Happy or Humbug for Retailers? Consumers Weigh in on Holiday Shopping

While the pandemic has caused a barrage of online shopping, a new Oracle Retail survey shows that many customers are ready to venture back out into stores this holiday season.

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While the pandemic has caused a barrage of online shopping, a new Oracle Retail survey shows that many customers are ready to venture back out into stores this holiday season. Nearly 20% of shoppers plan to primarily do their shopping in-store with 47% planning to shop both online and in-store. Another 16% plan to make it as close as the parking lot, opting to retrieve orders curbside. And despite the challenging year, 58% of consumers expect to spend the same or more on holiday shopping than they did last year. 

Customers won’t, however, be dealing with the hassle of returns. While last year, 77% of consumers planned to make at least one return, this year that number dropped to 37%.

“The holidays promise to test retailer’s ability to serve customers how and where they want to shop,” said Mike Webster, senior vice president and general manager, Oracle Retail. “With customers shopping both online and in-store, and taking advantage of new retrieval options such as curbside pick-up and buy online pick up in-store, retailers are going to have to be firing on all cylinders to meet customer expectations in an already difficult environment.”

The survey polled 5,143 consumers in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, China, Brazil, Mexico, Italy, France, Germany and the United Arab Emirates in September 2020 about their COVID-19 shopping habits and plans for holiday shopping.

Holiday gift list

With travel limited and a desire to avoid returns, it was no surprise to see gift cards as a top holiday gift this year.

  • 39% of shoppers planning to buy apparel and necessities
  • 29% electronics
  • 27% gift cards
  • 19% sporting goods/hobbies
  • 15% luxury items (handbags, fashion, and jewelry)

“With more consumers avoiding returns, redeeming gift cards will be the next big opportunity for retailers to engage customers and extend sales post-holiday,” noted Webster.

Out of stock, out of luck

A lack of inventory will be the fastest way for retailers to end up on this year’s naughty list. 

  • 47% of respondents said out-of-stock merchandise topped their list for a bad shopping experience
  • 63% said they weren’t willing to wait for an item to be back in stock before they tried another brand

“In the pandemic, many retailers in-store stock was depleted or sold out completely,” added Webster. “During the holidays it will be critical for retailers to fill the shelves and use their physical locations both to serve shoppers and as fulfillment centers to handle online orders and get shipments out to customers quickly.”

Malls live, but safety precautions and masks a must

While there has been much discussion about how indoor malls will fare in the pandemic, shoppers were mostly unconcerned about the location as long as the proper safety precautions were in place.

  • 18% of shoppers felt safest in an indoor mall; 24% in outdoor shopping venues; and 58% were fine with either with the proper safety precautions.
  • 79% said it was important to see staff and other customers wearing masks.
  • 82% said it was important to see visible cleaning efforts.
  • 66% of shoppers noted contactless checkout was important.
  • 76% noted reduced occupancy levels in stores as key.
  • 39% of shoppers also said a lack of social distancing would cause them to have a bad shopping experience.

Consumers get social with new brands

As consumers spent more time shopping online during COVID-19, the survey found that 48% had discovered new brands on social media. This is a clear signal to retailers that upping social advertising this holiday season could impact sales.

  • 65% of shoppers discovered a new brand via Facebook
  • 53% via Instagram
  • 49% via YouTube
  • 29% via TikTok

The delivery nightmare before Christmas

While retailers experiment with alternative retrieval options, home delivery is still the top choice amongst consumers. This could present a delivery nightmare as shipping times will naturally get extended due to volume. To ease anxiety, 73% of consumers said real-time updates on item location throughout the delivery process is important. Here’s is how shoppers plan to retrieve online purchases:

  • 66% of respondents prefer home delivery.
  • 18% will buy online and pick up in-store (BOIPS).
  • 16% will buy online and pick up curbside.

“Every parent nervously waiting for their child’s holiday gift to arrive will attest that transparency from retailers is an absolute must,” noted Webster. “Brands have to have the systems in place to communicate with customers every step of the way – from ordering through to delivery.”

Moving from browser to buyer

When shopping online or in-store, consumers cited these reasons for moving from a browser to a buyer:

  • 55% a great price.
  • 49% special offers or discounts (such as buy one, get one free).

  • 25% immediate availability and fast shipping time.