The holiday shopping season seems to get longer every year — and that’s no accident, according to School of Management experts Charles Lindsey and Michael Krupski, who specialize in retail marketing strategy, brands and consumer behavior.
“Holiday shopping started earlier than ever this year, with sales like Amazon’s Prime Big Deal Days and Target Circle Week in October,” says Krupski. “The season used to be a ramp-up from Black Friday through Christmas, but now we have what is being called the ‘holiday hammock,’ where the first pole goes up in October, there’s a slump into early November and then the other pole goes up from mid-November through Christmas.”
Lindsey says it’s part of a retail strategy to capture a greater percentage of consumers’ holiday wallets earlier.
“If a retailer can get your purchase early, there’s less for you to spend with a competitor,” he says. “And while it’s nice for consumers to be able to spread out their spending, they need to be mindful of sticking to their budget. Think of it like a buffet — it’s a lot easier to overeat when you have a lot of options in front of you.”
Krupski says sustainability and ethical shopping are on consumers’ radar, but don’t significantly influence purchasing decisions.
“With the inflationary environment we’re in, shoppers are being hypervigilant about deals and are being mindful of how much they’re spending — that’s taking precedence right now for most buyers over sustainability concerns,” he says.
There are some simple ways shoppers can make more sustainable choices, according to Lindsey and Krupski:
- Be judicious and selective. It’s expensive for retailers to put items back on shelves, so 30-40% of all returns end up in a landfill. Do your research and get the right gifts — especially with the ever-expanding shopping season.
- Buy gift cards. Though they may seem inauthentic and impersonal, gift cards are great from a sustainability standpoint because they allow people to get exactly what they want.
- Give experiences instead of stuff. Since the world opened back up after the pandemic, gifts like travel, spa days, dining, movies and activities have been in high demand, and they will continue to be this year — and they’re all gifts that also won’t end up in a landfill.
- Keep an eye on return windows. Retailers are giving shoppers more time to return things, which gives consumers more flexibility and gets shoppers back into stores in January.
- Shopping in-store? Check online. Stores often post lower prices on their own websites, where shoppers can more easily compare prices with competitors. If you’re in a store and find something you like, check their website before checking out.
- Don’t forget to price match. At many retailers, if you find a lower price at a legitimate competitor, show the checkout clerk on your phone and they’ll match it.
The top digital tools to help you save:
- Capital One Shopping. A browser plug-in that automatically applies coupon codes.
- CamelCamelCamel. Track prices of items on Amazon, including the low and high prices for a particular item.
- Coupon Cabin. Online coupon codes from more than 6,000 stores.
- Rakuten. Get cash back when you shop.
- RetailMeNot. Online and in-store coupons and promo codes to save on retail, travel, food and more.
- ShopSavvy. Load this mobile app to scan products and comparison shop other stores.
Generative AI, like ChatGPT, is already being used to enhance the shopping experience, according to Dominic Sellitto, clinical assistant professor of management science and systems. Here’s how:
- 17% of shoppers have indicated they use AI for purchasing inspiration.
- 92% of retailers are investing in AI more than ever to enhance product recommendations, product details and descriptions, and for suggesting product bundles that are unique to a shopper.
Other AI-related tips for the holiday season:
- The naughty: Watch out for convincing scams. Recent holiday seasons have seen a huge jump in phishing attacks, thanks to AI text-generation tools that can craft more convincing messages to targets. This makes some of our tried-and-true methods of spotting a phishing attempt — such as bad grammar — less useful and allows attacks to happen even faster.
- The nice: AI opens a lot of possibilities for families around the holidays, like using a chatbot to generate a list of fun family activities or places to travel for the season.