NEW YORK — While holiday retail sales will remain flat or only slightly up from last year, emerging consumer buying trends will have significant implications for retailers, according to a new survey from Booz & Co.
In its 1,600-person survey — which polled consumers, retail store staff and retail executives to determine buying habits and potential trends for this holiday season — Booz & Co. found that in-store competitive browsing, heavy online shopping and downloaded gifts top the new shopper behaviors expected this holiday season. Booz & Co. specifically called attention to multichannel shopping, which it said will be a core part of how consumers shop: 40% of surveyed consumers describe "showcasing" as their new shopping strategy: browsing in-store before buying online, which creates a major challenge for brick-and-mortar retailers.
Additional key findings included:
52% of consumers will closely consider affordability in their shopping decisions;
73% of consumers said they expect to find great deals this season, compared with 62% last year;
51% of consumers reported that economic survival is a great reason for celebrating this year;
More than 80 million shoppers plan to purchase gift cards this season, about 4% more than last year;
Downloadable gifts will become a distinct and rapidly growing category this year, as 45% of consumers expect to give at least one downloadable gift (i.e., an e-book, a music download or a movie);
53% of consumers intend to buy at least one luxury item (up from 41% last year), and the item is likely to be one the whole family can enjoy; and
Consumers are looking forward to the holiday more than last year; 53% expect to host multiple gatherings, compared with 45% last year.
"The biggest challenge this season for brick-and-mortar retailers is determining how to drive more than their fair share of 'showcasing volume' to their websites rather than Amazon.com or another competitor," said Thom Blischok, chief retail strategist for Booz & Co. "While technology enhancements and economic uncertainty will both impact this holiday season, there is a dose of optimism compared to 2011, as people shop with a value-seeking mindset."
Booz & Co. outlined certain "winning strategies" for retailers for the 2012 holiday season. They include:
Developing seamless digital and physical experiences. For example, using QR code-driven promotions to convert a sale, considering free shipping on targeted items, using loyalty points to drive conversion or using online competitor price matching sparingly to drive price perception;
Preparing online and mobile technology platforms for high volumes, because crashing mobile applications will discourage consumers;
Ensuring that sales associates are intimately familiar with both the website and any mobile offerings so they can help customers navigate among different buying channels in real time; and
Offering free shipping on targeted items or basket sizes. "Shoppers are increasingly savvy about their all-in costs; last year free shipping was a major online sales driver, and we expect more of the same this year," Booz & Co. said.
"Retailers will need to adjust their holiday sales strategies to embrace an evolving consumer mindset, favoring a more seamless shopping experience through smartphones and in-store opportunities," said Nicholas Hodson, partner in Booz & Co.'s Consumer & Retail practice.
To view the full "Holiday Retail Outlook 2012" report, click here.