The Shape of Shopping in 2016: Holiday Shopping Trends Inform the Coming Year

We’ve made it through that time of year again, when consumers struggle to manage busy schedules, tightening budgets and the pressure to bolster holiday memories with the perfect gift. For the trend watchers among us, the holiday season also turns out to be the most wonderful time of year to gain some insight into current shopping behaviors. How were shoppers shopping this season, and what can that tell us about the year ahead?
A rise in online (and mobile) shopping
It’s not surprising that e-commerce is continuing to grow its share of the shopping experience, with mobile’s role increasing. According to the IBM US Retail Black Friday report, more traffic was generated from mobile devices than desktop on Black Friday, driving a 30% increase in sales via mobile devices compared to the previous year. Cyber Monday told a similar story; Adobe data showed that 49% of shopping visits could be attributed to mobile devices. This is both an opportunity and challenge for retailers; they’ll need to ensure their properties are optimized to engage and convert mobile users while also exploring new incentives to drive traffic to brick and mortar locations.
Shopping starts earlier; fragments
And while Black Friday and Cyber Monday have long served as the groundhog-like indicator for holiday sales, there are signs of a shift. A Google/Ipsos Media CT study indicated that shoppers are starting earlier; in 2014, 61% began gift research before Halloween and 48% completed shopping by Cyber Monday. This may be a reflection of increasingly fragmented shopping driven by m-commerce; the same study showed that marathon shopping excursions are giving way to spare time shopping on mobile devices. In 2016, retailers will need to employ year-round top-of-mind strategies in order to capture more of those shopping moments.
What we’re buying
There was no shortage of buzzworthy gadgets in 2015, but did that buzz translate to sales? While there are some discrepancies in the estimates around Apple Watch’s overall sales, recent data from Best Buy stated that customers purchased twice as many wearables this year compared to the 2014 holiday season. That 100% increase is notable, but also suggests that the true Wearable Revolution has been postponed until at least 2016.

This post is sponsored by Samsung. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Meanwhile, other gadgets experienced a few bumps in the sleigh ride leading into the holiday season. Citing safety concerns, the Federal Aviation Association established a registration policy for drone owners, for which non-compliance could result in a fine. Hoverboards (more accurately known as “self-balancing scooters”) aimed for explosive holiday growth, but some were removed from shelves as it became evident that the self-balancing scooters were at risk of, yes, exploding. While both still made a strong presence under the tree, both Adobe and IBM’s data showed that Samsung TVs ranked as the most popular purchase on Black Friday 2015.
The wallet goes mobile, sort of
Consumers had multiple point of sale payment options to choose from this holiday season as the mobile wallet wars heated up. Despite the intensity of the battlefield, however, a study from InfoScout showed single-digit activity in this area. Credit cards, in comparison, accounted for 79% of in-store payments, making mobile payments another entry into the “maybe next year” category. Noting that younger generations will drive growth in this area, eMarketer projects a 210% increase in mobile payments in 2016.
Social commerce debuts
The pressure to monetize social media is on for both brands and platforms, and so 2015 saw a push for social commerce. Designed to usher social networkers down the path to purchase, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest promoted their respective “buy buttons” in 2015. Still, while some brands and users experimented with the option, there was not yet a groundswell of activity in social commerce. Like mobile payments, the buy button needs a little more time to heat up.
This holiday season showed us that consumers are developing a mobile shopping habit, one that may have a measurable impact on brick and mortar traffic and sales in 2016, but other trends will take a little more time to hit the mainstream. For social commerce, it remains to be seen how easily users in a social mindset can be converted to buyers, but brands (and the platforms that support them) are motivated to monetize the critical channel. Mobile payments have the opportunity to gain a lot of ground in 2016, as long as providers continue to educate shoppers and assuage obstacles like security concerns. While change won’t happen overnight, it’s very likely that by this time next year we’ll see a notable increase in items (perhaps wearables and safer hoverboards) purchased in non-traditional ways.

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