4 Key Retail Trends That Will Influence The Success of Your 2017 Holiday Season

While the holidays present the most critical window of the year for retailers, consumer shopping habits during this season aren’t what they used to be, notes AdAge. Now that the internet has thrown open the doors for online product discovery and e-commerce, consumers can research and shop for holiday gifts much earlier—and much later—extending the Holiday Season, as well as creating a more complex landscape for marketers to wade through.

Understanding what customers desire and expect—as well as what they don’t—can help retailers navigate the path for a successful Holiday Season.

RetailDive consulted The National Retail Federation’s 2017 Retail Holiday Planning Playbook for data on consumer behavior to be aware of as the Holiday Season progresses. They mention 4 key trends to watch out for:

1. Online Holiday Wishlists –  The NRF study discovered that wish lists might be shifting to the digital platform. It makes sense with online shopping playing an increasingly important role in pretty much every holiday.

Whether consumers are shopping in stores or online, being able to create an online wish list is becoming highly desirable. In fact, about 63% of shoppers would like to use online wish lists to help organize their gift purchases, according to the NRF:

“For consumers looking to create efficiency in the shopping process, adding an easy resource reduces friction and increases the likelihood of a conversion.” 

The NRF suggests that retailers make the list creation process as convenient as possible so it’s easy for consumers to make wish lists on their websites and share them.

2. Return Policy Transparency – The NRF discovered that 3/4 of holiday shoppers surveyed checked return policies before making a purchase, while 22% backed out of a purchase because of a bad return policy. That number may not seem like much at first glance, but it could actually have a negative impact on retailers that don’t offer generous, transparent returns.

Retailers should also keep in mind that returns are more likely to occur among those who shop online. Based on a study by Corra, 75% of consumers rarely—if ever—return items bought in-store, but that number drops to 61% for consumers who purchased online.

Offering a generous, transparent return policy can mean the difference between driving traffic over the holidays, or losing potential consumers. Take a look at what shoppers listed as the main reasons for deciding against a purchase:

  • No free return shipping (57%)
  • Store credit offered instead of a full refund (55%)
  • Inability to return items in-store (43%)
  • Small window to make returns (42%)
  • Difficult in-store return process (39%)

3. Purchasing Guides & Personalized Recommendations – Many shoppers enjoy chasing down the perfect gift for themselves, as well as asking family members for ideas. However, over half (54%) of NRF’s survey’s respondents went with a retailer’s recommendation when making their lists last year.

What that tells retailers is that holiday shoppers want detailed product information and personalized customer service. Understandably, the more expensive a product is, the more research customers want to conduct before committing to it. The NRF study found that:

  • 66% of shoppers do research for items that are less than $50
  • 85% research for products between $50-$100
  • 89% conduct research for items over $100 – $200.

That means retailers should have product details and information easily available online and on mobile apps. They should also be sending out content like buying guides via email, direct mail, etc. Additionally, retailers should consider including QR codes on their products and displays, enabling in-store consumers to easily access the product’s web page on their phone.

Methods like these can help shoppers feel more secure about the gifts they’re buying for others and convince shoppers to splurge on an impulse purchase for themselves, which can be an important tool for retailers to drive holiday spending. Offering limited time promotional offers (FYI: 72% of coupons used in 2016 affected purchasing behavior), as well as placing complementary products next to each other in stores, can also encourage impulse buys and boost holiday sales.

4. Convenience, Convenience, Convenience – Convenience matters to shoppers, especially during the holidays. Consumers (many of whom are parents) are busy juggling holiday shopping with their jobs, kids, housework and a social life. Simplifying the decision process for holiday shoppers so they can get their gift purchases made whenever they can fit it in gives retailers a huge boost during the holiday  season.

At least 90% of NRF survey respondents admitted that shopping experiences that were more convenient in some way convinced them to make a purchase that they might not have. Here are some of the conveniences that helped drive consumers to purchase:

  • 64% mentioned free shipping as the deciding factor for their purchase
  • 50% said that limited-time sales or promotions influenced their purchases
  • 33% indicated that buy online, pickup in store was a major deciding factor

Retailers who go the extra mile to provide convenience during the holiday season will reap the benefits. On the other hand, retailers who inconvenience their customers in some way risk losing them to competitors. In fact, the NRF study revealed that 64% of customers who had trouble making a return say they would think twice about buying from that retailer ever again.


As consumers start/extend their shopping journey earlier and later than the seasonal norm and shift their spending to different areas of the retail landscape, retailers risk losing customers to their competitors if they don’t pay close attention to what consumers want.

“Still there is plenty of room for retailers to feel good about their prospects this holiday season – as long as they keep their eyes on the make-or-break trends,” says ComScore.

Use the four tips above to help you provide holiday shoppers with an exceptional experience throughout the season…and beyond.

Sherene Funk is the author of the contemporary romance Autumn in Your Arms and two small business e-books. She is a voracious reader who owns more books than she can ever read in this lifetime. A graduate of Brigham Young University, she worked in advertising for many years before moving to her current writing position at Rain Retail Software. She researches non-stop to see what successful retailers do and loves to share what she learns with small business owners.