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Q&A: 2019 Holiday Shopping Season With Melissa Akaka

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Jon Stone

Media Relations Manager

Jon Stone

Analysis  •
Holiday Shopping

Today is Cyber Monday, a marketing term for the Monday after Thanksgiving created by retailers to encourage people to shop online. Many of these very same retailers spent the past several days targeting consumers during the Black Friday weekend.

Melissa Akaka is an associate professor in the Daniels College of Business and co-director of the Consumer Insights and Business Innovation Center. Her research focuses on the creation of value in consumer cultures and consumption experiences. Akaka took a moment to share her insight on how shopping behaviors around the holidays have changed and discuss a new trend that’s replacing presents.

Over the past two years we have seen a dramatic decline in sales over the Black Friday weekend. What’s the primary reason for this recent trend?

Melissa Akaka

Sales have been declining because retailers have been extending the timeframe for their Black Friday sales beyond one weekend. To compete, some retailers have taken a "Black November" approach, and others have increased their promotions of Cyber Monday sales.

How much has this shift in shopping behaviors been impacting companies and how they target consumers?

It's difficult to pinpoint the trigger for these retail changes — are the changes driven by consumers or companies? It's a chicken and egg situation. As consumers have increased their online shopping, companies have had to develop new ways to maintain their sales goals for the biggest shopping season of the year. In some ways companies have followed consumers, and in other ways retailers have developed new promotional opportunities, such as Cyber Monday, to increase spending during this critical time.

A growing trend is people buying experience gifts rather than physical presents. What’s the reason for this shift?

Millennials have demonstrated their desire for experiences over material things in lots of ways — think Marie Kondo and how things spark joy, as well as the tiny house and minimalism movements. The parents of this generation are making choices about what to put under the tree that align with their consumer ideals. Gifting experiences (e.g., concerts, movies, vacations) instead of things is one of the outcomes of this trend. 

For companies looking to capitalize on this new shift in gifts, what can they do to leverage the trend?

Companies need to think beyond the products and services they sell and extended experiences that consumers can have with brands. Peloton is great example of this — they are selling more than exercise equipment; they are engaging with consumers along their journeys to being fit, healthy and/or embracing a particular lifestyle. They have created a consumer-based community to support a variety of journeys that are tied to the products and services they sell.