Holiday Shopping Trends to Watch for 2021

The where, what, why, and how behind this year’s holiday shopping season.

If last year was a holiday shopping season unlike any other, 2021 lands somewhere in between unprecedented times and trying to conduct business as (somewhat) usual. Many of the trends from 2020 (the dramatic uptick in ecommerce, the importance of the customer experience, and supply chain issues) are still in play, while this year’s shoppers are also tip-toeing back into brick-and-mortar stores. Predicting consumer trends in our unpredictable world isn’t easy, but our guide to this shopping season should help shed some light and offer tips for staying ahead.

Convenience is King

More than anything, shoppers are looking to make holiday purchases in a way that’s as easy as possible. This means readily finding what they want, getting it in a timely manner, and being able to make returns easily. Brands that are able to set reasonable expectations when it comes to inventory availability and quick shipping rates will be well-positioned this season. And businesses with brick-and-mortar locations will thrive by offering options that allow customers to buy online, pick up in store (we don’t use a ton of acronyms, but if you start seeing “BOPIS” everywhere, that’s what it means).

As for returns, shoppers and gift recipients want clear, straightforward policies and a simplified process if they need to send something back. One of the biggest pain points for those making online returns in 2020 was having to pay for return shipping. Offering free returns helps to instill confidence in shoppers prior to purchase. In addition to free returns and exchanges, some brands also offer store credit with an added incentive - for example, an extra few dollars or percentage back in credit - which helps to retain customers who might have otherwise spent their refunded money elsewhere. Extending the window for return times is also a bonus, allowing shoppers to feel safer by thinning out crowds in the store or post office.

Takeaway: Keep it easy. Any way you can simplify the user experience will benefit your bottom line.

Holiday Shopping Starts Early

Last year, for a number of reasons, the holiday shopping season started earlier than ever. By mid-October, businesses were offering sales and deals usually reserved for Black Friday. Cyber Monday also seemed to start rather early and stretch far into the following week. In addition to the early sales, shoppers had also encountered slowed-down shipping speeds over the summer and therefore started buying holiday gifts early to ensure everything arrived on time.

Those 2020 trends are likely to stick around this year as customers continue to head-off shipping delays and avoid holiday crowds.

Takeaway: Businesses should prepare to have products ready to go early and to share their most current shipping times.

Supply Chain Squeezes

Whether it’s a global pandemic or a cargo ship getting stuck in the Suez Canal, this last year has shown us that unforeseen supply chain issues can arise at any moment. This trend of uncertainty will presumably be with us through the end of 2021 and beyond, so anticipating potential kinks in the supply chain and having inventory stocked as early as possible is key for businesses hoping to capitalize on the holiday shopping rush. As discussed above, shipping times to consumers are also in flux, and staying on top of current delivery times is vital.

Takeaway: Take an audit of your supply chain to determine if everything’s stable, and create a game plan for any backups.

Social Discoveries

More and more, shoppers are turning to social media for gift inspiration and discoveries. TikTok has caused products to go viral and sell out the world over. Instagram’s integrated shopping platform has made it easy for consumers to make purchases without ever leaving the app. And tried-and-true Pinterest remains a source for finding and saving potential presents. These and other social media apps create a link for businesses to connect directly with potential shoppers.

Targeted social media ads are one way to drive sales, but brands can also utilize hashtags, create video content, and encourage existing customers to post their purchases online. Using social media as an extension of customer service is also a way for businesses to gain customer loyalty and confidence by responding to messages and interacting with users.

Takeaway: Get on your social game! Creative content brings in new customers.

Shopping With Purpose

Today, more shoppers than ever care about a brand’s background, and use those details to form personal connections. Shoppers are able to research brand stories, manufacturing processes, and charitable ventures to find companies that align with their values - and they’re willing to spend more on items they find meaningful in this way. Localization is also a way to reach customers who are interested in investing in their local community, whether online or in person.

The events of the last year have also created a new mentality around gifting on the whole. A Google survey of last year’s consumer gifting trends found that “for many people, gifting in 2020 grew beyond just an act of love on special occasions to one of empathy and a way to bridge the physical distance caused by quarantine.” As we reconnect with friends and family this holiday season, this focus on purposeful giving is sure to grow.

Takeaway: Think about what your brand stands for. Even if you don’t have a charitable component, make sure your brand story is front and center.

With the holidays always arriving quicker than we think (how is it already September?!), prepping in advance will set you up for a successful shopping season. Looking for more tips? Once the orders come in, you’ll need to ship your products! So start by shipping smarter connect your Big Cartel shop to apps and integrations to make the process a breeze.

Amanda Zurita

Seattle-based writer and editor specializing in lifestyle, travel, and design. Dog mom to the best boy. Obsessed with houseplants and the Italian Riviera.

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