It’s that time of year. The leaves turn color. So do the cups at Starbucks. And retailers lick their lips in anticipation. The media is already agog with all kinds of predictions about the holiday — some surprising, some banal, and some downright wrong. I’ve done the clicking and the reading and wheat-from-the-chaff-separating so you don’t have to. Here are my five takeaways for the holiday season, best read with eggnog in hand (vegan works just as well):
Holiday sales growth will slow down (but not because people are shopping less).
Consensus estimates point to holiday retail spending growth of about 4%, nearly half last year’s growth rate. The drop in growth is not because people will shop any less but because the inflation rate has practically halved (7.7% in October of last year, down to 3.7% this September). This price effect mirrors overall economic trends as plummeting prices in many categories have taken a chunk out of “nominal” consumer spending and put pressure on company revenues.
Underneath the facade of anxiety is an economically sound consumer ready to spend.
The air is still thick with consumer anxiety that’s reflected in continuing consumer confidence decline through the second half of the year. But the macroeconomic data tells a different story: Unemployment is low, as is inflation, and consumer debt payments (as a percentage of income), while higher than during the pandemic, is well below the historical average. The fog of economic uncertainty will not stymie spend — according to Forrester data, only 22% said that they have less money to spend this year than last.
Price promotions may entice customers but will hurt companies.
It’s tempting to dangle some low-price mistletoe to lure in holiday demand, but smart brands will know that consumers are still highly price-resilient. Mass consumer companies like P&G continue to find that, across a broad swathe of categories, consumers are not just absorbing price increases but are trading up to more expensive brands. Price promotions will be targeted more surgically toward specific segments and channels. For example, they will be more prevalent on digital formats, since more online shoppers, according to Forrester data, are looking for deals (57% for online versus 36% for offline shoppers).
The old-fashioned physical store will anchor new-fangled digital shopping experiences.
There are numerous projections and scenarios about how consumers will use different shopping channels, and they all converge on the same idea: The physical store will be the fulcrum, surrounded by a web of syncretic experiences. Holiday shopping is a pumpkin spice latte-fueled frenzy of researching, browsing, trying, buying, receiving, and returning. And the consumer will use every digital tool at their disposal to get the job done. While, according to Deloitte, almost two-thirds of holiday spending will be in-store, syncretic digital experiences will fuel all spending — a third of consumers plan to use social for various aspects of the shopping process, and 16% will even give genAI a whirl to price-shop and get product recommendations.
Sustainability won’t drive demand, but it will be a cost of entry.
During a season notorious for excess and waste, sustainability and environmental stewardship will be salient for many brands and consumers. But that doesn’t mean that these considerations will influence purchases for most consumers. Forrester’s analysis shows that, while most consumers profess to be driven by social values, only about 20% make purchase decisions based on them. There is a broader expectation, however, that brands acknowledge and address the environmental elephant at the holiday party. This holiday season, brands will exhort you to reduce, reuse, and recycle, so long as you buy more of what they have to offer.
For a deep dive into the holiday 2023 season from a retail perspective, clients should read A Retailer’s Guide To The 2023 Holiday Season, which helps retailers and brand manufacturers plan for the 2023 holiday season, including in areas such as marketing, customer service, fulfillment, and security.