For many years, the triumphs and tribulations of the last minute shopper were a part of the holiday shopping experience. Retailers would steadily increase the value of their discounts as Christmas Day drew closer. However, a recent study suggest that there are fewer last minute shoppers as more people than ever plan to do the bulk of their holiday shopping early.

A recent survey of more than 3,500 U.S. consumers by NPD found that last minute shopping may be going out of fashion. When compared to data from previous years, the results imply that the shift to earlier holiday shopping will continue.

The percentage of shoppers who plan to start shopping before December has doubled in just a few years. According the NPD results, in 2017, nearly 30 percent of consumers plan to start their holiday shopping over Thanksgiving weekend, compared to the 12 to 16 percent in the years prior to 2014.

"The consumer that used to wait until after Thanksgiving weekend now shops during it," said Marshal Cohen, a chief industry analyst, The NPD Group. "Despite all the efforts in recent years to get shoppers shopping before Black Friday week we see little to no movement early in the season, but the last-minute shoppers have moved their timing up."

Predictably, the survey results also had good news for online retailers. Two-thirds of consumers plan to do at least some of their holiday shopping online in the 2017 holiday season. The percentage of consumers that do some of their holiday shopping online has increased steadily for years with little sign of that trend ending anytime soon.

In a blog post about the survey results, NPD makes an interesting point about holiday shopping marketing in 2017. In 2016, there was a lot of political distraction that may have limited the reach and effectiveness of retailer marketing and ads. With this being less of a concern in 2017, retailers should see a better ROI on their early holiday advertising.

"Holiday 2016's actual sales results were up less than two percent vs. 2015," Cohen wrote. "As a result of the lack of election noise impacting shopping behavior, Holiday 2017 should be more in line with 2015, where we saw 3.2 percent sales growth."

However, it wasn't all good news (depending on your point of view on stores being open on Thanksgiving). The NPD results suggests that opening a store on Thanksgiving Day may not have a large effect on sales for a store. The availability of online sales somewhat diminishes the appeal of Thanksgiving Day shopping for many consumers.

"The excitement of Thanksgiving Day store openings has now faded, making them a low risk, low reward proposition. While choosing to close on the holiday will not be detrimental to those retailers, the retailers who open won't see a significant boost this year either," Cohen added in his earlier statement. "The boost we will see during the peak Thanksgiving week shopping period of the 2017 holiday season will come from online sales - online will continue to grow."

If there is one thing that retailers should take to heart from the NPD 2017 Holidays Intentions Survey, it's to start early with online advertising and sales. 2017 should be a good year for online retailers, with online shoppers anticipating they will spend an average of $793 this holiday season and compare to $467 for those who will only shop in brick-and-mortar stores. And reaching these customers early, rather than waiting for a last minute sale, will be more effective.

For some other recent research about holiday shopping trends in 2017, read this article on the psychology of bargains and how to use it to make customers feel good about their purchases.

Published on: Oct 30, 2017