What retailers can do to prepare for this year’s last-minute holiday shoppers
Kevin Fried, industry director, specialty retail, Google
All signs point to an exceptional holiday retail season, with shopping activity starting early and expected to break sales records. But challenges loom this season, ranging from delivery delays to inventory scarcity and labor shortages — many of them driven by the supply-chain squeeze that marketers are tracking this year.
These hurdles will disproportionately impact last-minute holiday shoppers. Additionally, despite an earlier start to holiday shopping, as of the first week of December, 94% of U.S. shoppers say they still have gifts to buy and 64% still have decisions to make on those gifts. (Google/Ipsos, U.S., Holiday Shopping Study, n= 1499, online consumers 18+ in the U.S. that shopped for the holidays in the past two days, Nov 25, 2021–Dec. 1, 2021)
The following sections highlight essential holiday trends and tips to help retailers looking to prepare for the rush and assist customers worrying about missing out on the perfect gift.
Avoid inventory woes by clearly displaying in-store stock online
As of December 1, U.S. holiday shoppers have completed 44% of their holiday shopping. (Google/Ipsos, U.S., Holiday Shopping Study, n= 1499, online consumers 18+ in the U.S. that shopped for the holidays in the past two days during the selected week, Nov 25, 2021–Dec. 1, 2021)
With this in mind, it’s no surprise that product availability is one of the top factors influencing whether consumers make a purchase with a retailer. (Google/Ipsos, U.S., Holiday Shopping Study, n=3210 purchase occasions by consumers 18+ in the U.S., Oct. 31, 2021–Nov. 24, 2021)
Thirty percent of holiday shoppers worry that things they want will be out of stock, (Google-commissioned Ipsos COVID-19 Tracker, U.S., n=698 online consumers 18+ planning to shop for the holiday season, Sept. 23, 2021–Sept. 27 2021) and over half of holiday shoppers say they will confirm online that an item is in stock before going to buy it. (Google-commissioned Ipsos COVID-19 Tracker, U.S., n=488 online consumers 18+ planning to shop for the holiday season, Nov. 18, 2021–Nov. 21, 2021)
But, they’re not always finding the information they need. Thirty-seven percent of U.S. holiday shoppers agree they wish retail stores would do a better job of sharing inventory information. (Google/Ipsos, U.S., Holiday Shopping Study, n=4072 online consumers 18+ in the U.S. that shopped for the holidays in the past two days, Oct. 31, 2021–Dec. 1, 2021)
Listing available in-store products online and promoting items that are available for in-store or curbside pickup using local inventory ads is both easy and vital with this year’s inventory scarcity. Using tools such as customer interest insights to understand what people are searching for, and then leveraging automation tools, like Smart Shopping campaigns, to capture increased demand for sought-after products can help customers find products they may not be able to locate elsewhere.
As holiday shipping deadlines approach, more people will seek out gifts in person. Compared to 2020, searches for “gift shops near me” have increased by 60%. (Google Data, Global English, Aug. 31 2021–Oct. 29, 2021 vs. Aug. 31 2020–Oct. 29, 2020) And according to Salesforce, retailers that offered curbside, drive-through and in-store pickup last year saw their sales increase by 54% year-over-year in the five days leading up to Christmas, compared with 34% for retailers that did not offer those options.
Updating business hours and fulfillment options, and highlighting them on online business profiles are key. Retailers can also reach additional nearby shoppers with helpful information about local stores with tools such as local campaigns that let them highlight products available in store, pickup options and more across Google.
If items are out of stock, last-minute shoppers may look for other options — like gift cards or experiences. In previous years, search interest in “gift cards” consistently peaked the week before Christmas, and, with increased inventory challenges this year, we expect more of these queries.
Share shipping deadlines to make ordering online less stressful for last-minute shoppers
Shipping is absolutely on shoppers’ minds, particularly the order cutoff dates that will ensure delivery before Christmas. Highlighting “order by” information prominently on websites or apps creates both urgency and peace of mind for customers who need delivery in advance of Christmas. Using shipping annotations like “Free delivery by Dec 24” or “3-day shipping” across free and paid listings online can further help people looking for products.
According to Google internal data from October 2020, there’s been a 10% increase in click-through-rates for free listings when the three-day shipping annotation is used.
Prepare for post-holiday shopping as well
While there is typically a flurry of last-minute shopping on Christmas Eve, the opportunities don’t stop there. In past years, search interest for “holiday returns” have spiked on Christmas Day, and shopping interest tends to remain high in the following weeks.
For some product categories, holiday retail demand in December is highest on or after Christmas Day. For example, in December 2020, search interest for “jewelry” peaked the day after Christmas. Search interest for “furniture” also sees an increase well into January.
To capture continued consumer demand, extend holiday strategies beyond New Year’s Day to reach shoppers who may be using gift cards, exchanging gifts they just received or buying additional items related to gifts they received. Allocating budget to keep campaigns running after Christmas Day and looking at historical performance to inform when to increase budget helps retailers capitalize on increased demand.
In any year, retailers must carefully prepare to capitalize on last-minute holiday shopping behaviors. It’s all the more crucial, then, with this year’s combination of increased consumer demand and retailer headwinds, for marketers to lay the proper groundwork for a bell-ringing Yuletide season.
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