How early do people shop for the holidays?

It can sometimes seem like every day is a holiday in the world of retail. In fact, it’s just that on many days of the year, you plan for the next holiday on the calendar.

To achieve success in attracting shoppers to your e-commerce site, consider the typical points at which people engage in holiday buying. Knowing how consumers shop helps you plan your inventory and promotions accordingly.

The following is a look at when and how people buy for the Christmas holiday season, along with a look at patterns for some other major global holidays. We’ll also take a look at risks of staring your promotions early.

Thanksgiving — Christmas

The Christmas holiday season is the most impactful time for consumer spending and for e-commerce companies. In the U.S. alone, consumers spent an average of $786 on gifts for others, and additional $107.50 on themselves. All told, eMarketer reported that Americans spent $886 billion during the Christmas shopping season in 2015. The good news for eSellers is that 23% of Christmas spending took place online in 2016, according to CreditCard.com.

Trying to figure out exactly when consumers buy and when to target your marketplace is a bit tricky. Mid-to-late November is the traditional launch point for this season. In the U.S., the day after Thanksgiving (Black Friday) is considered the start of Christmas shopping season. However, habits vary quite a bit. CreditCard.com conducted its spending survey from September 3rd through September 6th in 2015 and found that only 20% of shoppers had started their purchasing by that point. Only 23% expected to finish up their Christmas gift buying before the end of November.

To catch the early birds, you need some inventory and promotional efforts in late August or early September. Seven percent of people 65-plus were finished with holiday buying at the time of the CreditCard.com survey. No other age group registered a significant percentage of completers. Parents were also early birds, with 20% reporting they’d started shopping compared to just 11% of non-parents.
Even if some members of your market tend to start early, the majority of Christmas buying takes place from late November through Christmas. In fact, 55% of U.S. spending took place over the Thanksgiving weekend in 2016. Black Friday deals, online ads, social campaigns and other promotions are often necessary to attract interest from people between Thanksgiving and early December.

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Other Major Holiday Shopping Seasons

Of course, Christmas isn’t the only major holiday that draws an influx of consumer spending activity. The following is a look at some of the other important global holidays that eSellers should prepare for:

Valentine’s Day: February 14th is the annual day of romance for couples in many parts of the world. It is common to see keywords like “Valentine’s gift” and “romantic gifts” increase in intensity during the last week of January. Therefore, delivering content ahead of this time and launching digital and social campaigns into the first week of Valentine’s Day is sensible.

Keep in mind that the heavy buying period for Valentine’s Day is February 7th through 11th, though. So, if you want to capture the heaviest portion of shoppers, target campaigns during this time frame. Also note that women are four times more likely to buy online for men than vice versa. Emphasize gifts for men in your online targeting.

Easter: Like Christmas, Easter is a major holiday that Christians around the world celebrate. The actual date of celebration ranges from the very end of March through the third week of April, depending on the year. You should gear up for this event at least six to seven weeks ahead.

Begin digital and social campaigns a few weeks out, and emphasize geo-targeting with your online promotions. Cultural patterns and product preferences vary a lot by country. In Scotland, for instance, 60% of shoppers purchased chocolate for Easter in 2015. Emphasize product promotions that align with similar preferences in other countries.

Independence Day: Remarkably, 52 countries in the world celebrate some form of national day or independence in July or August. In addition to the U.S. Independence Day on July 4th, other examples include France’s celebration on July 14th and Switzerland’s on August 1st.

Given the widespread variance in country celebrations and purchasing habits, geo-targeting campaigns make sense for each country you target. Unlike some of the other major holidays, buying activity for independence celebrations normally ramps up within the final days or week before the event. Dedicate your promotional investment and consider social media contests three to five days out.

Halloween: Consumers in the U.S., Canada and many countries in Europe celebrate Halloween on October 31st each year. While rituals and activities vary, sharing of treats or candy is common in most countries that celebrate Halloween.

Interestingly, people shop relatively early for Halloween. Two-thirds of Americans buy their costumes, decorations, and treats by early October, for instance. Digital campaigns and promotional discounts during the second and third full weeks in the month help you attract much of the early crowd. Deep discounts in the week leading up to the holiday helps you capture last-minute shoppers who often want lower prices.

Risks of Starting Too Early

As you prepare your holiday shopping promotional activities, ponder the following risks of starting too soon:

  • Wasted Investment: If you launch a high-dollar campaign ahead of peak demand, much of your effort goes to waste.
  • Messages Overlooked: Even if people see your messages, if their minds aren’t ready to consider buying choices, your deals get overlooked.
  • Impede on Other Trends: In some cases, starting promotions too early for one holiday could infringe on opportunities with another. For instance, aggressively promoting Christmas gifts in early-to-mid October could get in the way of your efforts to attract attention for Halloween buys.

As eSellers, keeping up with the holidays that drive consumer spending in the global marketplace is a huge advantage. You have the opportunity to time your promotional strategies with peak interest in products. Introduce your digital ad campaigns, e-mail marketing, and social media messages at the exact right points in time to achieve peak traffic and revenue from holiday shoppers!

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