Most analysts are predicting brisk sales this holiday season that equal or better last year’s sales. Erica Sweeney reports an OpenX survey conducted with the Harris Poll found consumers are optimistic about the current economy. As a result, she writes, “More than 80% of consumers are planning to spend the same amount or more on gifts in 2018 compared to last year.” That’s good news for retailers — if they’re ready … now. Marcie Geffner (@marciegeffner) notes, “The year-end holiday shopping season that accounts for a large proportion of many businesses’ annual sales doesn’t just seem to get longer every year — some shoppers now begin to hunt for holiday bargains as early as August or even year-round.” Getting ready for the holiday season means getting ready earlier than ever. Walter Loeb (@LoebWalter), a former senior retail analyst at Morgan Stanley, adds, “Promotions will start earlier than ever before, with stores advertising ‘Black Friday’ prices to entice shoppers ahead of the Thanksgiving weekend.” In fact, in some stores holiday items were put on display ahead of Halloween.
How good will the shopping season be?
Loeb predicts holiday sales will “be better than last year by about 4.8%.” That’s in line with a forecast from Coresight Research whose analysts predict sales “this year are poised to log a 4% year-over-year increase.” Daphne Howland (@daphnehowland), reports, “Deloitte’s number crunchers put that even higher, estimating sales growth between November and January to reach 5% to 5.6% from last year to more than $1.1 trillion, up from the $1.05 trillion last year.” Not all of that growth is going to be from online shoppers. Howland reports, “More holiday shoppers will head to physical stores this year.” She draws that conclusion from an annual survey conducted by Natural Insight. According to the survey, nearly “88% of consumers overall (88% of women and 85% of men) — a six percentage-point increase from last year,” intend to shop in physical stores this holiday season. And, as noted above, holiday shopping is going to commence early. According to the Natural Insight survey, “Nearly half (47%) of holiday shopping will happen before December, a 10-point increase from Natural Insight’s 2017 results.”
Reaching holiday shoppers
If retailers plan to reach holiday shoppers this year, they better have a good mobile strategy. According to the OpenX survey, “Fifty-five percent of consumers are on their smartphones at least three hours per day, with one-third of millennials and one out of four parents spending six or more hours a day on the devices. Millennials spend five-times more time on mobile devices than watching TV, and 25% of all consumers watch no live TV.” Sweeney notes, “As marketers are gearing up for their holiday campaigns, taking a multichannel approach may be the best strategy for engaging consumers. … Last year, 71.6% of consumers did their holiday shopping on mobile devices while at home or traveling, and 60.1% used smartphones while in-store, according to iVend Retail’s 2018 Global Path to Purchase survey. Mobile shopping could be an even bigger market this holiday season, as most consumers are spending more time on smartphones and less watching traditional TV.” Howland reports online sales are poised to climb. “Coresight thinks online retail sales will rise by almost 16% year over year, while Deloitte foresees an increase of 17% to 22%, up to as much as $128 billion to $134 billion.”
Creative brick-and-mortar retailers need not be discourages by those statistics. Howland explains, “With holiday shoppers looking for inspiration and an enjoyable experience in stores this year, a trend seen last year as well, retailers need to be enticing.” She goes to note, “Natural Insights’ findings jibe with other research from market intelligence solutions firm Market Track.” Ryne Misso, Market Track’s Director of Marketing, told Howland, “He expects retailers to use ‘their physical store locations as value differentiators. … We expect to see more in-store events (like Walmart’s holiday parties in 2017), more opportunities for shoppers to demo new products (like Best Buy’s VR demos in 2017), and other creative experiences that shoppers can only enjoy by visiting a store location’.” A good omnichannel strategy results in consumers having a great customer experience no matter their path to purchase.
Loeb notes, “This year Thanksgiving is on November 22. That is a very early date and stretches the Christmas selling period over five weekends.” For some retailers, that is good news — more opportunities to sell. For other retailers, Loeb believes trying to maintain sales momentum may be a struggle. He explains, “The long period between Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas usually causes a selling lull in the middle of that period. With even more selling days before Christmas this year, it will force retailers to plan extra sales promotions to create momentum.” In other words, price-conscious consumers in a buying mood should find good deals to whet their appetites regardless of the channel they choose to shop.
For retailers prepared to cater to both early and late holiday shoppers, this holiday season is predicted to be a boon. The digital path to purchase continues to strengthen; but, creative brick-and-mortar retailers are also showing signs of life. According to Howland, there are varied reasons shoppers head to stores and retailers should try to meet or exceed consumer expectations. “More than half of those surveyed [by Natural Insights] said a major reason they head to stores rather than shopping online is the ability to browse and discover gift ideas, nearly a third (30%) said they head to stores for the decorations and the holiday atmosphere, and a third of younger shoppers (18-29 years old) say it’s a social activity for them.” There is no better time of year to provide in-store shoppers with a great experience that will be bring them back for more.
 Erica Sweeney, “Survey: 80% of shoppers plan to spend at least as much as last year on holidays,” Marketing Dive, 25 September 2018.
 Marcie Geffner, “Prepping Your Supply Chain for The Holiday (or Any Busy) Season,” Dun & Bradstreet B2B, 4 October 2016.
 Walter Loeb, “Holiday 2018 Forecast: A Long Selling Period Will Bring Heavy Promotions,” Forbes, 28 September 2018.
 Daphne Howland, “The holidays, in this economy?” Retail Dive, 28 September 2018.
 Daphne Howland, “More holiday shoppers heading to stores, and earlier,” Retail Dive, 28 September 2018.