Predictions for the holiday 2021 season are looking up. Largely projected to again be a digital-first season, Rakuten Intelligence expects e-commerce to see 26 percent year over year growth in the fourth quarter due to the holiday shopping season.
Moreover, the company says it expects the apparel category alone to have a 30 percent growth year-over-year in Q4 — a 45 percent increase since 2019 — with November being the strongest month for both e-commerce sales and apparel this year with holiday shopping sales like Black Friday and Cyber Monday helping retailers during this time.
“Last year, we saw many consumers essentially skip a typical fall/winter wardrobe refresh as we headed into an uncertain season due to the pandemic,” said Kristen Gall, president of Rakuten Rewards. “I think a lot of people felt that it wasn’t worth spending on a new wardrobe and new trendy items when they weren’t sure they’d be going out much and their purchases would become out-of-style by the next year.”
Now, Gall noted, as venues are partially or even fully reopened, consumers are reporting they are ready for new clothes. After two years consumers are also looking at how trends have changed so style and sizing are both key components that shoppers are considering. Jeans are a prime example of this with the shift from skinny to straight and wide-leg jeans, but moreover, Gall pointed to Levi’s recent estimate that 35 percent of Americans changed waist sizes over the pandemic.
“Part of the fall/winter shopping surge is fueled by consumers that want to find clothes that fit perfectly,” said Gall. “This is a great opportunity for brands to highlight offerings that cater to this demand like free returns, the ability for shoppers to try multiple sizes and detailed sizing information.”
Social media influencers and advertising, Gall said, has also changed the way people shop.
“Social influencers aren’t just for teens and fashion,” said Gall. “When we looked at back-to-school shopping trends earlier this year, we found that parents increasingly gravitate to social media to align with trends when shopping for their kids. The uniquely intimate relationships that influencers have with their audiences build trust in product recommendations, and around the holidays, shoppers will turn to their favorite online personalities for gift ideas and fall/winter fashion picks as well.”
Beyond influencers, Gall said, social advertising and shopping can offer a lot of inspiration, and their ability to micro-target can place the right products in front of a consumer to make them say “yes” to a purchase.
Still, as far as trends go, Gall told WWD, merchants should continue to expect the unexpected. “Last year, it was hard to predict consumer preferences, like bread makers and tie-dye loungewear,” said Gall. “Outside of apparel, this trend is likely to continue into the 2021 shopping season.”
In fact, Rakuten predicts seeing a lot of the same challenges and opportunities that brands faced during the 2020 holiday shopping season.
“First are the shopping patterns — such as shopping earlier than ever and a heavy reliance on e-commerce and delivery to get gifts to loved ones,” said Gall. “Right now, we’re really looking at October as the start of the holiday shopping season. While many people would consider that early, it’s really the time when consumers’ mind-sets switch from late summer and back-to-school to the next major shopping season. For the second year in a row, people are becoming more uncertain by the day whether or not they’ll be able to see loved ones in-person for celebrations this year — so they are already thinking about how and when they will need to shop if gifts need to be shipped to their recipients.”
Notably, Rakuten said it is already seeing signs that some of last year’s issues including shipping delays and inventory issues will persist and become a great challenge for both brands and consumers.
“We have already heard from many organizations that supply chains will continue to be a challenge this year because of the high cost of shipping, as well as transportation bottlenecks caused by COVID-19 and labor shortages,” said Gall. “I think a lot of consumers learned from on-time delivery issues that they experienced last year, but it’s still important for brands to prioritize strong messaging and incentivization — especially when many people are expecting things to be different this year.”
Moreover, Gall noted that companies that offer deals and incentives in October will likely have happier customers by December since they were encouraged to shop early.
“Brands should take advantage of earlier consumer shopping behaviors,” said Gall. “Last year, we saw more retailers offer holiday deals throughout the month of November — and earlier — instead of focusing solely on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Shoppers responded positively, so it’s a great strategy for brands to incentivize early shopping. This also delivers the added bonus of allowing brands to work ahead of expected challenges related to the supply chain and on-time delivery.”
Meanwhile, while last year’s holiday season saw merchants offering steep discounts to move inventory, Gall said this season will not see discounting to quite the same level due to high demand and consumers’ willingness to spend. “Still, with less discounting across the board, the retailers that are offering them will stand out, reach new customers and gain share of wallet.”
“Even though consumers are generally willing and ready to spend, promotions are often the strategy that tips the scale from a consumer eyeing an item to finally making the purchase,” said Gall. “Promotions are also useful in encouraging consumers to shop earlier and more frequently, getting ahead of inventory and shipping issues.”
Notably, Rakuten’s research shows that this summer saw a lot of out-of-season inventory move due to off-cycle sales, like winter gear and apparel. While this was a great example of the importance of promotions to sell inventory that didn’t sell during last year’s season, Gall said this holiday season presents the same opportunity for retailers to incentivize consumers to buy spring and summer inventory gifts for loved ones.