Retailers pin hopes on early holiday shoppers
As peak retail season approaches, retail analysts are predicting healthy sales figures based on improved consumer confidence and early shopping trends. Synchrony Financial's Annual Holiday Shopping Study, published Oct. 27, 2016, found more than half of survey respondents have begun their holiday shopping. The study, conducted by RTi Research recently surveyed 1,600 U.S. shoppers and combined their responses with historical data, macroeconomic factors and trends.
The report found many consumers spend the entire year planning for the holidays. Bart Schaller, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Synchrony Financial noted that "caution overrides personal optimism, and shoppers tell us they're carefully planning, pacing and prioritizing their holiday purchases to stay on schedule and on budget."
Report authors predicted a 2 percent increase in consumer spending, with 34 percent of shoppers expecting to spend more during the holidays, compared with 32 percent during the same period in 2015. And sales and discounts will continue to be determining factors for 85 percent of shoppers. In addition, 42 percent of respondents expect to begin shopping before Black Friday, 28 percent will wait until after Thanksgiving and 67 percent will be finished by mid-December, the survey noted.
Analysts also expect broader adoption of digital wallets and tools to influence consumer behavior during the holidays. Consumers increasingly rely on connected devices to research and purchase products: 82 percent use smartphones to find and redeem coupons, compare prices and research products; more than half of survey respondents search for deals online, with 37 percent expecting to use ecommerce due to their ability to shop anytime, anywhere with prioritized delivery and shipping options; and more than 60 percent prefer to go to retail stores to participate in unique, seasonal offers and in-store experiences.
Gift cards, loyalty top the list
Gift cards were among the most popular items on most shopping lists, with 67 percent of shoppers planning to give gift cards and 32 percent expecting to buy more gift cards than in previous years.
Payments analysts expect many consumers to use their favorite loyalty programs as a form of currency throughout the holiday season, redeeming points and miles in exchange for gifts. A recent study by Points International Ltd. found that 92 percent of consumers belong to loyalty programs; the company anticipates more growth in loyalty programs as mobile wallets gain adoption. In The State of Mobile Wallet Loyalty and Engagement 2016, Points stated that 89.6 percent of consumers gravitate to retailers that support their favorite loyalty programs.
"Ease of use was the prevailing theme of the study," said Danielle Brown, Vice President of Marketing at Points International. "We need to find ways to seamlessly blend established loyalty programs and mobile wallets, to make consumer loyalty optimally interactive and minimally intrusive."
Optimizing the mobile experience
Both Synchrony Financial and Points International expect to see near-term growth in text and location-based offers as more consumers opt in to receive discounts and promotions. Customized alerts for frequently purchased items, based on location and behavioral data, can create a more personalized experience between consumers and their favorite brands, the companies stated.
"I could be walking by a sandwich shop and get an alert that offers 200 miles from my favorite airline with my lunch purchase," Brown said. Mobile and online alerts can also remind consumers of billing due dates. For example, Synchrony Bank cardholders can create customized alerts based on payment due date, balances and spending thresholds.