Three Lessons From The 2018 Holiday Retail Season

0aaaKelly Davis-Felner Bazaarvoice

With the dust settling from the holidays, it’s an important time to look back at consumer shopping behavior from the last month or so. For the retail industry, the busiest time of the year is both a welcome boost and a period of immense pressure to perform. The consumer shopping trends that play out during the holiday season are often indicative of the year to come and can signal areas of growth or future investment. After analyzing shopper behavior across our network of more than 6,600 brand and retail web sites, here’s what stands out:

Mobile Shopping Is Poised To Overtake Desktop

During the 2017 holiday season, mobile accounted for more than half of online traffic to most product categories. Based on 2018’s performance, 2019 will be the year when more holiday shopping is done from mobile devices than from computers.


Over Thanksgiving weekend alone, mobile accounted for 47% of all revenue and 62% of all page views across our network, and, for the first time, more orders (51%) were placed via mobile than via desktop. While we saw average growth across every facet of Thanksgiving weekend shopping, mobile shopping activity is growing at a faster rate.

This increase is likely indicative of brands’ and retailers’ investment in mobile. Consumers demand a frictionless mobile experience, and retail is finally delivering. Also important to note is that social commerce is growing. Traffic from social media grew from 5.9% in 2017 to 7.5% in 2018 — a 41% year-over-year increase, according to holiday data from Salesforce. This upward trajectory shows that social media is becoming an important channel for inspiration, consideration, and — with further investment and refinement — conversion.

Experiential Gifting Is On The Rise

Rather than stocking stuffers and gifts under the tree, a growing number of consumers are opting to purchase experiential gifts over physical items. A recent study found that one in three consumers planned to give meaningful experiences this holiday season. It also showed that craft-related gift experiences were the most popular (47%), followed by food-related (45%) and travel-related experiences (41%). Pinterest has also listed experiential gifting as one of its top 2018 shopping trends.

For the retail industry, this is a trend to keep an eye on. Consumers, especially those in younger generations, are eschewing material objects in favor of sentimental and rewarding activities. Brands and retailers should know how their products may complement these experiences. For example, consumers who pay for a cooking class might be excited to buy new utensils or appliances, or those who booked a trip may need to stock up on travel essentials. Similarly, brands and retailers should play into this desire for rewarding experiences by offering in-store activities or sponsoring events. This presents an opportunity to deliver both products and experiences that are truly valuable to customers.

Brick-And-Mortar Retail Is Adjusting To The New Normal

Over the last five-plus years, retail has struggled to keep up with both technology advancements and consumers’ changing expectations for shopping. To stay competitive, brands and retailers are being forced to invest significantly in the customer experience across the entire shopping journey. But as online shopping continues to grow, brick-and-mortar has struggled to regain its footing.

The holiday season, however, is a welcomed boon for brick-and-mortar stores. As many as 96% of consumers planned to do at least some of their holiday shopping in-store. There are still many unique elements of the in-store shopping experience that simply cannot be replicated online — at least not yet. For example, 42% of the consumers cited holiday ambiance as a reason for wanting to shop in-store during the season, and 88% claimed that holiday decor and/or festive events, like ice skating or seeing Santa, is important to them when shopping at physical locations.

That being said, in-store shopping continued to decline this holiday season. Retail measurement companies, like ShopperTrak, indicated that in-store traffic fell 3% year-over-year.

A big area that retailers should be focusing on is removing friction points within the store. Additions like mobile checkout, BOPIS options and mobile apps with store maps can simplify the store experience. In the coming year, leading retailers will have mastered both the online and in-store experience, while those that don’t will continue to struggle.

We saw overall growth during the 2018 holiday season; consumers are shopping more and spending more, which is welcome news for the retail industry. That being said, holiday shopping trends highlight areas of opportunity, including social commerce and the in-store experience, where the retail industry should continue to diagnose and invest, in order to continue growing into 2019.


Kelly Davis-Felner leads North America marketing for Bazaarvoice, overseeing the company’s brand identity, demand generation, product marketing, and thought leadership programs. She initially joined Bazaarvoice in 2015 to establish and grow the client marketing team, and went on to lead strategy for revenue marketing, client engagement, events, and paid media. Prior to joining Bazaarvoice, Davis-Felner has held various global marketing roles, most recently at the Wi-Fi Alliance, where she focused on building the Wi-Fi consumer technology brand. Davis-Felner earned an MBA from The University of Texas and still calls Austin home.

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