Although fall has only just officially begun, consumers and retailers alike are already starting to think about the winter holidays. And if it seems early — it is. But with back-to-school starting in July and Halloween starting in September, it’s no surprise that consumers are kicking off the biggest shopping event of the year early, too.
“Shopping” is more than just “buying,” though. As consumers get a head start on their gift lists, they are budgeting, researching and preparing for when they finally click “Confirm purchase” or swipe, insert or tap at the register.
Stay up to date on retail’s busiest season and check out NRF’s Winter Holiday shopping research and insights.
NRF looked at how consumers plan to approach the holidays this year and reflected on last year’s insights to prepare for the season ahead.
Consumers are starting early and spreading out budgets.
Almost half (46%) of consumers started their holiday shopping before November last year, up from 39% in 2019, and this year is shaping up to follow the same trend. In an NRF survey last month, 39% of shoppers said they plan to start shopping earlier than they typically do this holiday season.
A large part of why shopping starts so early is because consumers are spreading out their shopping to cover the costs that come with the holiday season: Last year, the top reason consumers began shopping in October or earlier was to spread out their gift-shopping budget.
Because of this, shopping earlier doesn’t necessarily mean crossing everything off the list earlier — consumers were still shopping well into the holiday season last year. As of early December, they only had about half (53%) of their shopping done on average.
Retailers are on board with consumers’ holiday shopping timelines: Amazon, Walmart and Target are all encouraging shoppers to get a head start on their gift lists with October sale events.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday are still popular.
Although consumers are spreading out their shopping and retailers are spreading out their deals, sales like Black Friday and Cyber Monday haven’t lost their appeal. According to Google Search Trends, the daily volume for shopping-related searches containing “deals” grew by over 2,300% last year during the week of Black Friday and Cyber Monday compared with September.
And consumers put their money where their searches were — NRF found that a record 196.7 million consumers shopped over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend last year.
Consumers seek out gifts deliberately.
Consumers are doing their research and being deliberate when making purchases. They are looking for gift inspiration all over, but the most popular source since NRF first started tracking in 2012 has been via online search.
According to a Google-commissioned Ipsos holiday report, 85% of shoppers who plan to shop online typically have tabs open when waiting for sales to begin. And all their preparation paid off — the same study found that only 28% of holiday purchases were impulsive over Thanksgiving weekend in 2022.
Consumers make gift-giving a priority, even as they look for a deal.
If events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday prove anything, it’s that consumers love a deal. In early September, 61% of shoppers said sales and promotions are more important when buying gifts and other holiday items this year compared with last. However, while getting the best deal is one of consumers’ top priorities, it’s far from the only one.
Shoppers are also thoughtful gift-givers and want to make the holiday season feel special. Even among the higher prices and inflation last year, more than half (58%) said it was important for them to spend on holiday gifts and celebrations. And as consumers begin their holiday shopping this year, they are thinking about their loved ones — most (69%) say gifts for others are the first thing they buy during the holiday season.
As the season progresses, keep up with consumers’ holiday shopping journeys and NRF’s holiday shopping insights in our Winter Holiday headquarters.