How has the pandemic affected holiday budgets? Unevenly. Almost 40% told us it's business as usual, while a small sliver (11%) have increased their holiday budgets. Meanwhile, the other half isn't doing so well.
Our survey results reflect the larger economy’s uneven K-shaped recovery, in which some sectors are thriving while others continue to flail. Overall, while consumers are more optimistic than when we first polled them a few months ago, they are still wary.
To better understand a shopping environment that is more bifurcated than ever before, we asked 1,000+ consumers nationwide about their plans for holiday shopping and dining.
When we first asked shoppers about holiday spending back in August, they were far more cautious, telling us they would spend 12% less this holiday than they did last year. By October, they seemed much more buoyant, with spending levels down less than 3% from last year. In fact, spending on gifts matches last year’s levels as spending on travel and entertainment dip.
Pandemic or not, almost a third of millennials (30%) plan to spend more this holiday than they did last year, at close to double the rate of consumers overall.
More than most other age groups, these 25-to-38-year-olds will combine in-store and online shopping on Black Friday while close to half of them will look for online-only deals on Thanksgiving Day.
They will tailor their shopping habits based on shipping policies but they’re also far more likely than shoppers overall to pay for return shipping if they can avoid an extra trip to the store (45% v 27%).
Convenience matters most to these savvy shoppers. Give them the choice so they can combine the best of physical and digital shopping.
About one-quarter of consumers (24%) have already begun their holiday shopping. And a very diligent sliver (3%) is all done (before Prime Day).
The majority (59%) meanwhile, won’t begin until November or December. And more than two-thirds (67%) will wait to finish shopping until Black Friday week or the week after.
During Black Friday week, Black Friday itself holds the most appeal: 36% will do the bulk of their shopping that day, some online, some in stores and some using a combination of both.
The typical Black Friday shopper is omni-channel — young and digital-savvy with disposable income to spare, who trusts the security of online transactions and lives in a small town or suburb.
Even though deals abound earlier and earlier — especially in our pandemic-altered world — for many consumers, holiday shopping in November and December continues to hold special appeal. Retailers have an opportunity to engage more closely with consumers at that time and reassure consumers that want to shop in store that appropriate safety protocols will be in place.
The vast majority of consumers (71%) told us they are confident their online transactions are secure this holiday season, likely because most already have basic security protections in place.
Interestingly, age seems to be proportionate to trust; Gen Z (17 to 24 years) shoppers tell us they are far less trusting of online interactions than consumers overall (49% v 71%). These young shoppers are also much more likely to shop in stores on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday.
Regardless of their skepticism, however, Gen Z consumers have adopted online shopping for electronics, apparel, footwear and accessories at far higher rates than consumers overall, in the wake of shelter-in-place mandates.
Despite their lack of confidence in the security of online shopping, roughly one-third of Gen Z shoppers will buy electronics, apparel, footwear and accessories online this holiday — in the wake of COVID-19 shelter-in-place mandates — compared to less than a quarter of consumers overall.
Consumers are confident that retailers have the security measures in place for secure online shopping. And even those who tell us they aren’t are still migrating online at higher rates. Invest in the infrastructure needed to bolster the accelerated pace of online shopping.
As consumers do more of their shopping online this holiday (61% v 39% in stores), return policies take on even more importance. In fact, more than half of all consumers (53%) make buying decisions based on return policies.
And of all the age groups, millennials (25-38 years) are hyper-focused on return policies.
In the wake of shelter-in-place mandates, they’re migrating online to buy apparel, footwear, accessories and electronics at higher rates than older shoppers. This holiday, they also anticipate having more returns than last year: 40% v 20% for all consumers.
Millennials anticipate returning items this holiday at double the rate of consumers overall.
Free shipping and returns are now a competitive differentiator for retailers. As is the convenience of omnichannel returns: Buy online, return in-store. And while there, maybe do a bit more shopping. With that in mind, retailers are well-advised to adopt protocols for safe, convenient in-store returns.
While 20% of consumers plan to hold virtual gatherings with family and friends and another 20% haven’t made plans yet, a larger group (41%) told us they will either visit others in their homes or host a gathering in their own home.
Meanwhile 54% plan to dine at a restaurant this holiday, with younger consumers dining out at higher rates: 70% of millennials (25-38 years) and 69% of Gen Z (17-24 years).
Younger consumers also plan to celebrate the holiday in public spaces at higher rates: some 20% of those aged 38 or younger (v 7% for the over-38 set).
Some 20% of consumers aged 38 and younger will attend holiday parties in public spaces this year (v 7% for the over-38 set).
Despite the constraints of a global pandemic, consumers — especially younger consumers — want safe options to celebrate with family and friends.
We enter the throes of the holiday shopping season in the midst of major intersecting events: a public-health crisis, economic uncertainty, lingering social unrest and an election year.
Consumers are understandably ready for a touch of retail therapy that provides at least temporary respite from the chaotic reality of everyday life — whether online from the comfort of their homes or in a safe, festive shopping and dining environment.
Retailers, meanwhile, are monitoring the latest public-health data as they continue to navigate the pandemic and its impact on consumer confidence and shopping preferences. Ultimately, a bifurcated, K-shaped recovery means some shoppers are ready to spend while others are holding out for the best value this holiday.
Private Consulting Solutions Leader, Chicago, PwC US
Consumer Markets, PwC US
Consumer Markets, Senior Analyst, PwC US