The holiday shopping season starts earlier than you might think

September 10, 2021 | By: Heather Eng, Sr. Editorial Lead

Though it’s only the early days of fall, with just a hint of pumpkin spice in the air, it’s already time to start preparing for the holidays. The season officially kicks off with Black Friday as the first major shopping day, but customers will be on the lookout for inspiration and deals well before then.

To better connect with customers during the festive season, let’s take a look at when they’ll start shopping and what they may be seeking.

When will customers start holiday shopping?

It often feels like the holidays arrive earlier each year—and there’s a reason for that. Though October is often synonymous with jack-o-lanterns and trick-or-treating, the month is also the unofficial start of the holiday season.

According to a 2021 Amazon Advertising/Kantar survey, 39% of U.S. consumers and 42% of U.K. consumers will start holiday shopping as early as October.1 Even though Black Friday and Cyber Monday are popular times to find deals on televisions, laptops, and the latest gadgets, 47% of U.S. consumer electronics shoppers and 45% of U.K. consumer electronics shoppers plan to make holiday purchases in October.2 It’s a similar story for fashion and consumer packaged goods. Forty-six percent of U.S. and 47% of U.K. consumers reported they will start buying clothing and accessory gifts in October, and 42% of U.S. and 51% of U.K. consumers reported they will start shopping for beauty, pet, and baby gifts.3

Online search data tells a similar story. In 2020, searches for “Christmas gifts” in the U.S. more than doubled from 40.5K in September to 110K in October, according to seoClarity. An even bigger leap occurred between October and November, when online searches rose to 450K, before topping out at 550K in December. Across 818 holiday-related search terms, the biggest spike happened between October and November (711K to 2.9 million), as customers sought out more gift ideas and deals.

The takeaway? Even if Halloween pumpkins have yet to be carved, customers are already making their lists (and checking them twice). October is not too early to start running holiday advertising campaigns that inspire gift ideas and offer deals.

Where will people be shopping?

While in-person purchases comprise the majority of holiday shopping revenue, online sales are increasing. In 2020, online holiday shopping reached $185.88 billion, according to eMarketer.4 This year, that total is expected to hit $206.88 billion. Our Kantar study found that 64% of U.S. consumers, and 65% of U.K. consumers, reported that they plan to do at least 40% of their holiday shopping online this year.5

These insights point to how holiday shopping has become a multichannel affair. Shoppers will be making trips to the mall and admiring department store window decorations, while also fulfilling parts of their loved ones’ wish lists online. Given that, think about how to reach customers with information they’re seeking throughout their holiday shopping journeys. Sponsored Products, Sponsored Brands, and Sponsored Display can help you surface your brand and engage holiday customers, whether they’re browsing online or ready to buy. Amazon Attribution offers unique insights about how your non-Amazon digital marketing across channels impacts how your audiences engage with your brand on Amazon—providing valuable insights you can use to help optimize your holiday campaign strategies.

Woman wrapping a present

In addition, there are opportunities to bridge the online and offline shopping experiences. In stores, customers can usually try out products. They can pick up items and examine their details. They can ask sales associates questions. When it comes to online shopping, there are creative, interactive ways brands can give shoppers similar experiences. For example, your brand may offer customer service across various channels, ranging from your website to social media. Photos and videos can answer questions online shoppers may have about your products: Close-up photography can help customers see important details, and lifestyle photos give customers a sense of how the products look and function in the real world.

Diageo, for example, created an interactive and engaging way for customers in Germany to purchase whiskey online for the holidays.6 With Amazon Advertising insights and planning tools, Diageo discovered that alcoholic beverages are one of the top five categories for gifting on Amazon in Germany—but a significant number of shoppers weren’t browsing Diageo whiskies on To reach new and existing customers, Diageo and their media agency, PHD, created a holiday campaign with a landing page on that featured a shoppable video. In the video, a bartender from Berlin educated viewers about different types of whiskies, and shared tips for making cocktails. The landing page also included a product selector. By answering a few simple questions on their preferences and tastes, customers could access a selection of whiskies curated just for them.

Learn more about Diageo’s “The perfect gift” campaign here, or watch this video:

What will consumers be shopping for?

In 2020, shoppers purchased from businesses big and small during the holiday season. Independent businesses selling on Amazon—nearly all of which are small- and medium-sized businesses—surpassed $4.8 billion in worldwide sales from Black Friday through Cyber Monday, an increase of over 60% from 2019.7 In the US, some of the best-selling items during the holidays included the Echo Dot, Barack Obama’s “A Promised Land,” the REVLON One-Step Hair Dryer and Volumizer Hot Air Brush, Lite-Brite Ultimate Classic, Amazon Smart Plug, and 23andMe Health + Ancestry Service: Personal Genetic DNA Test.

Amazon recently released 2021 shopping data that offers some insights into what customers may be purchasing in the coming months. Chief among them: Athleisure is here to stay. Overall athleisure sales in Amazon’s store increased by more than 50% year over year, with sales of athletic bottoms increasing more than a 40%, athletic tops by more than a 45%, and leggings by more than 90%.8 Popular electronics gifts on wedding registries include the Ninja Professional 72 Oz Countertop Blender, Instant Pot, iRobot Roomba 675, Ninja Air Fryer, and KitchenAid 5-Speed Hand Mixer. To keep up-to-date on what items are trending, go to Amazon’s Best Sellers list.

Even though it may be premature to hang the stockings or light the menorah, now is the time to start preparing your holiday campaigns. For more strategies, tips, and tactics, check out the following resources:

1-3 Kantar Quickfire survey, US. 500 participants who have shopped during the Q4 2019/2020 holiday season and plan to do so in 2021.
4 Retail & Ecommerce Holiday Season Sales, eMarketer, 2021.
5 Kantar Quickfire survey, US. 500 participants who have shopped during the Q4 2019/2020 holiday season and plan to do so in 2021.
6 Alcohol ads can only run in the following locales: Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, Spain, and the UK. Please visit our creative acceptance policies for requirements that apply to alcohol ads in permitted locales.
“Supporting small, saving big, and shopping early: Amazon customers make the 2020 holiday season our biggest yet,”, 2020.
“Top-selling items on Amazon in 2021 reflect a shifting America,”, 2021.