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Will Supply Chain Anxieties Be Enough to Shift Consumer Holiday Shopping?

By Tim Barlow | November 03, 2021 | 0 Comments

MarketingCustomer Acquisition and RetentionCustomer Understanding and Marketing Execution

Same as last year. Shopping at the same time, spending the same amount of money, using the same channels – consistency was the big winner coming out of Gartner’s Consumer Community during a recent pulse about holiday shopping plans. Even the top categories respondents expected to gift from remained consistent year-over-year, with gift cards, apparel & accessories, and toys & games taking the top 3 spots again in 2021.

Digging deeper, there is some slight year-over-year movement within these headline findings. For example, the percentage of consumers who said they were concerned about shopping in-store this holiday season decreased from roughly 50% of respondents in 2020 to about a third of consumers in 2021. Less consumers also said they planned to primarily shop online for home delivery in 2021, declining from nearly 75% of consumers in 2020 to just over half in 2021. And those who said they would primarily shop in-store rose from 21% to 30%, while those who said they would shop online for in-store pickup rose from 4% in 2020 to 14% in 2021.

However, just as it’s been through much of this post-vaccine stage of the pandemic, consumers seem far more inclined towards slow and gradual adjustments vs. a more rapid return to pre-pandemic behaviors. And why shouldn’t that be the case?

For over a year and a half, consumers have largely been getting-by and finding a way. New behaviors became routine, routines became habit, to the point where today, even in this (hopefully) late-stage of the pandemic, day-to-day life more closely resembles November 2020, not 2019. In such an environment, most consumers responding that they plan to spend the same amount of money on holiday presents as last year or that they plan to start shopping for holiday items at the same time as last year isn’t terribly surprising. There just hasn’t been a strong enough external factor forcing consumers to change course.

The supply chain has entered the chat

One factor that was not baked into responses to this year’s holiday shopping survey was the potential impact of a constricted supply chain. The survey was fielded in September, several weeks before stories of a broken supply chain became an ever-present topic in the media. However, through additional research, we know the availability of goods and the prospects of empty shelves are increasingly weighing on consumers’ minds.

According to Gartner’s monthly COVID concerns tracker in which consumers are asked about their specific concerns related to the pandemic and its impact on society, “Product Availability in Stores” rose from the 10th most selected concern in September to the 4th most in October, and “Prices Going Up Due to High Demand” is now the top concern amongst consumers, leapfrogging “The Spread of More Contagious Variants” and the “US Economy” in the process. Such shifts away from health-related concerns as virus case loads decline have been observed at previous points in the pandemic, however, this is the highest position that ‘Product Availability in Stores” has held in the Concerns Tracker since March of 2020, i.e., [trigger warning] toilet paper shortages.

Time will tell whether such anxieties impact holiday shopping behaviors, but it’s certainly plausible that those with discretionary time and/or money could begin shopping earlier or increase budgets to avoid missing out.

One aspect of this holiday season that feels far more assured however is the continuing dominance of big retailers. The ongoing desire on the part of consumers to have channel flexibility combined with larger brand’s ability to more effectively weather supply chain bottlenecks point to top retailers only becoming stronger for the foreseeable future.

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