Most US holiday shoppers will keep spending flat in 2016, says SAS survey

Consumers value personalized gift suggestions; younger shoppers ready for robot assistants

Some experts say holiday spending is going up. But a recent study suggests that holiday shoppers might be more frugal in their spending this year compared to 2015. The annual survey, conducted by analytics software giant SAS in early October, indicates concerns about the economy and employment are preventing consumers from opening their wallets wider this holiday season.

“Given the contention surrounding the 2016 presidential election, it’s not surprising consumers feel a little anxious,” said Dan Mitchell, Director of Retail and CPG at SAS. “But once the election is over, it’ll be time for retailers to connect with consumers in the ways they prefer by using their data to its full extent. Our survey found they’re looking for value, service and inspiration. And in the spirit of imagining the future of retailing, some would even appreciate a little automated shopping help from retail robot assistants.”

Other trends revealed include:   

Only younger consumers and men are spending more

Of the US consumers surveyed, 65 percent said they plan to spend the same amount on holiday gifts as last year. Only one in five shoppers plans to spend more this year, compared to 16 percent who plan to spend less. The election is negatively affecting spending plans for 18 percent of men, but only 6 percent of women. However, men are more likely than women to shell out more for this year’s holiday gifts (26 percent versus 15 percent), and folks under 40 seem more optimistic and plan to up the budget over 2015 levels.

Could robots serve up a new retailing era?

Headlines talk of connected consumers, smart cars and robotic everything. Perhaps that’s why 27 percent of U.S. consumers are ready to let a robot assistant help them shop. Younger consumers, who are the most digitally connected, are the most enthusiastic: 53 percent of those under 40 are interested.  And, men would be more likely than women to lean on robot shoppers if they were available.

Pets and gift cards win again  

For the second year, pets are the beneficiaries of our generosity, beating out co-workers, neighbors, teachers and the babysitter on gift lists. Of those surveyed, 29 percent will buy gifts for their pets. Among human recipients, family members 18 and older top the gift list for 85 percent of consumers. And what are those humans receiving? Gift cards have singularly secured the top spot on shoppers’ lists this year as the go-to for 67 percent. Apparel and toys and games are a distant second at 52 percent.

Head to the mall, or shop in your PJs?

On-line shopping among U.S. consumers will outpace shopping at bricks-and-mortar stores this year by 10 percent, but most will use both channels. More than three-quarters of this year’s shoppers will buy gifts via PC or mobile device compared to 70 percent who will shop the old fashioned way. Thirty-one percent of consumers overall plan to shop using a mobile phone or tablet, but that number jumps to 54 percent for consumers 30 and younger.

Are Thanksgiving and Black Friday shopping losing their appeal?

An overwhelming 71 percent prefer the traditional November/December timeframe to do their holiday gift buying. Black Friday will draw 35 percent of shoppers—down from 40 percent in our 2014 survey-- and Cyber Monday, 30 percent. Only 15 percent will venture out to shop on Thanksgiving Day. Consumers appear to be pushing back on the notion of Thanksgiving Day shopping. Our survey finds that 39 percent have a negative opinion of stores open on Turkey Day, while only 21 percent view it as positive.

We like loyalty programs and personalized emails

When it comes communication from retailers, 58 percent prefer personalized emails from retailers they already like. Close behind are loyalty program updates and promotions, followed by direct mail from companies that align with the consumer’s lifestyle.

Tell me what you want, what you really, really want

Most gift givers simply ask recipients what they want. Lacking such clear direction, 62 percent wander the aisles and 35 percent take ideas from retailers’ online suggestions. However, 78 percent of consumers say retailers’ suggestions are moderately to not-at-all accurate. So if that perfect gift isn’t on the shelf in the store? Retailers have slightly more than a 50 percent chance of retaining the customer’s business. Nearly half say they would purchase the item at another location, either online or in a competitor’s store. Online retailers will face even more desertion if the desired product is not available. More than six in ten will buy the product from another retailer’s website.

Women like detail, men like convenience.

Women are more likely than men to shop in bricks-and-mortar stores and spread their gift buying out over the entire holiday shopping season. Where do men come out on top? They’re twice as likely as women to use mobile payment options and more likely to condense their holiday shopping to a few days. They also are more receptive than women to product suggestions.

About the survey

The online survey was conducted by SAS Market Research and Survey Sampling International between Oct. 4 and 11, 2016. The survey was completed by a representative sample of more than 4,000 adults in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. The margin of error for the survey is 1.5 percent.

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