With the winter shopping holidays now behind us, Forrester is wrapping up its annual qualitative exploration of US consumers’ perceptions of the holiday season, both for their own behavior as well as what they observed across retailers. The retail industry has seen an increase in consumer spending compared to last year — possibly due to savings from lower gas prices. Overall, we saw that consumers felt less compelled to go out and buy gifts on Black Friday itself, but they still love a good bargain. Some other insights we gathered:

  • Black Friday sales effectively crossed over from in-store to online. While in-store shopping dropped on Black Friday, online shopping sales rose, resulting in an overall increase in sales. Consumers were quite conscious of the fact that online deals appeared even before the Thanksgiving holiday (and therefore before Black Friday). This year, these sales also carried the “Black Friday” label — traditionally an in-store-specific event. By re-associating Black Friday with deals first and foremost, this could restore positive sentiment and downplay what has otherwise become a stressful shopping event.
  • Targeted outreach drives online sales — but retailers shouldn’t overdo it. A smaller number of targeted deals and offers will help reduce the overall volume of email that consumers receive. This will in turn minimize the chances of consumer recipients being overwhelmed by holiday communications.
  • In-store deals and gift cards late in the season could lead to additional sales. Despite their preference for online shopping and gift delivery continuing to grow, consumers understand that shipping becomes complicated late in the season and may resort to physical retail locations. This will allow retailers to take advantage of last-minute shopping among those who are naturally inclined to delay their purchases as well as to promote additional shopping (including in-store) among those who have already finished.
  • Mobile is helpful for research, cumbersome for purchases. About one-third of consumers used a mobile device to make a purchase on Black Friday, although consumers still prefer to make online purchases using their PCs for reasons of convenience (e.g., multiple browsers, larger screen size) and, not surprisingly, more-trusted security. As mobile payment technology continues to mature and security concerns level off, it will be important for retailers to offer more convenient and seamless options at all phases of the purchase journey.

Keep an eye out in the next month or so for a more detailed report that includes more of our findings from and the implications of the 2015 holiday season, with a focus on what retailers can learn — not just for next year’s holiday planning but for year-long sales strategies. In the meantime, feel free to check out last year’s report in advance of this year’s research.