Make Your List and Check it Twice

When planning your strategies for this coming season, it’s imperative to look at what has been and what just might be ahead. National Retail Federation released their 2016 Holiday Planning Playbook recently which gave an insight into the past holiday season and what to look for when planning for this year. Let’s get to unwrapping, shall we?


“Make no mistake about it,” says NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay: “This was a tough holiday season for the industry.” A great many factors converged; take your pick from weather, inventory challenges and timing of promotions, just to name a few. Even so, “the industry rallied, consumers responded and sales still grew at a healthy rate, which is a huge testament to the resilience, knowledge and expertise of our retail leadership.”

When all was said and done, more than half of retailers (55%) considered the season successful compared with the year prior. Even at 3% growth, it beat the average of 2.5% over the previous decade.

On the consumer end of the equation, more than nine in 10 (91%) who shopped online were satisfied with their experience — and two-thirds, very satisfied. They also spent a significant amount, with the majority of those shopping online spending $500 or more in total.

ornaments on beach imageHoliday 2015 by the Numbers

  • Holiday sales in 2015 increased 3% to $626.1 billion. Non-store holiday sales grew 9% to $105 billion. – NRF: “Retail Holiday Sales Increase 3 Percent” (January 2016 –
  • Seven in 10 retailers surveyed reported an increase in their overall holiday sales revenue; 81% saw an increase online, and more than half experienced an increase in-store. – NRF Communities Post-Holiday Retailer Survey (January 2016 –
  • Mobile, including both phones and tablets, accounted for 30.4% of online sales, up from 25.9% in 2014. Sales on smartphones rose from 14% in 2014 to 19.9% in 2015. – Custora: “Holidata E-Commerce 2015 – What Mattered Most” (January 2016 –

Consumer View

Retailers attempted to lure in shoppers with earlier-than-ever promotions. Holiday 2015 saw 59% of retailers begin promotions by September. Retailers continued to back up the schedule for Black Friday offerings with bargains on Thanksgiving (and even earlier in the season).

Not everyone procrastinates. Those most likely to shop for holiday gifts year-round are young women and those who make less than $50,000 a year. Although holiday shopping typically begins between October and early December, three in four holiday shoppers don’t finish until sometime in December — 35% finish in the last couple of weeks.

Millennials in particular enjoy holiday shopping, at least more than their parents do, according to a report from Kelton. Almost 60% of the Millennials surveyed said they “love” holiday shopping.

Gift cards continue to be an attractive option. Almost two-thirds of shoppers (63%) purchased at least one gift card this season, up two percentage points from the previous year.

Consumers continue to think about post-holiday shopping as much as they do pre-holiday buying. Two-thirds of respondents to an NRF/Prosper survey said they planned to shop after-Christmas sales; 47.2% expected to do in-store, and 43.1% online.

Retailer Perspective

Even as Black Friday has stretched into a long weekend of promotions, the day itself continues to dominate. In Holiday 2015, Black Friday had the highest sales revenue for 68% of retailers, regardless of channel. Cyber Monday saw the highest online/mobile sales — but one in four still said their Black Friday online/mobile was higher.

A quarter of retailers credit improved discounts and promotions with driving sales in Holiday 2015. Other actions that helped: improved merchandising (11%), additional marketing (10%), additional advertising (7%), e-commerce improvements (7%) and improved shipping offerings (7%).


Key Explorations for Holiday 2016

  • Simplify processes and increase visibility
  • Enhance and optimize mobile capabilities
  • Test virtual/augmented reality
  • Create shoppable content
  • Develop strategic email promotions and search engine marketing campaigns
  • Leverage data to build seamless commerce experiences
  • Calculate scheduling of holiday discounts and offers

Retailers will continue to introduce new strategies and develop innovative offerings to draw customers in during Holiday 2016. Investments will be made, plans will be drafted and forecasts will be given. Much remains unknown, but one thing is for certain: Holiday 2016 is coming quickly so start making those lists and checking them twice!