It's not too soon to start thinking about the 2020 holidays. Here's an in-depth look at the outliers of the holiday shopping season in 2019.

Elissa Reiling, vice president of marketing at Eyeota

While hordes of shoppers went out on Black Friday or clicked away on Cyber Monday last year, there are always a select few who had their feet up by the fire all day because they finished their shopping weeks earlier. In fact, 50% of consumers had already begun their holiday shopping by late September, according to a recent poll. Another subset of shoppers takes the 12 days of Christmas to heart and waitsnot until Dec. 24 to shopbut until Dec. 30 or later.

So, while we may take issue with our neighbors who put their holiday lights up the day after Halloween, these are the folks’ retailers are clamoring to reach. It’s not just that they fill the void between All Hallows Eve and Turkey Day, it’s because these serious shoppers tend to spend more than Black Friday bargain hunters.

So, to get ahead of the curve in 2020, let’s take an in-depth look at the outliers of holiday shopping from 2019. Who are they, what and how are they buying, and how much are they spending? More importantly, how can retailers identify and engage with these shoppers who create their own, unique path to holiday purchases?

Early-bird holiday shoppers: They’re not who you think they are

Surprisingly, those September Santas are not your Aunt May, lover of Yankee Candles and year-round Christmas tree stores. In fact, they’re typically guys, and they skew younger, around 18-24 years old. Who knew? They also tend to be deal-seekers.

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Women are more motivated to shop by the shrinking timeline as the holidays approach.

In 2019, with six fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas than in 2018, the reduced shopping window is driving gift buyers to start earlier, buy sooner and feel more stressed about the shopping timelines. According to a RetailMeNot survey, 34% of U.S. consumers will search for deals earlier, and 28% will make their first purchase sooner, compared to 2018.

How can you get early shoppers to buy from your store?

Early holiday shoppers tend to be far more focused on digital, as the “cyber” in Cyber Monday is increasingly emphasized. An MiQ study found 45% of U.S. consumers were shopping online on Black Friday in 2019, while 61% were shopping online on Cyber Monday. Nearly 85% of shoppers headed straight to Amazon during the 2019 holiday season not just to shop, but also to research products and compare prices. Amazon and other digital retailers are sure to be a major part of every early shopper’s planseven if they ultimately plan to hit the mall.

Offline, brick and mortar stores have a slight advantage over online-only retailers, as shoppers return unwanted gifts – although free return shipping may help keep shoppers on their computers and phones. In 2018, 55% of shoppers purchased their holiday gifts online, and nearly all of them expected free shipping.

Some tips on reaching shoppers, wherever they may ultimately buy: Men are 23% more likely to compare prices on deal sites and 14% more likely to visit brick-and-mortar locations, while women are 30% more likely to visit blogs and 14% more likely to rely on word-of-mouth. With that in mind, it may make sense to target men on deal sites with offers that can be redeemed in a local store, whereas women can be better engaged on blogs and social media.

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While holiday shoppers are shopping for all sorts of giftsas well as decorations, food, and drinkverticalized audience strategies can help narrow targeting. At the same time, optimizing between intent- and interest-based segments can help toggle campaign reach. For example, shoppers in early November are intent-driven. They’re ready to buy, so make them an offer, Other shoppers, like fashionistas and electronics enthusiasts (both big gift categories), can be targeted by persona. Keep in mind that these shoppers are also likely to be your researchers, comparing products, prices and offers across numerous sites.

How about those late shoppers?

What are those January shoppers doing? It’s likely a lot of them are cashing in gift cards or store credit. These deal hunters will likely be attracted by post-holiday and Boxing Day sales, and they do tend to have broader interests since they’re probably done shopping for themselves. Once again, for this group, brick and mortar stores have a slight advantage over online-only retailers as shoppers return unwanted gifts. With that in mind, these shoppers are a solid bet for Q1, so look for opportunities to drive them in-store with great offers to drive upsells and net-new sales.

Whenever and however your customers shop, test out different ways to reach, engage and drive them to your store. With holiday sales anticipated to grow to between $727.9 billion and $730.7 billion this year, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the season of giving.

Elissa Reiling is vice president of marketing at Eyeota, which specializes in consumer data and ad targeting.

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