Tough economics call for tough measures. Online shoppers hunt for promotions during the holidays and year-round. Resetting for 2023 will be critical, with flexibility the optimal strategy.

Much of the attention after the holiday season is focused on the performance numbers. Alternatively, I wanted to look at specific aspects of shopper behavior. Just after the holidays, Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights surveyed 1,023 online shoppers in January 2023, which provided insights into shopper behavior. The first topic I want to address is promotions.

How did shopper behavior play out and what might we expect to see in the coming months?

The following questions set the context for such a discussion:

  • Will shoppers pay full price?
  • Will they abandon their carts if they have to pay for shipping?
  • From a promotions’ perspective, what percentage off seems palatable and when?
  • Are expectations different for online and offline shopping?
  • Is one’s behavior different for personal consumption vs. gifting vs. family needs?

A look at how our survey respondents selected retailers from a price and promotional point of view is instructive. Free shipping once again tops the list at 56%, while fair and competitive prices comes in at 41%. Appealing promotions, at 23%, are also on shoppers’ minds. For me, email offers, at 17%, were also an integral part of my 2022 holiday experiences and core to our discussion below.

I stepped out into the real world, and that is when the world of promotions spoke to me. It was post-holiday, and the stores in a suburban Chicago shopping mall were abuzz. Those emails were just the push we needed.

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I was drawn to visit Aerie, part of the American Eagle family of brands, because of an email that touted Happy New Bras all $25+. As my daughter shopped around, the retailer had designated products for sale, but many were still full price. The store was quite busy on this Saturday afternoon with at least six people waiting in the checkout line.. Three out of four items were on sale, so the numbers were on her side. Being in the store actually meant buying more.

On Jan. 10, I received an “I miss you” email from Lululemon. The offer was to take 25% off up to 15 items for a limited time only. My initial reaction was they never have sales like this. A coworker shared as well and, ironically, was only offered 20% for the same promotion. The only sales offer I usually will find from Lululemon is the “we made too many” products, which are typically final sale. Unfortunately, my daughter had already purchased several items full price, so I would be unable to take advantage of the promotion for these purchases. It certainly is an opportune time to kickstart 2023 revenues.

Another athleisure store in the mall had an email promotion on Dec. 30 with a powerful message: “Up to 70% ends tonight.” Alo was new to the mall, so we looked around the store. Everything was perfectly assorted, and I didn’t see a sale rack. When I asked the associate, she let me know that sale items were only online. It can be frustrating to be an all-channel shopper, as the lack of consistency makes it challenging for the shopper to get the best deals. This channel-specific approach bodes well for still getting the sale, as you are a captive audience. That’s exactly how it played out, as we bought three full-priced items.

When I think back to my own purchases, most were not on promotion. Kohl’s, which has a business model I’ve never embraced, was one of the few where I came up a winner. My daughter’s wish list contained a weekender bag and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure where to go. Being budget-minded this holiday season, I did a Google search, and the Kenneth Cole that they featured for $175 was marked down to $70. It looked like a classic choice where I couldn’t go wrong and hey, if she didn’t like it, I could always return it.

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Holiday shopping behavior from a dollars and cents point of view

  • Comparison shopped to ensure best prices: 30%
  • Tracked promotions to get best prices: 20%
  • Paid for shipping on orders: 16%
  • Sought price adjustments: 10%
  • Financed purchases: 9%
  • Bought non-U.S. products to save money: 7%

With almost one in three comparison shopping and one in five tracking promotions, shoppers are vigilant in hopes of not paying any more than necessary.

Did shoppers get their fair share?

Four in 10 online shoppers found adequate promotions and believe they got their fair share

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While almost six in 10 respondents believe they got their fair share, 39% of those felt they received adequate promotions. Meanwhile, 20% believe those items were not of interest to them.

36% of participants said they encountered steep promotions, and of those, 22% said they were able to make some purchases. Unfortunately, 12% weren’t able to make many purchases.

Another 26% felt they encountered limited promotions. The time spent tracking these promotions prior to making purchases is an important metric; 22% spent some time and 13% spent significant pursuit of the deal.

Shoppers have a plan of attack

We asked participants to share how shopper behavior might change in 2023.  A few of the insights they shared reflect my sentiments, so I wanted to share and discuss. Comments reflect on planning and taking action at the right time in the right channel. Both topics frame our discussion.

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Paying the right price starts with planning

It means being “a little smarter and looking for deals to save as much money as I can.”

Some of us are concerned about the economy. “Seeing the economy is headed to a recession I will shop online for the best deals.”

“This will, of course, depend on inflation, my budget, and what I’m buying.” As it will for all of us.

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Thinking about big savings means: “Do more online shopping for bulk prices for the things I use most of the time.”

We all succumb to making unnecessary purchases, and one participant summed it up perfectly.

“I am going to tighten up my spending and spend more time pre-planning things. I want to avoid impulse buying.”

The best advice shared and applicable to all seeking to save is, “I will be more price conscious.” And several others indicated they will do more price comparison as prices are so high. That also means comparing prices between physical stores and online before buying something.

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Timing is of the essence; be sure to act fast

Four notable shopper statements about how they will shop differently:

  • I will be more mindful of promotions and of timing my purchase to take advantage of promotions.”
  • “Start shopping earlier than I did this year, because a few things were sold out that I wanted to buy, or shipping was not fast enough.”
  • “Shop when there are promotions.”
  • ”I will shop throughout the year and buy when I see a deal instead of waiting to do it all at one time.”

Ensure you cover your bases on coupons, promotions and free shipping

This is where the rubber meets the road. There are many ways shoppers look to save.

  • “I will look for more free shipping deals.”
  • “I will pay attention to promos and free shipping.”
  • “I definitely will be looking out for loyalty programs and promotion codes. They save a lot.”
  • “I will certainly do more [shopping] online but will search for discounts and promo codes.”
  • “I will look for deeper price cuts on things I would like to have. Only buy at full price if I really need it, otherwise only if it is on sale.”

 Shoppers have varying points of view regarding channels

“More shopping online is likely in the days, weeks and months to come.”

“Online is easier and sales are easier to find.” Another shopper agreed. “I will most likely shop less in-store. It saved me time this year by doing a lot of my shopping online, and I seemed to find better promos online.”

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But one suggested, “shop slightly more in-store, and try to find better deals to save money.” Another shopper plans to visit in-person in addition to shopping online, “I will continue to look for the stores with the best price with products and shipping costs and the quality of products, too.”

The desire to get the best deals applies for both online and in-store shoppers. Shoppers’ modus operandi will include planning and responding swiftly to the offers they hunt for or arrive in their email box. One can only expect that shoppers will hunt for free shipping and promotion codes, and take advantage of rewards programs. Online shoppers will leverage both online and physical stores for their strengths, being sure to comparison shop along the way. And hopefully, at the end of 2023, they will end up with a little more money in their pockets.

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