Yale School of Management

Center for Customer Insights

Advancing the frontiers of consumer understanding

Holiday Shopping in October?

Insights into Consumer Buying Behavior that Can Make Your Cyber Monday Deals More Appealing All Season Long

October 15, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact retail businesses across the nation, many large names are beginning holiday deals as early as this week.  Best Buy announced that it would join Amazon, Target, and Walmart in beginning holiday sales mid-October displaying an effort to shift the shopping season mainly online as safety concerns surrounding in-store shopping linger.  Retailers also hope to get ahead of what surely will be longer shipping times and delays that would inconvenience consumers due to on-going supply chain disruptions. 

With companies pushing out deals earlier in an effort to stem declining sales, how can brands keep the momentum going throughout the traditional shopping season?  While many retailers have applied principles from Behavioral Science such as scarcity (“Only two left in stock!”) or time pressure (“This item will be in your cart for only 1:00 hours”), here are five ideas inspired by Behavioral Science that can bring fresh strategies into your playbook for this holiday season.

Messaging Using Dynamic Social Norms

The average online consumer has likely seen this note in their cart while online shopping: “15 other people have this in their cart.” This strategy is considered messaging to social norms, capturing the consumer desire to behave as others are behaving and purchase what others are purchasing, and can be useful for creating interest for items that are already popular.  However, what can online retailers do to push items that are new but may have less visibility?  Research has suggested that messaging that utilizes dynamic social norms, how people’s behavior is changing over time, can be another effective approach to producing behavior change.  An example of this would be: “Since last week, 50% more people are shopping this product.”

Framing Value with Comparisons

Have a high-priced product that you are trying to sell during the holiday season?  While many websites now offer direct price comparisons between two or more similar products, outside category comparisons may drive perceptions of value more substantially. In category comparisons, consumers often default to the middle of the road product.  When comparing outside the category, you increase the consumer’s willingness to pay by re-framing the value of the product. For example, compared to other TVs, a top-of-the-line TV might seem quite extravagant. But when you think about what consumer goals a TV might satisfy—such as a clear picture of what it is like to visit another country from the safety of your home or an immersive experience in a sports game—the price is quite affordable when compared to the cost of an international trip or tickets to the playoffs for the whole family.

Recommendations that Serve a Related Goal

As we mentioned, consumers often have a specific goal in mind when shopping for a particular product.  For example, when shopping for a new bike as a gift for a partner, they might consider the new places they would explore together, a shared health goal, or helping them get from A to B more efficiently. Highlighting items that are similar to the goals that consumers have can be an effective way of increasing the appeal of your products during the very competitive holiday shopping season.  In a study by Yale faculty member Ravi Dhar on speakers, they found that when recommending a complementary product, that product should meet the original goal of the consumer.  Providing a too diverse product suggestion might de-rail the consumer from the original goal of purchase. Careful curation is recommended to avoid lowering the likelihood of purchase.

Shopping Momentum

While pandemic product shortages and delays have fundamentally changed consumer expectations about the online shopping experience, retailers can find creative ways to decrease the negative impact that this will have on consumers while they shop for the holidays. For those who intend to make a specific purchase, planning and pre-commitment tactics can help them stick to their intentions. Brands can offer a discount for consumers who put down a deposit for big ticket items, or pre-commit to making a purchase in advance of the product being available. Offering the opportunity to sign up for a sale allows the consumer to make an advance plan and lowers the effort required at the actual moment of purchase.

Free shipping?

Although traditional economics would say that consumers would seek to find the best item at the most affordable price, we know from research in behavioral science that people can be unwilling to pay for services or products at their value if paying for it is perceived to be painful.  Delivery and shipping fees are one such area where pain of paying can be high. Ultimately, consumers feel that saving money on delivery and shipping fees is better than discounts, even when the pricing is comparable. Offering small add-ons on your platform that can help the consumer to qualify for free shipping could be one way to potentially help drive conversion.

With shifts in gifting categories, un-precedented supply chain interruptions, a high unemployment rate, and the precarious status of holiday get togethers, this holiday shopping season will certainly look different than in years past.  For brands to stay capture sales and continue momentum through the extended season, one thing is for certain; they’ll need to tap into some new tactics in order to be able to compete for their share of the consumer’s wallet.