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Five Things I Expect For The 2016 Holiday Season

The 2016 holiday season is upon us. Here are five things to expect:

1. Expect a later start to the traditional holiday season. Two years ago, retailers attempted to pull the holiday season into September and October but these efforts weren’t well received by consumers. Last year, the bulk of holiday advertising started on Nov. 1, which I believe will mark the beginning of the holiday shopping season from now on. However, this year will be a little different. Elections, especially presidential ones, tend to crowd out other advertising by bidding up the cost of advertising spots. I expect the same to happen this year. With Election Day on November 8, I expect holiday promotions to be delayed until Wed., Nov. 9, and will start with an instant crescendo.  

2. Black Friday will be more pronounced than before. But Black Friday will be less meaningful than in the past. It now runs a week long and it defines if the holiday season is good or bad. Expect it to be a very strong focus in 2016, given the later start to the holiday season. Black Friday week was historically several distinct periods that have morphed into one long episode. The pre-Black Friday period will see heavy promotions. Physical stores that have experimented with early opening on Thanksgiving evening, and even 24-hour sales events will cut back to more traditional Friday morning openings. Filling their place will be focused online promotions that will ramp up Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving, and throughout Thanksgiving Day and into Friday as physical stores open. 

3.”Manufactured  holidays” will help define the holiday season. Last year, many retailers released their holiday advertisements two weeks in advance of Black Friday. However, in 2015 they also offered Black Friday pricing on some of the items in their circulars. I expect the same to happen again this year. These promotions will come right after the election. I call these sales events “manufactured holidays.” They are not traditional holidays but consumers anxiously anticipate these sales events, even when they might not initially expect to shop these sales. Amazon, with Prime Day, has shown the effectiveness of these manufactured holidays. I expect others to look for similar promotional opportunities. Flash sales and other manufactured sales periods will help keep up momentum and consumer attention on periods outside of Black Friday. 

4.Online shopping will denominate this year’s holiday season for retailers. Thanksgiving has become one of the most important online sales days of the year and Black Friday has become a hugely important online week. Promotions, from free shopping to same-day delivery, will be a key purchase motivation for consumers. Retailers will also promote in-store pick-up. Online sales growth will far surpass all other channels. I expect in-store sales growth will be slightly negative.

5.Connected devices will be a key holiday theme this year. Manufacturers are producing, retailers will promote, and consumers will be buying tech that connects devices and other objects (i.e., consumer IoT).  We also will see “expanding ecosystems” with 4K Ultra HD and virtual reality being popular for the holidays.

Shawn DuBravac is chief economist for the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). (Reposted with permission from CTA/i3.)