A Tale of Two Holiday Shoppers
Pre-pandemic, many experts expected this digital outbalance to occur a few years from now, but today it’s abundantly clear—in-store is no longer consumers’ default shopping mode; it’s simply one of many channels on a much more level playing field

By Greg Mishkin, vice president in the Telecommunications and Consumer & Retail industry groups at Escalent    

The way we shop has changed forever.

Retailers continue to feel the ripples of last year’s rocky holiday shopping season and are bracing for a similarly chaotic situation to end 2021. The pandemic inspired incredibly rapid and dramatic changes to people’s preferences, making now the perfect time for brands to step back, evaluate the needs of their customers and reinvent their image to win and retain valuable market share.

Those who fail to act risk losing sales to the businesses that do.

The In-Store Shopping Rebound Has Been Slow

According to the latest Consumer & Retail study from Escalent, consumers are split down the middle when it comes to choosing between in-store or online shopping. While 48 percent plan to shop at brick-and-mortar stores this holiday season, 53 percent plan to opt for online and curbside pickup options.

Pre-pandemic, many experts expected this digital outbalance to occur a few years from now, but today it’s abundantly clear—in-store is no longer consumers’ default shopping mode; it’s simply one of many channels on a much more level playing field. Shoppers demand the choice to shop in the manner that suits them—a sentiment that will likely persist well past the impacts of the pandemic.

The Behavioral Generation Gap

The study also shows a stark generational contrast in willingness to return to pre-pandemic behaviors as it relates to the upcoming holiday shopping season.

Boomers (63 percent) and Gen X (57 percent) take COVID-19 much more seriously than Millennials (46 percent) and Gen Z (44 percent). While older generations prefer the traditional brick-and-mortar shopping experience, their hesitation to put the pandemic behind them is apparent, even when it involves some of the biggest shopping days of the year.

Less phased by the consequences of the virus, younger generations have fewer qualms about being social, with many attempting to reclaim their “lost” pandemic year by immersing themselves in large gatherings—including upcoming holiday shopping days like Black Friday—as often as possible, even with the highly contagious delta variant looming.

The Trek Toward Omnichannel Shopping

Though younger consumers feel more confident about their 2021 holiday plans, the data continue to show significant interest in ordering online for either direct shipping or in-store pickup. In fact, nearly half of Millennials and Gen X respondents—as well as more than one-third of Gen Z—say they’ll shop on Cyber Monday because they know it won’t be impacted by the virus.

Combined with older generations adopting online shopping at exponentially greater rates, the need for a customized, omnichannel retail strategy will be all the more important to win over customers this year, as divisions remain over which shopping channel they prefer.

Know Your Customers Deeply

For your brand to keep relevant, it’s important to reevaluate who your current and prospective customers are, but also dig into the why behind their values, preferences and behaviors so you can understand and empathize with them. Understanding these shifts can mean the difference between a loyal customer, a lost sale and a foregone opportunity to capture market share.

Research has always been important to consumer brands, and that has never been truer today. The pandemic of 2020 and 2021 has led customers to reevaluate not just how they shop but also where they shop. This has opened the door to new segments of customers for those retailers that have adapted and innovated in response to pandemic realities—often including customers that may have never considered these retailers before. Knowing your audience segments at a deep level gives you a much stronger foundation to craft a holiday strategy that works for both your long-term and newfound customers alike.

Revisit Your Brand Positioning

The old ways of holiday marketing are long gone and largely irrelevant. Instead of consumers adapting to brands, we’re now in the age of brands adapting to consumers. Regardless of age, Escalent found that 45 percent of people cite health and safety as a top-three reason they value online shopping. The appeal of shopping online is no longer driven only by price and convenience.

This means retailers should continue finding ways to make customers feel safe in-store—such as following strict sanitation guidelines, offering contactless options and requiring employees to wear masks and/or get vaccinated. This, in addition to things such as senior-only shopping hours, holds particularly true if your primary audience comprises cautious Boomers. The reward? Increased foot traffic and the associated impulse purchases that follow.

Investing in a complex omnichannel sales and marketing strategy is mandatory to reach your desired audiences. Ensuring online experiences are intuitive, engaging and make use of technological best practices—such as machine learning for personalization—will ensure consumers, and especially younger generations, enjoy an easy, inspiring shopping experience.

Power to the Consumer

78 percent of consumers indicate they will be ready to start their holiday shopping season after September. With loyalty down, price sensitivity high and anxiety about the delta variant rising, it’s critical to conduct research to optimize the mix of products you plan to sell this year while also ensuring that your customers believe you are watching out for their safety. Adapting your shopping and delivery processes to customer needs gives your brand the opportunity to keep them loyal while winning over customers from the competition.

The 2021 holiday season is your brand’s chance to make a powerful first impression with plenty of new customers you wouldn’t otherwise have had the opportunity to reach—and you don’t want to miss your window.

About the author

Greg Mishkin is a vice president in the Telecommunications and Consumer & Retail industry groups at Escalent, but works across all divisions and is in high demand as a speaker and author in the market research and telecom fields. Greg’s responsibilities include managing and growing key client relationships while maintaining a special focus on the integration of large-scale behavioral data with Escalent’s traditional market research solutions.

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