Holiday Trends Shaping Increased Retailer Expectations

45 days until Christmas.

Signs are already popping up that we’re plowing into yet another fast-approaching holiday season. Town squares are readying their arsenals of tinsel and holly. Malls and shopping centers are preparing extravagant center court displays of North Pole workshops and Santa Claus winter wonderlands.

While the festive signs of the holidays are popping up all around us, retailers are already preparing for the oncoming onslaught that is the Christmas shopping rush.

Major American retailers are jockeying for their piece of a $655 billion holiday shopping season, where the average American is poised to spend $683. And by all accounts, expectations remain positive heading into the middle of November.

“All of the fundamentals are in a good place, giving strength to consumers and leading us to believe that this will be a very positive holiday season,” National Retail Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “This year hasn’t been perfect, starting with a long summer and unseasonably warm fall, but our forecast reflects the very realistic steady momentum of the economy and industry expectations.”

In addition, two successive hurricanes impacted hiring in both Florida and Texas, but the latest U.S. Job Report numbers show that hiring has rebounded.

Shopping From Anywhere

This year, one of the biggest changes will be an increasing shift in where and when shoppers hit the stores. This in part driven by a few trends that are driving changes in consumer behavior, with an emphasis on how mobile technology has changed the way we buy things.

Mobile First - The concept of a mobile retail experience is nothing new, but this is really the first year where retailers have consciously thought about how retail experiences work with mobile platforms. Walmart, for example, has credited mobile as responsible for driving 70 percent of their traffic last year in part due to their deal availability and thoughtful, simple execution that made it easy for consumers to not just browse, but purchase.

Mobile Traffic - The next wave of understanding how mobile trends are shaping retail consumer spending is determining how well retailers are studying their numbers.

Fewer In-Store Shoppers - Gone are the days when crowds would line up outside stores before dawn waiting to surge into stores to grab the hottest children’s toy or the newest flat screen television. Today, shoppers are just as likely to grab the hottest electronic from their digital device Friday morning than standing outside waiting in the predawn cold. Mobile devices have improved product discovery and when they have the intent, it’s just as simple to purchase from the comfort of home. There are a few exceptions: People will continue to pour into stores on Black Friday and last-minute shoppers will fill their baskets in the hours leading to Christmas. And, customers are also interested in retail experiences shopping that brings them to stores like local events.

Voices on High

One of the biggest trends retailers are preparing for is the inclusion of voice in how, when, and where we shop.

Voice appears to be the next promising trend in retail pushed by the developments of Amazon’s Alexa and Echo speaker products and Google Voice. Customers seem interested in these technologies and that has peaked the interests of retail. Not only will voice-activated speakers be a hot commodity for tech early-adopters, but they’ll also serve as a launching point for a new sales channel for retailers. In a year when shoppers will be shifting to smartphones from desktops to shop, it will also be the first year when voice-activated devices become part of the consumer holiday sales journey. Also fueling the interest in voice will be people's interest in connected home products.

Increased Staffing

Many retailers have been making a push to hire the many season employers required to staff stores during the holiday rush.

According to NRF, retailers are expected to hire between 640,000 and 690,000 seasonal workers this holiday season, in line with last year’s 675,300 new holiday positions.

While Walmart won't bring in additional seasonal help, Target did -- but they announced store closures overnight on Thanksgiving, re-opening Black Friday at 6 a.m. These staffing updates signal that retailers are smartly reallocating resources expecting traffic to not be as big requiring the staffing up that was typical of previous holiday seasons and will meet the expected increase in online activity.

2017 Major Holiday Dates

Here’s a look at the dates that will be driving holiday shopping this year:

Black Friday, November 24, 2017 - The pivotal unofficial American holiday that marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. While it is known for door-busting deals that draw hordes of people to physical stores, increasingly, online deals are helping consumers find the best deals from virtually anywhere.

Couch Friday, November 24, 2017 - As legions of shoppers decide to stay home in favor of braving the crowds, Black Friday’s traditional image is shifting to those who can shop from the comfort of home, surrounded by family. Discounts for televisions and electronics will be available on Walmart’s web sites as early as 12:01 a.m., Thanksgiving Day.

Cyber Monday, November 27, 2017 - The deals don’t stop after Black Friday. Taking advantage of the millions of office workers who are connected online virtually all day, the Monday following the four-day holiday has become a huge boost to retailers looking to reach potential consumers, especially those interested in technology and gadgets.

Super Saturday, December 23, 2017 - Two Days before Christmas, incredibly important to retailers and is impacted by unexpected events including storms, weather, and political uneasiness that impact consumer sentiment.

If you’re looking for a comprehensive listing of retail deals for this holiday season, The Verge has a real-time updated page showing the best offerings from Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and Walmart.