December 2023 Shopping Predictions

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Introduction

With the December holiday shopping season upon us, we’ve been crunching the numbers to make our predictions about consumer behavior and retailer trends in December this year.

Based on our analysis of Unacast data, we’ve compiled our top 3 predictions that will affect retailers this month:

  1. The average visit length for in-store holiday shopping trips will shorten
  2. There will be a rise in demand at “near urban” retail locations
  3. December foot traffic growth to retailers will outpace growth in prior years

Read on to see our data and analysis to back up these predictions!

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Decreasing Time per Shopping Trip

As holiday shopping activity spreads across online and in-store, we’re seeing the average amount of time that a shopper spends at a store shorten. This is a trend that emerged with COVID in 2020 and has continued over the subsequent two years.

We anticipate this trend will continue this December.

As an example, we pulled data for four large retailers to analyze the average time that a consumer stayed at the store in Q4 by year. These retailers are Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart, and Target.

Between Q4 2019 and Q4 2020, all four brands saw their average visit length decrease. While Best Buy and Dick’s rebounded slightly in 2021, all four retailers had their shortest average visit length in 2022.

We believe this could be the result of more purchases happening online, making in-store trips more focused and targeted, in addition to the ability to thoroughly research products online before going to a store.

This trend is most likely to impact brands that (1) do not have a strong omnichannel shopping strategy and (2) are more reliant on discretionary purchases.

Walmart, for example, experienced a smaller decline than the other brands, both from 2019 to 2020 and overall across the four years. This may be the result of their unique status as both a leading grocer and leading retailer, with grocery trips being more stable than shopping trips.

One important implication of this prediction for retailers is that there’s less opportunity for off-the-cuff purchases and a higher need to build a front-of-store strategy.

Target is renowned for its ability to get customers to add items to their carts as they shop in the store. With less in-store shopping time, these incremental purchases may decline as well.

Retailers will need to put their best foot forward at the front of the store to either attract shoppers deeper into the store or have the best opportunity to convert incremental purchases earlier in a shopping trip.

The Rise of Near-Urban Retail

The combination of remote and hybrid work schedules (especially around the holidays) and a strong economy will drive foot traffic to retail locations in “near urban” areas this December - areas that are within immediate commuting distance of city centers.

We analyzed Unacast data for foot traffic to Target locations in the Boston metropolitan area to understand visitation trends from 2022 to 2023 through November to validate this theory year-to-date.

Foot traffic to the Target location in the heart of Boston is tracking flat between 2022 and 2023, while the location in the heart of nearby Cambridge is about 3% higher.

Continuing further north of the city, the locations in Somerville, Everett, and Medford have 8-15% higher foot traffic in 2023 compared to 2022.

To the south, locations in Dorchester and Quincy are 14-16% higher in 2023 than in 2022.

These high-growth locations are all within a comfortable commuting distance of downtown Boston.

As multi-site retailers analyze December foot traffic and sales at their locations, we predict that these “near-urban” locations, on average, will outperform other stores.

These locations are well-situated to capitalize on demand to live near, but not in, major cities. 

This, combined with hybrid work schedules that will lead to more shopping near an employee’s home, is likely to drive increased foot traffic to locations that sit within a commuting ring of major downtown centers.

Rising December Foot Traffic

We previously researched Black Friday shopping patterns and found that foot traffic was growing during the holiday shopping season while decreasing on specific days. In other words, in-store shopping is still relevant; it’s just not driven by a couple of peak days like Black Friday.

This year, we predict that the trend of growing foot traffic - specifically in December - will be amplified for two reasons:

  1. There is an extra weekend just prior to Christmas
  2. Retailers have been extending their Black Friday deals both earlier and later

Having two weekend days immediately prior to Christmas presents a tremendous opportunity for retailers to gain last minute holiday shoppers in-person.

With the uncertainty of shipping deadlines, consumers will turn to physical retail stores during the last push before Christmas to complete their holiday shopping, lifting foot traffic above prior year levels.

In addition to the calendar benefit of Christmas this year, we’ve seen that Black Friday is no longer a one-day event as much as a promotional period of time. Retailers are starting their Black Friday sales earlier and extending them later. Or, they’re re-launching similar deals under new names that run into December.

Regardless of the tactics used, we anticipate retailers competing more fervently throughout the holiday shopping season to gain in-person market share, particularly in the final weekend stretch, resulting in increased foot traffic to stores in December compared to prior years.

Conclusion

We see many reasons why this can be a strong December for retailers. 

The impact of extra high-value weekend shopping days will benefit all retailers, and the rise of near urban retail will benefit those that are positioned to capture this demand.

At the same time, being conscious of how shopping trips are changing - shortening - requires that retailers pay extra attention to store layout to maximize the time that customers are spending in the store.

Are you interested in the data that backs up these predictions? Book a meeting with us to learn more and explore the Unacast Insights platform.

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