With so much on the line, it’s important to move beyond the revenue projections to hear from shoppers about the factors that are important when choosing a retailer with which to shop over the holidays. Here are results from Digital Commerce 360's pre-holiday consumer survey.

With so much on the line, it’s important to move beyond the revenue projections to hear from shoppers about the factors that are important when choosing a retailer with which to shop over the holidays. Those consumer findings are core to our Digital Commerce 360 2021 September pre-holiday survey of 1,000 online shoppers. To reinforce the results, I have integrated findings from our companion 2021 retailer survey where one poignant question asked about consumer expectations. And lastly, to connect the dots, I want to show how some retailers are listening and responding to ensure they deliver a strong shopping experience.

The Consumer Point-of-View

The Retailer Take on Potential Holiday Consumer Behavior

Stock will tell the story of the season

Behind the beloved free shipping and competitive pricing, 53% of online shoppers believed the most important factor in choosing an online retailer was product that was in stock and ready to ship. The surveyed retailers anticipated that 42% of shoppers would find products out of stock more than in the past. While last year’s messaging centered on COVID-19 concerns, this year’s mantra is all about supply chain. Each day brings another warning from retailers about the challenge and is wrapped in messaging that encourages shoppers to start early, like now. I’ve captured the introductory paragraphs of this Oct. 19 Coach email, which beautifully articulates the challenges faced and the solution they propose like many others:  Shop early to get the gifts you want.


Gift cards matter and may matter even more this holiday season 

According to Digital Commerce 360’s pre-holiday survey of 1,000 online shoppers, 34% of online shoppers are expected to purchase physical gift cards, and 20% indicate they will be placing an order for digital gift cards. Thus, retailers should pay attention to ensure that their on-site presentation is powerful, not just during the holidays but all year-round. Gift cards can jumpstart the season as suggested by Amazon but also will be ideal when out of stocks are encountered.

As early as June 2021, in a Digital Commerce 360’s shipping survey of 1,032 online shoppers, 47% had an order delayed and 30% had an order canceled due to inventory issues. These kinds of circumstances make it advisable for retailers to continually position the gift card as a no-fail solution for online shoppers onsite and via marketing initiatives.

Mid-October Early Buying Messaging:  Gift Cards-Get a holiday head start

Nordstrom also reminds customers to shop early to get what they want, highlighting brands and referencing its gift cards as an alternative. It has you covered with free shipping, free returns and omnichannel execution.

Omnichannel efficiency counts for shoppers

Omnichannel efforts can differentiate a retailer and the numbers speak to expected holiday shopping experiences. In our consumer survey, 43% indicate they will be checking product availability before placing an order for pickup. From our retailer survey, 52% believe shoppers will buy more for online or curbside pickup. Target incorporates a filter for everything from in-store pickup to buying it at the store that serves as navigation within their gift ideas.  This both simplifies the shopping process and saves the shopper time.


Prominent placement of omnichannel capabilities should not be underestimated. This next example came from Michael’s, which has positioned it at the top of every page. It speaks volumes to its importance to its brand and its customers’ adoption.

Same-day delivery continues to gain traction

46% of shoppers surveyed cited speed of delivery as being important to their online shopping experience and 16% expect that same-day delivery will be part of their upcoming holiday experiences. Sephora has timed its Oct. 14, 2021, same-day delivery launch perfectly and the price tag of $6.95 seems quite reasonable for the convenience when orders are placed by 4 p.m. The visual execution under the header “Beauty on Demand” is welcoming and step-by-step instructions fill in the details.

The Promotion Factor

Our consumer research also suggests that more than half (52%) of online shoppers surveyed will make at least half of their holiday gift purchases on Amazon.

When making a quick visit to the site, they like Target, which is promoting daily deals to keep its customers coming back. I was struck by its livestreaming that amps up the experience and distinguishes it from many of its counterparts.


From this same survey, 34% cite valuable promotions as an important factor in retailer selection and this certainly fits the bill.

Walmart is likely looking to grow its Walmart+ business and what better way than giving members early access to its best Black Friday deals. A quick peek is available where often promoted TVs and computers were highlighted. As the retailer says, membership has its privileges.

Price-matching may kickstart the season

60% of those online shoppers surveyed choose retailers based on competitive prices. And with retailers believing that shoppers will shop early knowing deliveries may be delayed, smart shoppers will want both to be sure they are covered. These shoppers will have no need to worry with Target as its Holiday Price Match Guarantee has been placed front and center and it can be leveraged through Christmas Eve.

56% of online shoppers surveyed said they would be shopping on Black Friday. Best Buy draws a line in the sand knowing this is the most significant revenue day for most retailers, and the perception is that shoppers believe the best prices can be found on such heavily touted promotional days as well. It’s important to read the fine print and look for items marked with its Black Friday Price guarantee as these prices are reserved for Best Buy Totaltech™ and My Best Buy® members.


Free is still free and favored when it comes to shipping

66% of online shoppers allude to the fact that the most important retailer selection factor remains free shipping. No need to wait for the shopping cart at Crate & Barrel as it lets you know these glasses ship for free. Such customer experience elements can go a long way when it comes to converting shoppers.

Product insights inform messaging

One of the biggest inhibitors that online retailers might face is that retailers believe 33% will shop local. Every neighborhood has its strongholds, and retailers often incorporate signage to encourage their neighbors to shop local. In fact, Etsy reminds us that shopping small also bears consideration and falls into the same vein for many shoppers who prefer retail diversity.

Sustainable interest is growing

While only 13% of online shoppers indicated they will buy more sustainable gifts, this is a trend to watch and worthy of our adoption. Retailers like Uncommon Goods tee up eco-friendly gifts to address this audience and changing consumer shopping patterns.


16% of online shoppers anticipate purchasing an experience and what a perfect way to address that by designating a gift card for that purpose. It’s also a chance for Williams Sonoma to showcase its range of products and services for both in-store and online consumption.

Getting retailers to cover returns

39% of online shoppers said that free return shipping was one of the most important factors in retailer selection. It came in No. 6 out of 18, as it’s behind only shopper must-haves and favorites that include free shipping, competitive prices, in-stock product, speed of delivery and past overall experiences. It may be interesting to note that 28.1% of Digital Commerce 360’s Top 1000 retailers offer free returns. It’s smart to see how Tumi positions its gift capabilities from complimentary monogramming, gift boxing and, likely the most appealing, free shipping and returns as a lead-in to its gifting destination.

While gifts may be in short supply, shoppers will manage to find alternatives to keep the spirit of the season alive. As retailers put the final touches on their holiday plans, it’s important to remember what really matters to shoppers to show well this holiday season.