4 Holiday Shopping Trends Brands Should Leverage, According to Google Research

The holiday shopping season is a critical time for retailers and marketers – and it‘s evolving quickly. Shifts in consumer behavior, preferences and expectations are reshaping the holiday landscape.

To help brands navigate this changing environment, Google recently shared exclusive research and insights on the key trends shaping the holiday shopper journey. Erin Sands, Consumer Insights Manager at Google, unpacked these findings in a recent interview.

"We‘ve identified four major shifts in holiday shopping behavior that are essential for marketers to understand and adapt to," said Sands. "Brands that lean into these trends can drive strong results during the holidays and build enduring customer relationships."

Here‘s a closer look at the four trends Google says will define holiday shopping in 2022 and beyond – plus expert tips for turning these insights into action before, during and after the holiday season.

Trend 1: Shopping is starting earlier and lasting longer

Holiday shopping is no longer confined to the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It‘s turning into a months-long event, with consumers starting their gift hunting earlier and continuing their purchasing well into January.

"We‘ve seen the holiday shopping time frame stretch significantly in recent years," said Sands. "Many consumers are now beginning their shopping as early as October and extending it past New Year‘s Day."

The data shows the early holiday shopping trend is accelerating:

  • 31% of U.S. consumers planned to start their holiday shopping before Halloween in 2022, according to Google and Ipsos research. That‘s up from 27% in 2021.

  • Searches for "early holiday deals" increased 40% year over year in September-October 2022, per Google Trends data.

Early holiday shopping data

There are several factors driving this shift, explained Sands. "Consumers are looking to spread out their spending, avoid crowds and out-of-stocks, and take advantage of early deals and promotions."

Many are also shopping later into January, as gift cards become a larger share of holiday purchases. Per Google, nearly two-thirds of shoppers plan to buy gift cards – and a third say they‘re likely to wait until January to redeem them.

Gift card holiday shopping data

Tips for marketers

To capitalize on the extended holiday time frame, Sands advises marketers to:

  • Launch holiday campaigns and messaging early, by October at the latest. "Don‘t wait until late November to start engaging holiday shoppers," she said. "They‘re already in market and receptive to relevant offers."

  • Keep promotions and seasonal content live well past Christmas Day. "The post-holiday period is rich with intent-driven shopping activity," noted Sands. "Make sure you‘re present and providing value to those shoppers."

  • Develop specific messaging and offers for early birds, last-minute shoppers, and post-holiday gift card redeemers. "Segment your audience based on their holiday timing preferences," Sands suggested.

  • Stay nimble with your media mix and creative. "Monitor real-time search and sales data to identify demand signals," said Sands. "Adapt your tactics to when and where shoppers are most engaged."

Trend 2: Digital touchpoints are driving both online and offline sales

Today‘s holiday shoppers are channel agnostic. They‘re fluidly moving between online and offline touchpoints to discover, evaluate and purchase gifts. Digital interactions in particular are playing an outsized role in shaping consumer decisions and behaviors.

"Digital touchpoints are now the linchpin of the holiday shopping journey," explained Sands. "They‘re not just driving e-commerce sales, but also heavily influencing in-store traffic and sales."

Consider these findings from Google:

  • 76% of U.S. holiday shoppers used three or more channels to browse and buy in 2021.

  • 54% of shoppers say online research, via a search engine or online reviews, was the most important factor in their holiday purchase decisions.

  • Even for shoppers who ultimately made their purchase in a physical store, 45% still conducted online research beforehand.

Omnichannel holiday shopping data

Mobile devices in particular have become indispensable shopping companions, both at home and in stores:

  • Mobile drove 55% of online holiday sales in 2021, per Google and Ipsos.

  • 63% of shoppers say they use their smartphone to look up additional product information, compare prices, and find deals while shopping in physical stores.

"Mobile is the connective tissue of the holiday omnichannel experience," said Sands. "Smartphones are always at hand, bridging gaps between online and offline interactions."

Tips for marketers

To meet shoppers‘ expectations for seamless omnichannel experiences, Sands recommends that brands:

  • Invest in digital touchpoints across the funnel, from awareness to consideration to conversion. "Showing up at all stages of the journey with relevant content is crucial," she said.

  • Make it easy for shoppers to move between channels. "Focus on reducing friction at transition points," advised Sands. "Enable BOPIS, online appointment booking for store services, easy in-store returns for online orders, and so on."

  • Prioritize mobile as a key driver of sales and loyalty. "Ensure your mobile site and app are fast, intuitive and secure," said Sands. "Streamline task completion and checkout."

  • Use online intent signals to inform offline strategies. "Localized search trend data can help predict in-store demand and optimize merchandising and staffing," explained Sands.

Trend 3: Consumers are looking for value and affordability

Economic headwinds are making holiday shoppers more price sensitive and value oriented. With inflation and uncertainty on the rise, consumers are looking for ways to stretch their gift budgets further in 2022.

"Affordability is a major theme for holiday shoppers this year," said Sands. "They‘re feeling the pinch and becoming more intentional with their spending."

The numbers bear this out:

  • 34% of U.S. holiday shoppers say finding the best deals and prices is their top priority, per Google and Ipsos.

  • Searches for "affordable" grew 60% year over year during the 2022 back-to-school season, a key indicator for holiday trends.

  • 40% of shoppers say they‘ll rely more on sales events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday to save money this holiday versus last year.

Holiday deals and promotions data

Beyond just short-term promotions, consumers are seeking out brands and retailers that provide enduring value and help them save money over time.

  • 51% of shoppers say they‘re more likely to buy from retailers that offer easy returns, price matching, and BOPIS options.

  • 30% plan to use a buy now, pay later service to fund their holiday gifts and spread out the cost.

"Value isn‘t just about the sticker price," explained Sands. "It‘s about convenience, flexibility, and feeling confident in your purchase decisions."

Tips for marketers

To appeal to deal-seeking, value-minded holiday shoppers, Sands suggests that brands:

  • Lean into promotional periods and make your offers highly visible. "Participate in the major tentpole events, but also consider running your own sales events throughout the season," she said.

  • Message affordability and value in your marketing. "Highlight your competitive pricing, category deals, and ways to save like cash back rewards," advised Sands.

  • Provide tools to help shoppers find the best deals and products for their needs. "Gift finders, deal finders, and personalized recommendations are all valuable aids," said Sands.

  • Offer and promote customer-friendly policies. "Emphasize your commitment to easy returns, price matching, flexible financing options, and so on," Sands recommended. "Give shoppers peace of mind."

Trend 4: Purpose-driven brands can gain an edge

Holiday shoppers are increasingly considering values and social impact when deciding where to spend their gift dollars. Many actively seek out brands that reflect their beliefs and lifestyles.

"Consumers today want their holiday purchases to align with their personal values," said Sands. "They‘re looking for brands that are authentic, inclusive, and making a positive difference."

Google and Ipsos found that:

  • 48% of U.S. holiday shoppers say they‘re more likely to buy from companies that support causes they care about.

  • 37% say a brand‘s sustainability practices impact their holiday purchase decisions.

  • 30% have stopped buying from a company because its values didn‘t match their own.

Purpose-driven holiday shopping data

Younger shoppers are especially values-driven. Per Google, over 60% of Gen Z consumers prefer to buy from brands they consider ethical and say they‘ll choose sustainable options whenever possible.

"Brands that demonstrate their purpose and values in genuine ways can build deeper connections with holiday shoppers," explained Sands.

Tips for marketers

To highlight your brand purpose and forge lasting customer bonds, Sands advises marketers to:

  • Define and articulate your brand values clearly. "Ensure your principles are well-understood internally and consistently communicated externally," said Sands.

  • Find authentic ways to live your purpose during the holidays. "Support relevant causes, introduce sustainable product lines, and find ways to give back," suggested Sands.

  • Engage communities that share your values. "Partner with relevant influencers, create inclusive content, and build relationships with aligned organizations," recommended Sands.

  • Back up your claims with real action and transparency. "Today‘s consumers are savvy and will see through purpose-washing," warned Sands. "Ensure your brand walks the talk."

Turning Holiday Trends into Marketing Wins

These four trends point to a significant evolution in holiday shopping behaviors and preferences. To succeed in this new landscape, marketers need to rethink their strategies and adapt quickly.

"It‘s all about being present and relevant at every touch point, with genuine value for consumers," said Sands. "Brands that do this effectively can turn holiday shoppers into loyal, year-round customers."

Use these insights and tips as a starting point to optimize your holiday marketing approach. But don‘t stop there – continue to test, learn, and iterate based on your own customer data and feedback.

"The holiday season is a key time to build connections and glean insights that can guide your marketing year-round," advised Sands. "Stay agile, keep a pulse on changing behaviors, and let the customer lead the way."