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Four ways the holidays remain unchanged by the digital retail revolution


By Jess Lloyd, Vice president, planning direction

December 19, 2017 | 5 min read

How different would our favorite holiday movies have been if they were produced in 2017?

Christmas dinner...a long time ago.

Christmas dinner...before the digital age.

Home Alone would’ve ended after Kevin’s parents tracked him down using the “Where’s my iPhone” app. (And, let’s be honest, in this post-Recession era, Peter McCallister couldn’t bankroll a Paris holiday for nine family members.) In A Christmas Story, Ralphie’s family would’ve rebounded from the neighbor’s canine antics by getting an antibiotic-free turkey delivered in two hours or less with Amazon Prime. And Miracle on 34th Street just wouldn’t have happened, as Doris Walker’s special events position would have been eliminated in favor of funding a test & learn immersive AR North Pole experience.

Though modern holiday shopping behaviors haven’t rewritten these classic holiday movies, they have changed the means by which shoppers fill their grocery baskets. At Target, you can buy an Xbox One and the Thanksgiving turkey. Shoppers can order Instacart grocery delivery while in their pajamas on their couch shopping Black Friday deals and binge-watching Stranger Things. And customers don’t need to touch a keyboard to buy more laundry detergent from Amazon.

Grocery shopping hasn’t been captive to traditional supermarkets for more than a half decade. More grocery sales are now generated by an array of non-supermarket retailers — from Walmart to CVS — than traditional grocers. And then Amazon blitzed the entire category this year.

Amazon goes where few traditional grocers could before — right into the heart of major cities. They don’t need a retail brick & mortar infrastructure to launch category shattering services. They’ve launched Amazon Fresh on the backs of a Prime membership network that reaches one out of every two US households. And they possess a real-time data mine that can power and scale pilot programs at whiplash-inspiring speeds.

Knowing how people shop today is evolving at a breakneck pace, we were curious to see how this impacts shopping habits and motivations during the crazy holiday season. Our recent customer survey unveiled surprising, and at times comforting, ways that this shopping season remains unchanged by technological innovation.

Ebenezer Scrooge may beg to differ, but the best thing about the holidays is still family. We see that this season remains deeply centered around family tradition, one of the last frontiers that, aside from Elf on the Shelf, is untouched by the retail revolution. Despite the discord surrounding our current political climate, very few people planned to avoid going home for the holidays. In fact, people of all ages are most looking forward to the holiday season because they want to spend time with their families.

Classic family recipes and the holidays go together like Ralphie’s brother and his mom’s mashed potatoes. The holidays spur hosts to do what they do best — assemble a cast of characters around a single table. More than half of hosts say they’ll stick to tried & true recipes that they’ve made before (less than a quarter plan to experiment with a new dish.) But this doesn’t mean the pressure is off. When you’re returning crowd-pleaser favorites to the dinner table, the bar is set high by experienced taste buds. So, for example, Uncle Johnny has to make Grandma Sue’s sweet potato pie recipe…for Grandma Sue and their extended family.

Clark Griswold is the spirit animal for holiday hosts everywhere. People who host during the holidays face exponentially increased responsibility, in part because they’re feeding 5 to 6 times as many people at one dinner. When we studied their shopping habits, we see this results in not just a bigger “To Do” list to manage, but also more shopping trips to physical store locations in any given week. Considering how many digital services exist today to alleviate shopping challenges, it’s interesting to see that more trips aren’t moved entirely online. We’re continuing to see that online shopping carts continue to supplement, rather than completely replace, the physical ones.

For some, navigating through the holiday season feels a lot like how the McCallisters sprint through airport security. Despite people today feeling stressed and time-strapped, this nostalgia-fueled holiday production doesn’t happen only one time a year. Hosts during the holidays quarterback as many as three or more gatherings every season. When you consider it takes people about a week to plan the big meal, mathematically speaking (marketing math, not the real stuff), this means that people are cycling through upwards of a month of stress and emotional pay-off every season.

So, what can we do? Where customers truly need help is ironing the creases out of the holiday shopping experience. Despite the ongoing revolution of one-size-fits-all-shopping solutions like Walmart, Target and Amazon, shoppers are still visiting several stores, several times a season. And though inspiration for winter wonderland tablescapes make for intriguing branded content, there are more compelling pain points that brands can help their customers tackle.


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