The Always-On Consumer is Rewriting the Holiday Shopping Rulebook

Devin Wenig, President & CEO

Key online trends are driving major changes in consumer holiday shopping.

It’s not even Thanksgiving, and already searches for snow globes and ceramic Christmas trees -- alongside Apple Pencils and women’s watches -- are trending on eBay. Shooting up the sales rankings are self-balancing scooter hover boards and BB-8 Star Wars Droids.

Dive into eBay’s data for the month of November and it’s clear the holiday shopping season is already in full swing.

As e-commerce and the explosion of mobile have freed consumers from the limitations of time and space, the season is starting earlier each year, and stretching over a much longer period. This year at eBay, we saw it kick off in the last week of October.

We expect mobile shopping will start to spike Wednesday as Thanksgiving travel begins. But even as of last week, the share of purchases made on mobile compared to desktop was up by double digits compared to last year.

The era of constant connectivity has disrupted everything we once knew about the holiday shopping season. The dominance of traditional big shopping days such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday is being steadily eroded.  

Given that mobile shopping on our platform peaked at 9 pm Eastern Time on Thanksgiving during Cyber Weekend last year, Thanksgiving is fast turning out to be a major shopping day -- with most of that shopping happening from home.

In this new world, traditional retailers are coming under pressure, margins are tightening, shipping times are ever shortening, and a race on deals has broken out across all e-commerce and traditional retailers.

The evidence is clear: Armed with a mobile device and an appetite for great deals, the always-on consumer is rewriting the holiday shopping rulebook.

Mobile Drives Price Transparency  

The emergence of ‘showrooming’ as a shopping habit -- buyers discovering items in-store before using their phones to grab them cheaper online -- has meant margins are being squeezed to the bone for traditional retailers.

The mobile shopping experience, I believe, has evolved from mission-based (the consumer intent on buying the new Apple Pencil) to a more browsing-based experience (the consumer who goes online looking for inspiration and great deals).

E-commerce businesses have been swift to respond to this trend, offering faster and more predictable shipping, greater selection, and better deals.

It’s All About Deals

The deals phenomenon during holidays was originally created to bring in foot traffic to stores, even if it meant retailers lost money on those deals. But e-commerce has propagated the deals mentality across the holiday season, across all screens, and around the world.  

Retailers are being challenged to think more innovatively about pricing and deals, and are offering the same deals across all channels at same time -- a trend you’ll see continue.

As competition intensifies, the retail equivalent of a World Series on deals has broken out. Now consumers demand them -- in a recent survey by Forrester Research, 21 percent of online Thanksgiving weekend shoppers said they would only buy discounted items.

At eBay, our year-to-date North America daily deals grew by 40 percent over the previous year.

Rise Of Emotional Gifting

Three quarters of online revenue during the holidays still comes from that top one percent of products, according to Forrester Research, but as buyers adopt more emotional gifting mindsets, browsing for that ‘just right’ gift, sellers are uncovering intriguing new pockets of demand.

While there will always be big selling items -- this year, that means the Star Wars BB-8 Droid and the LEGO Indominus Rex Breakout -- the concentration of holiday purchasing around just a few items has diffused. Instead, we’ve seen more unique, or ‘long tail’, products emerge alongside those global bestsellers.

This holiday season, economists are expecting growth in overall sales for the industry with mobile sales expected to accelerate.

eBay’s leadership in mobile commerce will help us to compete aggressively during the holidays, with our substantial deals offering making us one of the largest deals destinations  in the world.

We are building out our inventory to offer the best choice, from latest releases and new branded products, to great bargains, to the unique items we are most known for.  

We’ll continue to create a vibrant space for entrepreneurs and small- and medium-sized businesses to compete on a level playing field with global brands. And we’ll inspire and delight buyers through tremendous selection and relevance, ensuring that eBay is the shopping destination of choice at every time of year -- and especially during holidays.

Editor’s Note: This post appeared originally on LinkedIn.