To put some context on the 2022 holiday season, I’m going to suggest some concepts that have been percolating in my mind. Rather than focus strictly on the numbers, I’m going to lean in more on intuition and sentiment. I’ve gathered input from my editorial peers to gain outside perspective and am including retailer marketing and messaging that supports these themes.
One of my peers nailed what I also believe is the general sentiment among retailers.
“It is too risky to do anything crazy. Ecommerce has seen huge change since 2020 and people don’t necessarily want ‘innovation’ in how they shop anymore. They’re tired of it and instead they prefer regularity. If there is innovation, it won’t be something the shopper notices.”
One editor acknowledges the economy is weird and he doesn’t think it will be difficult to overcome. “Unemployment is at what we traditionally would call ‘full employment’ levels. And consumers keep spending.”
“I’m not as pessimistic about this as many. Unemployment is low, so most consumers have money to spend. Yes, inflation will limit their discretionary dollars, and likely will force many to trade down or hunt for bargains. But there’s a lot of pent-up demand for a fun holiday season, and that should help retailers.”
Digital Commerce 360 asked 70 retailers in September and October 2022 about the obstacles they face. This holiday profitability rises to the top with increasing costs (59%), rising inflation rates (56%), meeting profitability goals (43%) and managing marketing budgets (36%) among the many others.
Perhaps, the most important finding is that fluctuating consumer confidence makes it difficult to predict what lies ahead, as 44% cited.
It’s helpful then to look at the tactics retailers are putting in place to adapt to this economic climate. Cost containment rises to the top, and 50% said they are adjusting product prices as circumstances dictate. Inventory wise, 46% of retailers are perpetually reviewing inventory. Meanwhile, 24% are ordering heavily into key items.
So what is the retailer take on the consumer and what lies ahead for this all-important 2022 holiday season? Inflation is top of mind and 63% of those surveyed believe it will cause consumers to buy less.
Shoppers will be focused on finding good prices due to inflation and personal circumstances. Our Digital Commerce and Bizrate Insights survey of 1,088 online shoppers in September 2022 finds support for these economic circumstances. Shoppers are on the hunt for the best price, and 40% said they’ll comparison shop due to expected prices. Happily, only 35% said that high inflation will cause them to purchase less overall. This is aligned with our retailer findings when it comes to comparison shopping, as 53% expect consumers will do more of it and convert less.
The comparison shopping mindset has manifested itself beyond the web. As I was shopping in late October, I happened to come across this signage at a Target store in New York City. The holiday price match guarantee certainly indicates the retailer wants to encourage its customers to shop early, letting them know it will be risk free.
To me, it seems buying will be more of a marathon like 2021 when all is said and done. The belief that out of stocks will once again pose significant problems feels like a bit of a hype. Yet our Digital Commerce 360 research reveals that half of retailers believe that online shoppers will buy earlier to avoid out-of-stocks in the 2022 holiday season. Yet, only 34% of these retailers expect online shoppers will find products out-of-stock more than in past seasons. Along with this high inventory should come more promotions, according to 33% of survey respondents. Unfortunately, this may not translate into results, as only 13% of retailers believe shoppers will convert more frequently given fear of out-of-stocks.
From an inventory perspective, 36% of retailers are facing challenges with managing inventory levels and 30% with refining product assortments
The internal perspective feels like this is going to be a “wait and see” game.
“Promos may have shifted some buying earlier,” a colleague wrote. “But some shoppers are waiting for economic and election news before finalizing holiday spending plans.”
“Shoppers have less fear about out of stocks and late deliveries this holiday season. I feel like there is less urgency in general.”
“Yes, fear of product running out is now ingrained into many consumers. But anecdotally, I don’t hear of friends talking about their early holiday shopping. I don’t think sales will skew much earlier than in recent years.”
“Inflationary pressure makes it hard to shop early. This means consumers will wind up scrambling at the last minute, buying on credit, etc.”
Personally, I don’t expect shopping patterns will be much different. Perhaps Prime Day timing and subsequent “early access” sales would alter behavior, but our three-year look at shopping patterns finds it neck-and-neck through the end of October (2022-44% vs. 2021-40% vs. 2020-39%).
One can’t help but notice that most retailers are taking a start now stance similar to DSW. Like many retailers, it’s encouraging its customers to get a head start on gifting no matter the sentiment.
The state of promotions does not have its usual bravado. My sense is “promotions will be a constant, but the percentages won’t be as high as shoppers might hope for. As I watch my email, I’m seeing mostly 20% to 25% markdowns with some exception of course.”
As one editor reflected, “People expect promotions this time of year. But it’s unlikely that retailers will dig deep. They won’t have to.”
There appears to be lots of hype in the media about early buying and corresponding promotions, but the retailers haven’t been that aggressive to date. Here are some of the perspectives on promotions from our team, and you can build your own as you see fit. It likely will change throughout the year.
“The theme will be about promotions, but I don’t anticipate sharp markdowns. If they are forthcoming, most believe they will later in the season closer to ground shipping cutoffs.”
“Come Thanksgiving weekend, we will see good discounts. The early discounting might be more frequent but not as deep and honestly less of a wow.”
“We’ll see plenty of big percent off numbers touted, but actual end prices won’t be lower than last year. Retailers baked in high prices before the holiday season with the discounts in mind.”
“The expectation of great deals will be unmet because of inflation.”
“Like most things in retail, promotions will be high, at least early on. Once each retailer sees where they stand going into Cyber 5, they’ll adjust. Those that are not stuck with a lot of inventory will cut back on discounts, while others will discount more deeply to move merchandise.”
My store shopping of late suggests some holiday excitement, although mostly stores just seem to have generic or minimally festive displays. There was little belief among our team that the store’s role would see major gains. Instead, here is some of what I heard.
“It’s always great to find that perfect gift in store. But nothing beats the convenience of online shopping. Many people started going back to stores a year ago. By now, I think most people will go to stores for whatever they still buy from retailers other than Amazon.”
“Many will go into stores to enjoy the feel of the holiday season. But those who are busy now know more than ever before that they can shop at home. Bad weather will probably have more of an impact than in the past, because more consumers are comfortable shopping online.”
“I’m too lazy and busy to go to stores and generally hate going to the mall, so I think people like me will still rely on online shopping.”
“I doubt it. It’s harder to compare prices in the real world than online. And my sense is that the fear of crime in stores has skyrocketed.”
In my store visits, I certainly saw some well-executed examples like at Crate & Barrel. Its displays engage the customers and hopefully inspire them to buy.
The truth of the matter is that this is a holiday that is fraught with the unknown, from promotional strategies to early buying and how the consumer will behave in an economy that is challenging at best. The obstacles are clear, but consumer behavior is a big question mark. It just might be one to sit out and step in for the January post-mortem.
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