Four types of American shoppers have altered the shopping landscape this holiday season.
There’s the bargain hunter who times deals. The midnight buyer who stays up late for discounts. The returner who gets buyer’s remorse. And the “me” shopper who self-gifts.
It’s the latest shift by consumers in the fourth year of a weak U.S. economy.
“We’re seeing different types of buying behavior in a new economic reality,” says C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America’s Research Group.
The bargain timer
Cost-conscious shoppers haven’t just been looking for bargains this season. They’ve also been more deliberate about when to find those deals.
For the week ended on Nov. 26, which included the traditional start of the holiday shopping season on the day after Thanksgiving, stores had the biggest sales surge compared with the prior week since 1993, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs Weekly Chain Stores Sales Index. The cumulative two-week-sales drop-off that followed marked the biggest percentage decline since 2000. Then, stores had another surge in the final days, as retailers stepped up promotions again.
“Shoppers are budgeting their money and time,” says Paco Underhill, whose company, Envirosell, studies how consumers behave in stores. “They’re focused on being opportunistic bargain-shopping vultures.”
The midnight buyer
Bargain shoppers used to wake up at the crack of dawn to take advantage of big discounts on Black Friday. This year, some shoppers instead stayed up late on Thanksgiving night.
This shift in behavior was in large part due to retailers’ efforts to outdo each other during the traditional start to the holiday shopping season. Stores like Macy’s, Best Buy and Target for the first time opened at midnight on Thanksgiving night, offering deals that once were reserved for the next day.
Twenty-four percent of Black Friday shoppers were at stores at midnight, according to a poll by the National Retail Federation, the industry’s biggest trade group. That’s up from 9.5 percent the year before when only a few stores were open during that time.
Shoppers who were lured into stores by bargains gleefully loaded up on everything from discounted tablet computers to clothing early in the holiday season. But soon after, many suffered a case of buyer’s remorse and rushed back to return some of the items that they bought.
For every dollar stores take in this holiday season, it’s expected they will have to give back 9.9 cents in returns, up from 9.8 last year, according to a survey of 110 retailers by the NRF. It would be the highest return rate since the recession. In better economic times, it’s about 7 cents.
The ‘me’ shopper
One for you; one for me.
After scrimping on themselves during the recession, Americans turned more self-indulgent. It’s a trend that started last year but became more prevalent this season.
According to the NRF, spending for non-gift items will increase by 16 percent this holiday season to $130.43 per person.
“This season, the consumer put herself ahead of the giving,” says Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst with market research firm The NPD Group.