• For the first time, consumers will do more of their holiday shopping online than in stores, and retailers need relevant tech to deliver on their high expectations.
  • But customers do want to spend time with their family and friends in settings that combine shopping with dining and entertainment.
  • Some individuals want to unplug during the holiday by taking a break from their digital devices. Yet, they still plan to spend time streaming TV shows, music and movies.

Though consumers have historically done more holiday shopping in stores than online, this year, it’s changing: For the first time, shoppers will spend more time online (54 percent) than in stores (46 percent), according to PwC’s 2019 Holiday Outlook. That’s not a surprising choice, since two-thirds of the more than 2,000 consumers surveyed said they valued convenience and accessibility above all else.

One challenge for retailers is that every shopper defines ‘convenience’ differently. A suburban parent of three young children might want to order online and wait in the car outside the store to have the items brought to them. In contrast, an urban-dwelling college student without a car might prefer to pick up a package from a designated location near campus, rather than taking public transportation to and from a store. Ultimately, what consumers want most is control over the where, when and how of their shopping.

Online versus instore shopping 2019


Regardless of how convenience is defined, for retailers to deliver on customers’ high expectations, they need digital enablement: the consolidation and integration of customer data, inventory, payment and logistics that enable retailers to respond to customer preferences no matter how they choose to order, pay for and receive their items. That is powering subscription models for items as varied as apparel, personal grooming products and pet food, enabling shoppers to receive personalised selections with minimal time and effort.

Seeking more
than transactions

Despite the uptick in online shopping, consumers also want to spend time with family and friends in establishments  that combine shopping with dining and entertainment.1 Significantly, they’re willing to travel farther for that optimal combination. This is especially true of millennials— possibly because they’re used to the convenience of shopping online and want more of an experience  when they make the effort to travel to a store.

These consumers want a relationship with a brand — one that’s based on the entirety of experiences an individual has with that brand. Brand loyalty is what keeps consumers coming back, and brands that foster a sense of community build strong relationships with their customers. That matters because brand trust, more than any other factor, influences buying decisions for some 70 percent of consumers surveyed. It’s something consumers have told PwC for several years now. 

Holiday shopping millennial experience

Creating the
best of both worlds

Retailers can build trust by creating the people connections their customers crave through classes, workshops and interactive spaces. Examples include Lululemon, Apple, Crate & Barrel, Ikea, RH and more. They’re curating their offerings with human touches that encourage consumers to linger. These include having employees who are thoroughly familiar with the inventory, understand how to accessorise products and recognise what’s trending.

The community effect is so compelling that newer, direct-to-consumer entrants are recognising the role physical spaces play in augmenting the virtual relationships they’ve created with consumers in niche categories. These firms have the added benefit of knowing exactly what their customers want, based on those existing online relationships. In a full-circle moment, traditional retailers are using digital tools and partnerships to better respond to customer desires for connection. For example, just in time for the holidays, Toys ‘R’ Us is back and partnering with tech start-up b8ta to create new experience-based stores, complete with theaters, gaming workshops and treehouses.2

Ultimately, retailers will want to offer the best of both physical and digital worlds, allowing shoppers to move seamlessly between them.

Taking time to
unplug and chill

Even though shoppers surveyed said they will seek gift ideas, product information and price checks online during this holiday season, some of them said they intend to actually shut off their devices for a time. These digital detoxers see the holidays as a time for setting aside their digital personas and reconnecting with loved ones.

Who are the digital detoxers?


This is particularly true for consumers aged 25 to 44, whose fast-paced lives revolve around full-time jobs that require them to be ‘always on.’ The end-of-year work slowdown offers an ideal opportunity for these individuals to take a digital step back and put some detoxing goals into practice. In fact, more than 60 percent of the people surveyed will spend time entertaining family and friends this holiday.

Our research found that these aspiring detoxers — who typically have little or no recollection of what it’s like to live in an unconnected world — do about 60 percent of their shopping online. Almost 75 percent are Amazon Prime members, and they spend generously on their family, friends and pets. In fact, more than half plan to spend more money on gifts this holiday than they did last year.

Despite the clear preference for online shopping, almost 80 percent of these consumers said they look forward to hitting the stores and shopping at multiple venues during the holiday season. Yet, they also plan to engage in a variety of in-home entertainment options. They might be shutting off their devices for certain tasks, but digital entertainment lies squarely within their detoxing routine: Some 80 percent will stream TV shows, movies, music and social videos during the holiday season, and almost 70 percent will participate in multiplayer online games.

For these consumers, the holiday season is a time to relax and reconnect with family and friends, which is often a luxury that’s in short supply. These individuals are well-aware of what awaits them in the year ahead, and that makes the holiday break from the daily grind even sweeter.

For more details on what to expect this holiday season, check out PwC’s 2019 Holiday Outlook.


Contributor Allison Stone


Allison Stone

Allison Stone is a senior manager in PwC’s US Assurance practice. Her focus is on Consumer Markets clients.

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