How holiday shopping behaviors have shifted in 2020: Rakuten Advertising global report

Mandatory mask mandates, hand sanitizer stations, and transparent cashier dividers are daily reminders that our social codes have been rewritten since the global pandemic began. But looking beyond physical safety measures, how has the pandemic shaped shopping attitudes and purchasing patterns for the all-important Q4 holiday shopping period? Rakuten Advertising’s recently released report, “The New Rules,” seeks to answer this question with new insights and relevant strategies for retail marketers preparing for the holiday season, as well as data outlining global consumer behavior trends.

70% of shoppers don’t plan to decrease spend for peak holiday shopping

Rakuten Advertising surveyed over 8000 respondents from 12 major retail markets (U.S., Canada, UK, France, Germany, Brazil, China, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, South Korea), revealing several key insights. While over 40% of respondents reported a decrease in overall household spending during the pandemic, the good news ahead for brands and retailers is that more than 70% of consumers do not plan to curb spending on peak days during the upcoming Q4 holiday shopping period.

Rakuten Advertising surveyed over 8000 respondents from around the globe to provide insights into how the global pandemic has influenced shopping behavior.
Rakuten Advertising surveyed over 8000 respondents from around the globe to provide insights into how the global pandemic has influenced shopping behavior.

Family and friends continue to lead on gift recommendations

And as evidence that not everything changes this year, referrals from family and friends continue to have the most influence globally when it comes to gifts (47%). They’re just ahead of search engines (44%), online marketplaces (42%) and online reviews (33%). Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t regional differences. In China, 63% of consumers plan to use brand websites as the primary source of inspiration during peak shopping, while in Australia 56% of consumers plan to use search engines as the primary source of shopping inspiration. In Singapore, half of those surveyed indicated that they will use online reviews as their primary source for making shopping decisions, while almost a third of South Korean consumers will look to influencers for inspiration.

Localism on the rise

Another trend emerging is that customers appear to be increasingly looking to support local businesses that have been struck hard by the effects of the pandemic. Half of respondents indicated that they are choosing to shop at local merchants, followed by larger domestic brands (20%), with only 11% of respondents indicating they were electing to purchase from international businesses. Consumers in New Zealand, Australia and South Korea were most likely to shop local. While this may present concerns for international brands, 34% of consumers indicated that they will consider purchases from international retailers that offer better prices and more expansive product ranges.

Consumers are choosing to shop locally to support businesses in their community.
Consumers are choosing to shop locally to support businesses in their community.

Holiday spending shifts from friends and colleagues to family

While a strong majority of respondents (70%) indicated that they don’t plan to curb spending for holiday gifts, there will be some noticeable differences in who consumers are shopping for. Shoppers plan to focus their gift-buying more on immediate family, with 31% of respondents indicating they will increase how much they spend on family. Friends and colleagues, on the other hand, look to be a lower priority for shoppers, with 41% suggesting they’ll reduce spending on these groups.

As for donating to charity, Americans were the most giving, indicating they plan to increase their spend on charity/gift drives by 19%, the highest of any country. Meanwhile, Australia (39%) and the UK (38%) have the highest percentage of respondents who indicated that they will purchase presents for six or more people this holiday season.

E-commerce for everyone

Unsurprisingly, e-commerce continues to be an attractive option in times of lockdowns and concern about social distancing, with an overwhelming majority of respondents (73%) planning to do their holiday shopping primarily online. 2020 has made society hyper-aware of health and 40% of consumers have indicated that health concerns and the desire to avoid crowds are the biggest influence on their shopping behavior heading into Q4.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that all shoppers will be avoiding brick and mortar businesses. Offline channels are still expected to be the primary shopping option for Hong Kong (64%), Australia (62%) and New Zealand (60%).

Exisiting trends accelerate

While there are a number of notable changes to how we access traditional retail channels, Rakuten Advertising’s The New Rules report reveals that the impact of COVID-19 on consumer behavior may not be as significant as expected. What we are seeing is not so much a sea change, but rather an acceleration of trends that were in place long before the spread of COVID-19. Online shopping, already ascendant before the pandemic, has strengthened its position as the channel of choice for holiday shoppers.

People are still planning to shop this holiday season, they’ll just be going about it in many different ways. Based on the data, Rakuten Advertising’s report proposes new rules for retail marketers on how to stay relevant, focused and confident going into the holiday season.

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