The holiday shopping season is in full swing, but there are a number of new trends and insights that will set this year apart from year's past.  

First of all, if you just started your holiday shopping, you're already out of step with the new trend. According to a recent Nielsen survey, 49% of Americans planned to start shopping before the Black Friday weekend explosion even though that time period and Cyber Monday are still key moments in the season.  Believe it or not, 26% of consumers Nielsen surveyed started their shopping as early as September this year.  Thus, the holiday shopping season is progressively starting earlier in our culture over the last five years. 

But, of course, nearly everyone is tracking how the 80+ million demographic of Millennials fits with the overall trends due to the sheer number in that group.  Jordan Rost, VP of Consumer Insights at Nielsen says, " Millennials are early adopters of e-commerce. They are most likely to either shop early or catch up quickly at the end if they've forgotten some gifts.  It seems the average is about a $250-$500 spend on each gift from this group, as well." 

However, a new eBay-commissioned study from Edelman provides even deeper insights around Millennial shopping behavior that are particularly intriguing. Key findings include the following: 

  • More than a third (37%) of millennial shoppers say they give gifts to make themselves feel good
  • A third of Millennials (34%) tend to choose gifts based on what they like versus what the recipient likes
  • 1 in 5 (23%) millennials consider whether the recipient will post a photo of the gift on social media when buying a holiday gift

In an email interview with me, eBay's chief operating officer for the Americas Jay Hanson, explains: "This social media component, in particular, means that the tailored experience becomes even more important when people are trying to find that special, unique 'social-media worthy' gift for their loved ones." To that end, eBay is trying to capture shoppers'  personal preferences through a new AI-powered browsing experience that claims to present curated products in ways people want to shop by style, activity or obsession in order to find a gift that will rack up major likes.  However, as I mention in my book on Millennials and the four major sub-categories of this population, tastes will vary depending on values of the different sub-groups. 

In the meantime, what can your business do to best capture these trends and patterns?  Hanson suggests the following:

  • Guarantee on-time delivery. Especially during the holiday season, buyers want to be sure they will receive their purchases in time for the holidays. Create and adhere to some form of Guaranteed Delivery program.
  • Offer free returns. While some small business owners are reluctant to offer buyers the chance to return purchases, Hanson says eBay has seen that offering 30-day free returns has a measurable increase in purchasing. Buyers are more apt to buy from a seller that will allow them to return a purchase they made in November in January, for example, if the gift given was a duplicate or the wrong color.
  • Pay attention to pricing. In order to compete for customers, small businesses need to offer the best prices.

Cultural intelligence is key in such a fast-paced era now more than ever. It's all about finishing strong as we race toward the end of the year.