E-commerce News and Insights
Nov 2, 2023

Consumer Trends For Holiday Shopping 2023: What This Means for Your E-commerce Business

It’s no secret that peak season has begun for both online and in-store retailers across the U.S. and it has started well over a month before the traditional shopping holidays of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Amazon set the stage by hosting its second “Prime Days” event on October 10th and 11th. Other major retailers such as Walmart, Best Buy, Kohl’s, and Macy’s followed suit with their holiday kickoff events where they have begun to offer discounts store-wide. But, are they unveiling their holiday promotions too early? When do customers actually start buying holiday gifts/items and will these discounts alone be enough to motivate shoppers to actually purchase?

These are the questions we set out to answer through a survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Shippo earlier this month. By understanding consumer plans, expectations, and trends, e-commerce merchants can properly prepare themselves and deliver a holiday shopping and shipping experience their customers will remember.

Where Consumers Plan on Shopping: In-store vs online

E-commerce sales worldwide have steadily grown year over year for nearly a decade. Fueled by faster transit times, more options, and overall convenience, consumers have increasingly shown their willingness to buy online.

This is why it's no surprise that many Americans have turned to online shopping as their preferred way to shop during the holiday season.

What this means for your e-commerce business:

Since so many holiday shoppers plan to buy online, you’ll need to ensure that your shipping and fulfillment workflows are in order. This means ensuring your tech stack and API integrations can handle a surge in orders. You’ll also need to confirm your carrier relationships are also in good standing.

With a multi-carrier shipping software like Shippo, you can do both. You can get a dependable shipping API trusted by many large e-commerce brands and you’ll be able to access the best rates from 40+ carriers worldwide with Shippo's carrier accounts. You’ll also get enterprise-ready security, allowing you to focus on building revenue through your online channels rather than worrying about shipping.

The large amount of online orders your business generates could also lead to a greater number of returns after the holiday season so you’ll need to be prepared for that too.

Holiday Shopping Motivation

Pricing down your items to generate sales has always been a tried and true strategy this time of the year. According to our poll, many American holiday shoppers would agree with that, as 43% say that sales/promotions at retailers they plan to shop with motivate them to begin holiday gift shopping. However, it isn’t the only factor that’s making shoppers load up their carts and purchase.

An equal number of American holiday shoppers simply want to be done shopping early (43%), while 35% of them want to spread out their costs over time, and almost a third (29%) are worried about getting their gifts in time before the holiday.

What this means for your e-commerce business:

Online retailers need to recognize that the holiday season is a marathon and not a sprint. While many potential customers will wait for Black Friday and Cyber Monday to make their holiday purchases, many others will be looking to buy in advance of those days.

You’ll need to carefully analyze how big of discounts you offer and when you offer them. Since so many consumers are motivated by the desire to get done early, want to spread costs over time, and are motivated by sales/promotions, a strategy you may want to take is to offer small discounts earlier in the season and wait to drop your largest sales until later in the season in case you’re not able to move enough volume to that point.

What’s Making Customers Shop Earlier This Year?

There are many factors that play a part in why many American holiday shoppers this year (39%) are shopping earlier than in previous years. Some are within a retailer's control, such as sales/promotions. However, many of them are preferences of consumers that directly affect how retailers approach the season.

Some of the biggest examples of this among those who plan to start holiday shopping earlier are wanting to avoid crowds, wanting to spread out the cost over time, shipping deadlines, and gifts arriving late last year.

What this means for your e-commerce business:

There are several takeaways from these reasons as to why customers are shopping early.

  1. If you drop your discounts and promotions early, there is a good chance you’ll see a wave of shoppers since 49% of Americans who are planning on shipping earlier are planning to do so specifically for that reason.
  2. Since 44% of customers who plan to shop earlier this year are hoping to avoid crowds, you’ll not only want to make sure your physical stores are stocked early, but also ensure your online store is stocked early and throughout the holiday season since online shopping is always the best way to avoid crowds.
  3. About a quarter of Americans who are planning on shopping earlier this year aim to avoid shipping deadlines and one-fifth are doing so because gifts arrived late last year. This means you will have to be sure to communicate holiday shipping deadlines to your customers throughout their online shopping journey and you’ll have to be sure your fulfillment team knows when the last days to ship are so that they can box and send orders in time. You’ll also want to give customers multiple service levels so they can choose between next-day, 2-day, or standard shipping services. This allows you to capitalize on last-minute sales while still delivering in time for the holidays.

Shipping holiday orders in time can be the difference between gaining a loyal customer or simply delivering a one-time sale.

How Much Sooner Do Consumers Plan To Do Their Holiday Shopping This Year?

While some Americans who plan to purchase holiday gifts this year say they will begin their shopping earlier – some by as many as 5+ weeks (9%) – there will always be those who put it off until the last minute. This could be due to busy schedules, wanting to wait out for better deals, or simply needing more time to find that perfect gift. In any case, your business needs to be able to accommodate holiday shoppers for months.

What this means for your e-commerce business:

Mid-size retailers may feel inclined to follow suit with enterprise players such as Amazon, Walmart, Target, and others and launch major sales early in the holiday season to keep up. While this is a solid strategy and 43% of Americans say they are motivated to shop earlier because of discounts or the desire to get done early, the data here proves it was not the time to go all in this year.

In fact, 28% of Americans who plan to buy holiday gifts say they still plan on making their holiday purchases at the same time this year as they did last year and approximately 34% of Americans say they actually plan on shopping later this year. With these shopping plans in mind, retailers can expect more orders to come towards more traditional holidays such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday despite Amazon and others trying to start the holiday shopping season earlier.

If you didn’t launch any major promotions in October and didn’t drive a ton of holiday sales, don’t sweat. There are still 62% of holiday shoppers starting no earlier than they did in 2022 which means there is still time to drive revenue before the year ends.

When Exactly Are Americans Going to Do Their Holiday Shopping?

American shoppers all have different timelines for when they plan on doing their holiday shopping. Some will have already done their shopping over the summer or even earlier in the year if they have found what they are looking for.

But, the vast majority of holiday shoppers in the U.S. plan on making their purchases in the months of October and November.

What this means for your e-commerce business:

There are a few takeaways for retailers based on this data. The first is that holiday shoppers are not just subject to the last three months of the year. In fact, 27% of Americans who purchase holiday gifts do so before then and will buy if and when they find the perfect item. With that being the case, you’ll want to save your biggest discounts for October and November when most people plan on shopping, have limited funds, and competition is at its highest point. The right discounts will help you stand amongst your competition during this shopping frenzy.

But, more importantly, almost the same percentage of Americans that purchase holiday gifts planned on shopping in October as they do in November. This means you’ll not only want to have started your promotions in October, but you’ll also want to ensure you deliver a quality post-purchase experience since those customers may purchase from you again the following month.

You’ll also want to note that only 7% plan on making their holiday purchases in December, which could be due to holiday shipping deadlines. If you’re planning on launching any last-minute Christmas deals, be sure they are in the early portion of the month.

All things considered, our data shows that there are ways to motivate a change in shopping behavior and this is an appetite for Americans to get through with their holiday shopping sooner. However, establishing new patterns can be difficult and consumer plans point to a much more concentrated peak season than major retailers have anticipated. For most e-commerce merchants, there is still time to maximize revenue and make the most of the holiday rush this year, so long as they are prepared for a potentially high-volume Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

To learn more about how to set up your business for success during the holiday rush, check out our “E-commerce Merchants Ultimate Guide to Preparing for Peak.”

Consumer trends for holiday shopping this year are pointing to a more concentrated peak season. See what this means for your e-commerce business and how to prepare.

Survey Method:

This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of Shippo from September 22 - 26 2023 among 2,087 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. The sampling precision of Harris online polls is measured by using a Bayesian credible interval. For this study, the sample data is accurate to within +/- 2.7 percentage points using a 95% confidence level. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact shippo@missionnorth.com.

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Hasan Nabulsi
is the Content Marketing Manager at Shippo.

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