliations. Price will be the dominant driver for many, but a retailer’s values factor into some shoppers’ decisions and helps set them apart from a flurry of shopping choices.

What we think

The winter holiday season consists of only a few weeks in the year, but its impact is much longer-lasting and can make or break retailers’ longer-term performance. While the stakes are always high, the 2019 holiday season brings a new competitive edge thanks to looming economic uncertainty and a shorter selling timeframe. Retailers can stand out by staying competitive before Black Friday, offering online tools that make research and fulfillment easier between channels, and promoting the values most important to them during the season of gifting.

For continued coverage of the 2019 holidays, check out the Mintel blog and social media throughout the season.