How brands can take advantage of new holiday shopping habits

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On a mission to embrace holiday spirit, some of our behaviors may look different. That’s an opportunity for brands and consumers alike.

While the holidays seem to have descended upon us earlier than ever this year, they bring with them a sense of optimism. After all, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.” 

Not everyone carries the same avid enthusiasm for the holidays that I do. Many see the season as an additional stressor. But after last year, this season just feels different — like we all might be a little more emotionally invested this year. We’re all craving the holiday cheer and magic that helps things feel more “normal” — whatever that may mean. 

On that mission to embrace the holiday spirit, some of our behaviors may look different. And that’s an opportunity for brands and consumers alike.

Think local  

Supply chain issues have been the headline of this year’s holidays. But the added pressure of not knowing whether gifts will arrive on time may also underscore an increasing desire to shop local this season. (I know, I know. No online shopping?! The horror!”)  

It’s no secret the pandemic has taken a toll on local economies. Last winter, one in five consumers were focused on shopping at small businesses. This year, people are more comfortable venturing out, and shopping locally offers immediate satisfaction (and assurance) while paying it forward to our communities. In fact, for every $100 spent at small businesses, $48 is put back into the local economy. Imagine the cumulative holiday magic we could create by shopping locally.

Shopping small is a big opportunity for local or regional brands, but it challenges big brands to “think small.” American Express is a poster child for supporting small businesses, and Starbucks contributes to local community programs around the holidays. Imagine if Simon Malls leased discounted retail space to make small businesses more accessible? Or if DoorDash or Uber partnered with Etsy to drive more sales for small designers? Or, maybe, the infamous Macy’s stunt from Miracle on 34th Street still has power: Imagine if Nordstrom dedicated a small corner of its stores to local designers.

I made it myself 

Beyond the supply chain conundrum, financial issues linger in many people’s lives. Whether it’s the pressure to save or spend less given job or life circumstances, many people will exercise creativity this holiday. In fact, Google Trends data shows searches for “DIY gifts” have been steadily increasing over the past few months.  

Brands can help us embrace oru creative side. Shutterfly’s “Make it a Thing” campaign is certainly well-timed. The Home Depot and Lowe’s could steal share from craft stores by helping first-time DIYers make gifts for others. And, of course, baking and culinary brands can turn our new pandemic-found hobby of choice into the centerpiece of gift exchanges everywhere. 

Gathering with intention

Most of us were disconnected from those we love last holiday season. Zoom helped, but in-person gatherings bring a different level of connection and festivity that will be immensely welcomed this year. Consider the 3.6 million babies born, the 23 million households that adopted pets, or the 37% of Americans that started new jobs in the midst of the pandemic. For many of those people, this may be the first “real life” gathering with family. 

Whether it’s a workplace meetup or a “good ol’ fashioned Griswald family Christmas,” chances are we all will carry a greater appreciation for being in a room with others. Brands can fuel these reunions, whether that’s by offering matching family attire, cocktail night ideas, recipe sharing or new ways to share stories and family game nights.  

Sharing time > stuff

Similarly, gifts that come in a box will not be as popular as enjoying time together. Experiences were becoming more popular than physical gifts even before the pandemic. In fact, 85% of U.S. adults agreed experiences were a great way for both the giver and receiver to enjoy something together. Today, time together carries a whole new appreciation. Live music, events, classes and travel may be the most cherished gifts as we embrace more meaningful moments.

Ticketmaster or StubHub could be big winners, and Airbnb and Expedia are well poised to capture some of our pent-up demand to experience the world around us. Even Groupon could rekindle some excitement by going back to its roots of local experiences. Or Whole Foods could open a holiday cooking class. 

Like much of our lives, the holidays are sure to look different this year. But different feels good. Different lends itself to new opportunities. And, for both people and brands, that’s a good thing. 

As Paul McCartney sang, “The mood is right, the spirits up. We’re here tonight, and that’s enough.” Let’s simply have a wonderful holiday time. 

Britt Fero is principal and founder of PB&.

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