How will customers shop during the 2021 holiday season?

October 27, 2021

What will sales look like for the 2021 holiday season? It's a question on the minds of many businesses as Q4 approaches. The 2020 holiday season saw mixed results, with US retail sales declining month-over-month during Q4, yet still showing overall growth year over year.1

Businesses have had to adapt in response to both social and economic impacts over the last 18 months. One common question among businesses is about online shopping versus in-person shopping—what will the balance look like this year?

How much will customers shop in-person for the holidays?

In 2020, shopping online surged while many people stayed in their homes, with online retail sales increasing 30%.2 This trend has continued into 2021: a recent survey of 2,200 adult shoppers in the US showed that 48% report spending more money online than usual since the start of the pandemic.3

However, shoppers are also returning to physical stores. Since the beginning of 2021, foot traffic and in-person visits to retail, restaurants, and entertainment locations have increased by 44%.4

A survey of 7,500 US consumers in June showed that 70% of shoppers answered "No" to the question, "Are you concerned about shopping in-store due to the COVID-19 pandemic?" This is more than double the results from a similar survey in September 2020.5 Fifty-six percent of the June respondents also noted that low-contact services (such as curbside pickup or buy online, pick up in store) will make them more likely to visit a physical store.

Embrace the omni-channel shopping experience

It is likely we'll see both online and in-person shopping play big roles in the holiday retail season. To set themselves up for success, businesses will need to reach their audiences both digitally and in the physical store .

But in some ways, preparing for 2021 holiday shopping trends doesn't mean radically changing your marketing. The best customer-centric marketing already recognizes the omni-channel shopping experience : audiences interact with brands both on- and offline during their purchase journey, and effective marketing meets customers' needs across different channels.

The mix of online and offline touch points can be varied, such as researching a product on a website but going to stores to see or hold that product in person; finding a product in the physical store and looking it up online to explore customer reviews; or viewing an online ad for a product that makes it top of mind when browsing in the physical store.

To meet the needs of shoppers, businesses should recognize the importance of the entire purchase funnel and not only focus on the sale. Brand awareness and consideration are key steps in the process, and online shopping can help shoppers discover new brands—81% of consumers say they've discovered new brands online during COVID-196—as well as provide opportunities for remarketing. We recommend driving awareness and consideration as part of your 2021 holiday advertising strategy.

The 2021 holiday shopping experience will be a hybrid experience, with some consumers choosing to shop in physical stores, some shopping in online stores, and some combining both during their purchase journey. Businesses should remain versatile and take a customer-centric, omni-channel approach to best reach and engage shoppers.

Interested in learning more about advertising for the holiday season? Visit our collection of online courses on using sponsored ads and Stores in your holiday marketing strategy.

1 United States Census Bureau, 2020
2 Forrester 2021 Online U.S. Retail Forecast
3 Morning Consult, Tracking the Return to Normal, September 2021, US
4 Zenreach, National Customer Foot Traffic Report, June 2021, US
5 Power Reviews, 2021 Consumer Survey: In-Store Shopping Trends & Preferences, US
6Google and Ipsos, 2021, US, CA, UK, FR, DE, IT, AU, JP, RU, IN, CN, BR, MX, ES, ZA, KR