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Brands advised to find free shipping “sweet spot” this holiday season


The 2020 holiday season kicked off in a COVID-turbulent year with Amazon Prime Days and competing retail promotions in mid-October.

Trends seen in that period now point towards US consumers valuing free shipping above other similar deals.

The data comes from an NPD Group report which points out how free shipping will for the first time become the number one factor influencing where consumers spend this year.


It is a finding that corresponds with consumers increasing use of online shopping due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

NPD’s chief industry advisor for retail, Marshal Cohen, said: “Consumers plan to do more of their holiday shopping online this year, and this includes shipping gifts to family and friends with whom they won’t be able to celebrate in person this year.”

Adding: “The addition of shipping fees to all of these deliveries is a bigger financial burden on consumers than getting the best deal on the item itself.”

Although the holiday shopping season began earlier than ever before this year, it’s just the beginning for 52% of U.S. consumers who plan to start their holiday shopping on Thanksgiving Day or later.

This is not to say that consumers didn’t shop Amazon Prime Days and the competing retail promotions.

General merchandise sales results from NPD’s early indicator report, for the week ending October 16, show the early promotions brought a 21% boost to dollar sales compared to the same week last year; but only a 2% lift in sales compared to the week in July 2019 when Amazon’s online shopping event and competing retailer promotions took place.

As far as holiday spending goes, consumers plan to spend an average of $691 this holiday season, which is less than last year’s anticipated holiday spending, but on par with 2018 plans.

The number of those who plan to spend the same amount they did last year declined by 11 points compared to last year, mostly in favor of those who plan to spend less.

Concern about the state of the U.S. economy is a contributing factor to consumers’ spending intentions.

Fifty-seven percent of shoppers rate the state of the economy poorly (up from 37% last year), and 30% say they will spend less because of the state of the economy (up from 23% in 2019).

On the flip side, consumer feelings about their personal financial situation has not changed since 2019, and 29% of consumers will spend more because they have fewer expenses related to travel, dining out, etc. as part of the current departure from experiences.

Cohen continued: “Through much of 2020, retail spending as a whole has not seen the big declines expected, pointing to the consumer’s willingness to spend despite economic uncertainty.

“This year consumers appear to have more interest in ‘retail therapy’ and an aspiration to return to normalcy. We also know that, historically, consumers are pre-conditioned when it comes to holiday shopping behaviors, which means even the best promotions won’t drastically alter the core trends of the season.”

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