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As the end of summer approaches, consumers are already starting to make plans for the myriad of holiday celebrations coming their way. Many consumers are still hopeful that 2021's celebrations will look more normal than last year, but 49% still anticipate their plans will be impacted by COVID. Fortunately for marketers, it doesn't appear the pandemic will have a major impact on holiday spending. eMarketer predicts that in 2021, holiday retail sales in the US will rise 2.7%, to over $1 trillion, and e-commerce will account for 18.9% of the total holiday retail sales.

However, reaching holiday shoppers won't be a simple task. While many of the consumer trends and shopping behaviors observed last year will reappear in 2021, there's still a lot of room for trends to continue evolving in the face of uncertainty. Understanding the key consumer holiday trends, and planning accordingly, can put marketers ahead of the curve.

Here are three key things you need to understand about holiday shoppers:

#1 When Are Shoppers Making Holiday Purchases?

During the holiday shopping season, buying takes no breaks. In a recent consumer survey, we found that most shoppers are rather prepared for planned purchases. Almost 25% of shoppers make holiday purchases year-round, and 77% of shoppers make purchases between October and December.

When do you start planning/making your purchases?

27% - October
34% - November
16% - December
23% - I shop all year

However, even the best-laid plans often go awry. 91% of holiday shoppers make last-minute purchases — ranging from gifts for friends and family, to entertaining staples like alcoholic beverages. This duality means that the opportunities to approach and attract holiday shoppers are nearly limitless for savvy marketers.

Top five last-minute holiday purchases:

57% - Gift Cards
44% - Gifts for Family
35% - Gifts for Friends
35% - Recipe Ingredients
35% - Alcoholic Beverages

#2 Where are Holiday Purchases Happening?

In 2020 the intersection of national lockdown and evolving technologies led to massive online and hybrid shopping growth. As the trend continues this year, expect consumers to combine physical and digital shopping more often, with whatever new tools they can find.

Shopping approaches will be different depending on the category. When asked for their preference, consumers responded that they’re planning to buy the following categories in the following ways:

Electronics: 38% Online | 20% In-Store | 33% Both

Toy Gifts: 29% Online | 26% In-Store | 33% Both

Food/Ingredients: 20% Online | 47% In-Store | 22% Both

People will be engaging in their chosen shopping experience based on specific assumptions about those channels. For example, when asked to describe the features and factors they associate with in-store shopping compared to online shopping, 49% said they consider in-store shopping more convenient, but 57% feel like they get better prices when shopping online.

#3 How Much are Holiday Shoppers Spending?

Consumers have a long list of holiday purchases they need to make — gifts for family and friends, ingredients for recipes and cocktails, and holiday decor essentials. Yet, despite the relative economic uncertainty facing many shoppers, 40% still plan to spend more this year to make their holiday season a bit merrier.

In a recent consumer survey, we found that most shoppers plan to spend between $400 and $600 on gifts. But, interestingly, almost 50% of shoppers carve out funds in their gift budgets to treat themselves along with purchasing presents for co-workers, family, and friends.

Holiday entertaining can also cost a pretty penny — food, drinks, decorations, and other event essentials don’t come cheap. While a large portion of consumer spending is dedicated to gift-giving, a significant amount is saved specifically for opportunities to host and attend holiday gatherings. The majority of shoppers plan to spend between $100 and $300 on holiday meal items like ingredients, alcoholic beverages and hosting items.

Going into this holiday shopping season, marketers should have a solid understanding of 2021 holiday shoppers, and a plan to reach them. Shoppers will be balancing the excitement of gathering alongside loved ones with the stress of planning and paying for holiday festivities. As a result, marketers need to position their products as solutions — and make shopping simpler, more convenient and more cost-effective. Hopefully, after learning more about the major trends impacting holiday shoppers this year, visions of sugar plums have been replaced by ideas of how you’ll reach consumers with a data-backed strategy.