As you might have noticed, it’s been a bit of a tumultuous year. With the holiday season almost upon us, you may be wondering if consumer buying patterns are going to play out the way they usually do.
For our 2022 shopping study, we surveyed 3,138 U.S. adults from a variety of different income levels and regions to get a sense of their plans when it came to gifting. Here are three major takeaways from that research.
Consumers are Concerned About Supply Chain Issues — But They’re Still Planning for a Later Start
If you’re wondering whether you missed an early rush of holiday shoppers, you didn’t: a full 50% of the people we surveyed had no plans to start shopping until November this year, with 27% holding off until after Black Friday. (For context, last year that number was 21%).
Last year’s trials haven’t been forgotten — 55% of consumers said that they were either “very” or “somewhat” worried about supply chain issues causing delays. But consumers have more prominent concerns this year, especially economic uncertainty due to historic inflation, fewer job openings, and rising prices.
What to do: If you’re a retailer, be ready for a rush between mid-November and late December by pre-ordering and reserving product, and consider looking into additional storage options. If you’re on the transportation side, consider ways to make that period of time more efficient (and less stressful).
Consumers are Struggling More to Make Ends Meet, and Spending Will be More Muted
The majority (66%) of American consumers are worried about their ability to purchase the gifts they want this holiday season and, grimly, 21% of lower income buyers are preparing to go into debt because of it.
As a result, 51% of consumers are planning to spend less overall than they did last year, even though prices will be higher. Tighter times mean fewer or smaller gifts, considered more carefully.
That said, the majority of people do plan to do some holiday shopping, and people with high or mid-level incomes didn’t report any meaningful plans to change, meaning that wealthier shoppers will likely keep buying as usual.
What to do: Bear the changing landscape in mind as you make major decisions about pre-holiday expenses. It might be better to place smaller orders if they are easily refreshed and to buy products that are more “evergreen” versus seasonal if you’re planning ahead. Because pricing is such a point of focus this year, it might also be worth considering different deals or promotions that could help boost sales and make products/services more accessible.
Now, more than ever, it is essential to have empathy for your buyers, business partners, and vendors. Demands are high, and global pressures have resulted in more hostility toward those in customer-facing roles. It’s a brutal environment for almost everyone. The more prepared you are to address confrontational situations (and show appreciation to valued partners), the smoother the season will be.
Shoppers are More Focused on Looking for Clothing and Toys/Games Than Anything Else
In addition to general cautiousness, you might also want to mitigate risk by focusing on the areas consumers seem especially focused on. Our data can help there.
The most popular gift consumers are shopping for this year is clothing — and that’s true across almost all genders and age groups (the exception being women over 65, who are focused on gift cards). Other categories we asked about were toys and games (which came in second), home goods, technology, and gift cards (which were quite a bit less popular), and jewelry, beauty, travel, health, and furniture, which were all meaningfully less popular.
Most sub-groups that we tracked followed the same distribution. Parents, for example, are more likely to buy clothes (61%) and toys/games (58%) than technology (35%) or gift cards (29%).
What to do: Be ready for higher demand in areas that align with consumers’ interest and possible lower demand for products outside of those categories.
The economic environment right now can be scary, and people are reacting accordingly. But planning ahead, having empathy and being flexible can ensure that you adapt with the times and help consumers get the holiday season they deserve.
Laura Wronski is director of research at Momentive.
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