The Brandify Consumer Holiday Survey: Shopping Habits Likely to Shift Dramatically

This has been, as we all know, an unprecedented year, and we are heading into an unprecedented holiday season — the first holiday season to be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused widespread and momentous changes in employment, travel, public events, schools, the economy, and just about every other aspect of society.

Retailers, who have traditionally depended on the holidays as the busiest shopping season of the year, are heading into the 2020 season with trepidation and a focus on advance planning. A recent study from the National Retail Federation found that:

  • 74% of retailers expect consumers to spread holiday shopping out over several months
  • 54% of retailers plan to begin advertising holiday promotions earlier this year
  • 96% of retailers expect more online-only holiday buying this year
  • 57% expect less in-store buying this year
  • 91% expect an increase in buy online, pick up in store sales this year
  • 78% plan to have stores open on Black Friday
  • 79% do not plan to offer steeper discounts this year compared to last year

We were interested in seeing how well these retailer plans and expectations aligned with the sentiment of U.S. consumers. In designing our first-ever Brandify Consumer Holiday Survey, we were also interested in finding out about the health and safety concerns of consumers as we head into the holiday season, as well as their preferred methods for researching local businesses and products as they shop for the holidays.

On October 16 and 17, we surveyed 1,026 U.S. adults across all 50 states about their holiday shopping plans, concerns, and expectations. Our survey respondents came from all income levels and age groups. Respondents were 48% male and 52% female.

Key Takeaways

  • 47% of those surveyed said they plan to do most of their holiday shopping online but may visit stores for some items
  • 51% expect to do more holiday shopping online this year compared to last year
  • 33% plan to spend less this year, but 44% plan to spend about the same amount as last year
  • The three store features voted most important by consumers are competitive prices, product availability, and good health and safety practices
  • According to consumers, the most important safety practices in stores are mask wearing, social distancing, and frequent sanitation
  • 37% of consumers plan to begin holiday shopping earlier this year, but 42% say they will not change the timing of holiday shopping compared to last year
  • 56% of consumers are unlikely to shop in stores during promotions like Black Friday
  • 54% of consumers look to the business website for information about in-store safety practices
  • When researching product purchases online, 64% of shoppers rely on product reviews written by other consumers

Online Shopping: A Challenge for Local Retailers

In the minds of many consumers who will likely feel trepidation in 2020 about venturing out to stores during the time of year when crowds and long lines are common, online shopping provides an obvious solution. We wanted to know about the shopping expectations of consumers this year in regard to online vs. offline shopping. Here’s what we found.

Brandify Consumer Holiday Survey 2020

Taking the two most popular selections together, we find that 71% of consumers, a significant majority, plan to do all or most of their holiday shopping online this year. We asked whether they were more likely to shop online this year compared to last year.

Brandify Consumer Holiday Survey 2020

More than half of respondents indicated that they planned to do more online shopping than last year, clearly indicating a trend that presents a challenge to local retailers. However, retailers can take comfort in the fact that at least 66% of consumers plan to do some, most, or all of their holiday shopping in stores, with 13% even expecting to do more shopping in stores this year compared to last year.

Many Consumers Feel They Have Money to Spend and Plenty of Time

With economic hardship affecting so many Americans as we head into the holiday season, we were interested in how consumers were thinking about holiday spending this year. We were surprised to discover that many consumers feel their spending habits will not change.

Brandify Consumer Holiday Survey 2020

It’s worth noting, however, that although 44% of consumers expect to spend about the same amount during the holidays this year as they did last year, a significant minority of 33% plan to spend less, with only 14% planning to spend more. We looked at possible correlations between budget planning and income level, but we did not find that there were significant differences between lower- and higher-income consumers. Many consumers, therefore, seem to feel that they have money to spend this holiday season, with 58% saying they plan to spend as much or more this year compared to last year.

Brandify Consumer Holiday Survey 2020

As with holiday budgets, the majority of consumers report a feeling of continuity when it comes to the timing of holiday shopping, with 42% projecting that they will not begin shopping any earlier this year compared to last year. A significant minority of 37%, however, do express the intent to begin shopping earlier this year compared to last year.

Consumers Care Most about Price, Availability, and Safety

Retailers seeking to bring consumers back to stores again have offered a variety of features and incentives designed to meet perceived consumer demand, from enhanced safety practices to offerings like curbside pickup and free delivery that are designed to make offline transactions as quick and easy as possible. We wanted to know which of these features, alongside traditional concerns like price and product availability, matter the most to consumers as they contemplate their holiday shopping plans.

Brandify Consumer Holiday Survey 2020

We were somewhat unprepared for the findings above, having spent the last several months hearing location marketers tout the increasing importance of buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS) and related innovations. But we realized that a consumer is unlikely to make use of BOPIS, curbside pickup, free delivery, or any other service if the store doesn’t have the products they need at a price they are willing to pay.

So in the end, it should probably not have been surprising to discover that, in the minds of most consumers, no store features are more important than competitive prices, sales, discounts (60%) and availability of the products consumers want (55%). The strong third-place contender in consumer’s minds was good safety practices, marked as important by 43% of shoppers. Most other selections did receive a significant percentage of votes, with many customers expressing interest in BOPIS, shipping and delivery, curbside pickup, and extended holiday hours.

Consumers Want Masks, Social Distancing, and Cleanliness in Stores

Knowing that health and safety would likely be a top priority for many consumers as they plan for holiday shopping, we wanted to understand in detail the kinds of practices they want and expect local retailers to have in place.

Brandify Consumer Holiday Survey 2020

No practice or feature we asked about failed to garner less than 25% of consumer votes, so it’s fair to say that consumers are interested in a broad range of health and safety practices and, generally, in feeling that stores have gone above and beyond to ensure a safe shopping experience. However, the ranking of the results is telling, with a majority of consumers being primarily focused on enforcement of mask wearing and social distancing as well as good sanitation practices, both in the store in general and at the checkout area.

Most Consumers Will Stay Home on Black Friday

Perhaps recalling scenes in the past of massive crowds wrangling to buy deeply discounted items, consumers expressed a clear hesitance about venturing out to stores during promotions such as Black Friday during the holidays this year.

Brandify Consumer Holiday Survey 2020

Combining results, we can observe that 56% of consumers are either somewhat unlikely or not at all likely to visit stores during Black Friday, with “not at all likely” winning the greatest number of votes at 43%. By comparison, the segment of consumers who are either somewhat likely or very likely to visit stores during Black Friday is merely 22%. This is a dramatic change from 2019, when 61% of shoppers said they planned to shop in stores during Black Friday. In fact, Black Friday 2019 saw the most shopping dollars spent in the history of the event.

Consumers Rely on Both Online and Offline Information about Safety

At Brandify, we specialize in connecting consumers with local businesses through digital channels, so we are always interested in where consumers look for information. We know that, from the earliest days of the pandemic, consumers have been even more intent than usual on finding accurate, up-to-date information about store hours and offerings — now extending to the health and safety practices stores have implemented. We were curious what information sources consumers were turning to about health and safety practices in particular.

Brandify Consumer Holiday Survey 2020

Again, we were somewhat surprised that, among digital channels of information, the business website won out, by a large margin, over all other sources, including online profiles on sites like Google Maps and Yelp. After all, in our own 2019 Consumer Search Survey, we found that 77% of consumers use Google Maps to find information about local businesses, compared to only 32% who said they looked at the business’ website.

But it’s worth considering that we asked specifically about health and safety information. Google Maps offered no method for showcasing health and safety information for local businesses until September. Yelp added health and safety attributes for business profiles much earlier, in June, but consumers may have learned that such information is more readily available on the business website. Consumers in significant numbers also trust common-sense methods of finding health and safety information, such as looking at store signage or visiting the store to see for themselves.

Reviews Top the List of Product Research Sources

We rounded out our survey with a question not necessarily tied to the pandemic, but designed to gauge which sources of information consumers find most useful when researching product purchases during the holidays.

Brandify Consumer Holiday Survey 2020

Our finding merely reinforces prior studies showing that reviews from fellow consumers are highly trusted as a source of information about the quality of a product. Consumer reviews of products won nearly twice as many votes from survey respondents at 64% as the next most popular selection, e-commerce websites like Amazon, at 36%. Rounding out the top five online information sources were consumer reviews of stores, local store information in online profiles, and local store websites.

Conclusion

The results of the Brandify Consumer Holiday Survey reinforce to a great degree our supposition that consumers will shift their holiday shopping behavior dramatically this year due to the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic. More purchases will be made online, and when consumers do venture out to stores, they expect thorough, stringent safety practices as well as tools that help to make shopping as efficient as possible. Popular shopping events like Black Friday are likely to capture far less attention from consumers this year. But on a positive note, consumers generally feel confident that their holiday budgets will be consistent with prior years and that the amount of time allocated for holiday shopping won’t change significantly.

This is, of course, a prediction based on current perceptions. Some unknowns certainly exist, such as the state of the pandemic as the holidays grow nearer, and the question of whether increased demand for online purchasing will create a shipping backlog that ultimately drives consumers back to local stores, where last-minute shopping is more easily accomplished. Also unknown, but of great interest to retailers, is the extent to which changes in shopping habits evidenced this year will carry forward into the future, altering for the long term the trends that define the holiday season.

Tags:
Damian Rollison writes the Streets Ahead column for Street Fight. He is VP of Market Development and Strategic Partnerships at Brandify, and can be reached via Twitter at @damianrollison. Brandify is the publisher of Street Fight.