US: 2021 holiday shopping forecast

Hoang NguyenData Journalist
October 11, 2021, 6:14 PM UTC
Last year was not a typical holiday season and despite the unprecedented shopping landscape, a majority of Americans still planned on holiday shopping in 2020 (69%). Ahead of the 2021 holiday season, the picture is very similar – 70% of consumers say they plan on holiday shopping.   
 
YouGov’s holiday forecast in 2021 sets the scene for when people plan on shopping, looks at the changes to their holiday budgets compared to last year and explores the hottest gifts in the technology category this holiday season.
 

When are people shopping? 


We’re in store for a longer holiday shopping season, especially with concentrated spending shifting away from traditional Black Friday doorbusters and Cyber Monday sales. Three in ten consumers say they intend to shop before November, including 16% who say they already started their holiday shopping ahead of October. 


Compared to a similar YouGov survey conducted for the 2020 holiday season, consumers this year are five points more likely to say they started (or planned to start) their shopping before November (30% vs. 25% in 2020). The data reveals that consumers this year are more than twice as likely to say they would begin their holiday shopping in October when compared to what they said last year (14% vs. 7% in 2020). 
 
Similar shares in 2021 (9%) and 2020 (11%) say they’ll begin shopping during the Black Friday/Cyber Monday period. 
 
Below are other highlights around when people intend to start their holiday shopping this year: 
  • Covid-19 continues to define shopping behaviors. YouGov has been tracking attitudes and concerns toward Covid-19 since the pandemic began. Those who said they were worried about COVID-19 affecting their personal health in September were significantly more likely to have already started their holiday shopping before October (18% vs. 13% of those not worried). 

  • Large shares of Americans are comfortable in public spaces again. In the last 30 days, Americans indicated they’re comfortable visiting places such as coffee shops (58%), restaurants (56%), cinemas or theaters (44%) and gyms (39%). In-person retail performs exceptionally well in this regard, with 64% of consumers saying they’re comfortable visiting clothing stores during the same period. 

  • Boomers are more likely to skip holiday shopping this year compared to other generations. More than one in five Baby Boomers say they don’t plan on doing any holiday shopping (22%). This segment offers a huge opportunity if brands are able to begin converting on non-holiday shoppers early in the season.
     

How do holiday shopping budgets compare to last year?


How do holiday shopping budgets compare to last year?  
 
Few Americans overall say they will increase their holiday shopping budgets this year compared to last year’s budgets (8%).  
 
Even so, the data suggests there’s still some reason for brands and retailers to be optimistic. 
 
Among those who increased their holiday budgets amid the 2020 holiday season, a quarter say their holiday budgets will be even higher in 2021 (26%). What’s more, at least 45% of those who said they would be working with larger budgets last year will maintain that level of potential spending in 2021. 


Financial concerns around the holiday season certainly have an impact on people’s potential holiday spending. In September, we asked people who expressed concern over their finances that month about their holiday budgets and roughly a quarter said they will allocate less money to holiday spending in 2021 (24%).  
 
This doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t be shopping, however. In fact, YouGov data uncovers that even among those who express worries over their finances within the last 30 days, 77% still intend to shop during the holiday season. 
 
Furthermore, 15% of US consumers who indicated they were confident in their financial situation in the month of September say they will be working with larger budgets this holiday season.

But overall, there’s still a tendency towards belt-tightening. Almost one in four (23%) of consumers overall this year plan to spend less than they did last year.  
 

What types of gifts will people be buying?
 

Consumer tech spending is expected to be big this holiday season, especially among younger Americans. In September, a majority of US consumers say they will spend money on technology products during the holiday season (54%).  
 
Potential tech spending is highest among Gen Z (69%) and millennials (69%) and tapers off among Gen Z (54%) and Boomers (38%).  
 
So, which technology categories may be flying off the shelves this holiday season? Smartphones and smartwatches rival beauty/personal care technologies (like facial tools and hair-stylers) in purchase intent at 18% apiece this year. Among millennials, purchase intent rises to 24% in both categories. 
 
Computers, laptops, and related accessories such as monitors or keyboards are also popular this year with 17% of US consumers saying they intend to purchase these products before the year is out. 


Gaming will also be a hot category this year and 17% of Americans say they plan on buying video games during the holiday season. Video game consoles such as the PS5 and Xbox Series X saw overwhelming demand last year and with the release of Nintendo’s new Switch OLED this October, it’s no surprise that 8% of Americans – rising to 15% among PC/console gamers – say they intend to purchase a video game console this holiday season. 

Whether they can get hold of one will be a different story, considering limited inventories and global supply shortages may get worse
 
Digital gifts such as tablets/e-readers or smart home appliances are popular among 8% of US consumers this year. Cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are also on the minds of 7% and 1% of Americans, respectively, this holiday season.  
 
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