It’s beginning to look a lot like ecommerce

Consumers plan to do more than half their holiday shopping online, and nearly half are starting early

Just a couple of years ago, if you had even casually dropped the term “supply chain” into conversation at a cocktail party, you could expect at least a few people to start eyeing the door. Today, however, “supply chain” has gone mainstream and entered the discourse of ‘everyday’ consumers. (Meanwhile, ironically, the cocktail party has gone underground.)

As our BOXpoll surveys found just a few weeks ago, consumers are taking notice and many plan to alter their holiday shopping behaviors. To cement behavioral change ahead of the peak season rush, major retailers have moved holiday promotions earlier than even last year’s shift.

So, we have started, as part of our Weekly Trackers feature, to ask consumers how much of their holiday shopping they’ve already finished—and when they expect to be done.

Key takeaways:

  • Between mid-September and early October, the percentage of consumers who had started their online holiday shopping jumped from one in four (25%) to nearly half (42%). But all told, Americans have checked off just 14% of the items on their lists.
  • Among the 42% who have started their shopping, the average consumer has completed more than a third (38%) of their holiday purchases. That is a significant number, albeit among a minority.
  • More than half of respondents with children (60%) have started their online holiday shopping, and two-thirds of respondents with no children (66%) have not.
  • When we look at timing—when consumers plan to finish their online holiday shopping—only low single-digit percentages of consumers (1-2%) plan to complete their online shopping in any given week during October.
  • When we look at age groups, it’s clear that Gen Z and Millennials are the ones most likely to pull forward their purchasing
    • 22% of Gen Z plan to finish their online holiday shopping by the week of Black Friday (through the following Sunday), and another 11% during the week of Cyber Monday
    • 20% of Millennials plan to finish by the week of Black Friday (through the following Sunday), and another 12% during the week of Cyber Monday
  • How different is this behavior from last year? In 2020, we started asking consumers when they planned to finish their online holiday shopping starting about 9 weeks before Christmas. Here’s how responses compare year-over-year:
    • There is very little difference in the percentage of consumers who plan to finish their online holiday shopping 5-9 weeks before Christmas
    • Slightly more consumers plan to finish their online shopping 4 weeks before Christmas this year compared to last (20% vs 18%), within our margin of error
    • The most significant differences seem to be in the final weeks of holiday shopping, where significantly more consumers plan to shop online the week before Christmas this year versus last (20% vs 14%), and fewer this year plan to shop online the week of Christmas (4pp fewer than last year) or 2 weeks before (again, 4pp fewer).

Consumers plan to do more than half of their holiday shopping online this year.

So—while consumers are starting earlier, they are still planning to finish late this season, perhaps as a hedge in anticipation of last-minute product shortages and delays. That said, consumers appear headed further online this holiday, perhaps because online shopping has become a more permanent fixture for the holidays. When we asked consumers how much they planned to shop online, the average respondent says they plan to do more than half (53%) of their shopping online—and, astonishingly, ‘more than half’ holds true (51-59%) for every generation.

Chart - It's beginning to look a lot like ecommerce

What are consumers planning to buy online?

When we asked consumers about the products they’d like to buy online, we saw a return to traditional holiday categories—apparel, toys, and electronics at the top of the list. Some highlights:

  • Millennials—again, as parents of young children—index higher in just about every category
  • Meanwhile older consumers are more concentrated in the top categories of apparel and toys (so expect a fresh round of ugly Christmas sweaters from grandparents, let’s assume…)
  • Millennials trailed other generations in only one category— “None of the above”. Here, older consumers were nearly twice as likely to select the option than Millennials, indicating a higher likelihood among these consumers to buy services or other non-product purchases

How will the Child Tax Credit impact holiday purchases?

Since Millennials and parents gave the most emphatic responses to our holiday shopping questions above, we decided to look into how parents’ discretionary spending might be shaped by macro trends. One fixture in some parents’ budgets lately has been the Advanced Child Tax Credit payment from the IRS, which has been disbursed monthly since mid-summer, providing as much as $300 per child to eligible households.

While the raw percentage allocated to holiday spending remains small—indeed, it made up the smallest share among the categories we asked about—it’s still early in the shopping season (as our findings above show). Parents say they are setting aside 16% of the payments on average to holiday shopping. That’s nearly $50 per month for a family receiving $300 payments.

BOXpoll™ by Pitney Bowes, a weekly consumer survey on current events, culture, and ecommerce logistics. Conducted by Pitney Bowes with Morning Consult //2094 US consumers surveyed September-October 2021.© Copyright Pitney Bowes Inc.