5 Retail Lessons from Holiday 2018

2018 Holiday Retail Trends

The holiday shopping season is in our rear-view mirror—and there’s reason for retailers to celebrate. Consumer spending for holiday 2018 hit a six-year high of $850 billion according to the Mastercard SpendingPulse report. Online shopping grew 19.1% year over year. Overall, retail spending growth was propelled by strong sales of apparel (up 7.9% from 2017) and home improvement (up 9%).

2018 Holiday Retail Trends

What can retailers take away from this year? Here are 5 things we learned in 2018.

1. Smart retailers incorporate bricks and clicks

Brick-and-mortar retailing is far from dead. In fact, the most successful retailers incorporate both online and offline sales channels. Mastercard’s report concludes that consumers have reached a “tipping point” where they’re equally comfortable shopping online or off, on mobile or on desktop. Shoppers don’t care how they get what they want—as long as they get it.

Lesson: If you don’t offer both e-commerce and a physical store, this is the year to start. Amazon had a record-breaking holiday season and selling on Amazon offers brick-and-mortar retailers an easy way to get online.

2. Thanksgiving shopping has gone digital

The hue and cry over retailers opening on Thanksgiving has faded—mostly because retailers are realizing they don’t need to open their stores on Turkey Day to make sales. Consumers use Thanksgiving to browse and buy on mobile devices in between eating. Thanksgiving sales soared by 28% compared to last year and more than $1 billion of those purchases were made on mobile devices.

Lesson: Close the store, enjoy Thanksgiving dinner and watch sales ring up on your website.

3. Last-minute shoppers are a big deal

Last year’s holiday shopping season was hampered by shipping delays as bad weather and understaffing on the part of shipping companies created a perfect storm. This year, both retailers and shipping services were better prepared. To avoid disappointing shoppers, one-third of retailers didn’t promise customers a cutoff shipping date (i.e., “Order by Dec. 21 and we guarantee delivery by Christmas”). Instead, they focused on “buy online, pick up in store” options (BOPIS) to attract shoppers seeking last-minute gifts. Retailers including Kohl’s, Best Buy and Home Depot offered BOPIS options late on Christmas Eve, while Amazon delivered until midnight that day.  According to ShopperTrak, two of the 10 busiest shopping days of 2018 were December 22 and December 23.

Lesson: Online gift-giving guides or in-store assistance can help customers find what they need at the last minute. In 2019, aim to improve your inventory management so you can tell customers with confidence you’ve got what they’re looking for.

4. Gift cards drive sales

The average consumer bought four gift cards this holiday season, making gift cards the second most popular gift, Supply Chain Dive reports. December 26 and December 29 also made ShopperTrak’s list of the top 10 busiest shopping days, largely thanks to people using those gift cards to search for post-holiday deals.

Lesson: Make it as easy as you can for customers to buy gift cards for your store—including on their mobile devices. A desperate last-minute shopper will turn to their phone to find gift ideas, and an e-gift card could be just what they’re looking for.

5. The shopping season starts earlier than ever

Consumer confidence soared in October—the same month many Americans started their holiday shopping. That confidence continued through the holiday season. Fewer Americans shopped either online or offline from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday in 2018 than in 2017, according to the National Retail Federation. But overall holiday season spending rose, because holiday deals now start so early that many people power through at least part of their gift list before Thanksgiving rolls around.

Lesson: Don’t offend customers by putting out the Christmas decorations in October—but do start a marketing push to discreetly promote deals on popular gift items.

Image: Shutterstock

Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.