Study: Consumer Shopping, Travel Trends for 2021 Holidays

While the COVID-19 pandemic defined consumer behaviors in 2020, travel and a rapid increase in online shopping, the impact still lingers in 2021.
shopper trends

According to the latest consumer and retail study from Escalent, a human behavior and analytics advisory firm, nearly half of consumers plan to shop in brick-and-mortar retail stores this holiday season and just over half will opt for online and curbside pickup options.

The study, dubbed “Sink or Soar During the 2021 Holidays: Redefine Your Brand and Gain Market Share,” shows a generational gap related to travel among participants, as younger consumers plan to travel for the holidays while older consumers are more hesitant to travel or host large gatherings.

“As pandemic restrictions continue to evolve and concern over new variants fluctuates, consumer habits are shifting rapidly in response,” said Greg Mishkin, vice president of Escalent’s Consumer & Retail and Telecom divisions, in a recent media release. “A customized, omnichannel strategy will be all the more important to win over customers this year, as divisions remain over which shopping channel they prefer.”

The pandemic’s impact on consumer behavior has not gone unnoticed by the consumer either, according to the study, with 44% of respondents saying COVID-19 has changed how they prefer to shop. However, similar to early pandemic shopping behaviors, consumers on average plan to do 48% of their holiday shopping this winter in brick-and-mortar stores, 41% plan to shop online and 12% plan to use curbside pickup services.

Regarding travel and holiday gatherings, expectations vary widely among generations, such as:

  • Gen X and Millennials are the most eager generations to travel, with more than 38% of each group planning to hold large gatherings and more than 45% planning holiday celebrations with local attendees.
  • Fewer than one-third of Boomers anticipate large gatherings (24%), holiday celebrations with local attendees (28%) or holiday celebrations with out-of-town attendees (23%).
  • Among all respondents, small gatherings remain the most popular option for holiday celebrations, from 51% of Boomers to 64% of Millennials.

“The pandemic has made each holiday season decision—from shopping to travel and gathering traditions—a deeply personal one for each consumer,” added Mishkin. “Brands must act now to evaluate and cater to a diverse group of preferences to avoid being caught unprepared as we emerge from the pandemic.”

For the study, Escalent interviewed 1,001 online, U.S. respondents between April 28 and May 2. It consisted of a general population audience of men and women ages 18 and older, with balanced representation across regions. To qualify, respondents had to be at least a partial decision-maker in winter holiday shopping and travel. The full study is available at