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Shoppers Waiting Longer and Longer to Purchase Holiday Gifts

Late shoppers are increasingly dominating the holiday season, making Black Friday less important — along with the rest of November.
IMAGE: Christmas
A woman walks past a Christmas bow in a shopping mall in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, on Nov. 22, 2014.EVA HAMBACH / AFP-Getty Images FILE

While it's fun and easy to talk about the effect of early Christmas shoppers in this buying season, you have to remember one thing: The late shoppers are starting to dominate.

Procrastinators are the fastest growing group of buyers. They've made Black Friday less important — along with the rest of November.

That means you can't obsess too much over these early data points. What happens now may not translate to what happens in the final days of December.

Chart: Trend toward last-minute holiday shopping

Just look to last year as an example. Black Friday sales dropped almost a full percentage point as a share of overall holiday spending. The week before Christmas, though, went up a lot — a full 2 percentage points. Last-minute shoppers represented 36 percent of the overall total. That means they are the largest group, and they're getting larger.

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The last week before Christmas saw a 12 percent increase in spending in stores, and a 27 percent increase in online spending.

The procrastinators spend more than the early birds. Last year, the late spenders averaged $1,362 per person, which was almost a full $100 more than the early birds, who spent only $1,269 each.

The data comes from Cardlytics — a credit card-linked marketing firm. Its partners include Bank of America and Lloyds Banking Group. The company has transaction data across 115 million domestic bank accounts, allowing them to deliver accurate information to retailers about customer behavior.

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As we wrote last year, this procrastinator group is valuable to advertisers because the holiday season is getting stretched longer from both sides. It starts earlier each year. A spokesperson from fashion site Polyvore, now owned by Yahoo, said searches for holiday gifts started around Sept. 8 this year.

And despite the earlier start date, there is more spending weighted toward the end of the shopping season. We see that in the overall data points: while Black Friday sales drop, total spending goes up. This dynamic stretching the Christmas retail season is changing how stores advertise to their potential customers.

"Retailers should run steady marketing campaigns starting before Thanksgiving and extending right up to Christmas," said Dani Cushion, CMO of Cardlytics. "A holiday marketing campaign that is too short leaves potential dollars on the table."

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She also pointed out some basic strategies that companies should remember for those procrastinators, things to make their lives easier: "Retailers should consider promoting shipping guarantees and simple gift guides to help last minute shoppers quickly and easily finish off their list."