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Washington State University
Carson College of Business Holiday Retail Study 2020

Holiday Retail Study 2020


Since 2017, the WSU Carson College of Business Holiday Retail Report has examined how consumer behavior and attitudes in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) are changing during the holiday shopping season. This year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we were pleased to find that while spirits may be dampened, holiday shopping is less about deals and events and more about connection and community support.

Objectives & Background

As WSU’s Carson College of Business continues to position itself as a leader on consumer insights for the holiday shopping season, and retail more broadly, this survey aims to:

Identify the factors that drive online and/or in-store shopping preferences

  • Assess the sentiments and behaviors around shopping on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday
  • Understand decision-making behavior while holiday shopping and explore how consumers plan to shop this holiday season, as well as how that compares to last year
  • Complement existing research done by Carson College of Business professors within the retail industry
  • Understand how shopping behaviors change over time
  • Understand the impact of COVID-19 on shopping behaviors and holiday sentiment


To learn more about the perceptions and intentions of PNW shoppers this holiday season, the Carson College of Business commissioned Edelman Data & Intelligence, to survey 1,000 respondents in the Pacific Northwest (Washington, Oregon, and Idaho) ages 15 and older, with an additional oversample of 750 respondents from metro areas of Seattle, Portland, and Spokane/Eastern Washington. This survey was fielded between October 8 – 21, 2020.

Key Finding 1:

Holiday spirits are largely dampened due to COVID-19, however, holiday shopping may be a source of much needed cheer.

When asked what word describes how people feel about the upcoming holidays, more than 57% expressed feelings of anxiety, loneliness or overall unenthusiasm. Additionally, more than half agree that after everything that has happened this year, they do not really feel like celebrating (52%) or aren’t looking forward to the holiday season as much this year because it won’t feel the same (54%).

This comes as no surprise as many people are not able to celebrate with their loved ones this year with 63% of respondents saying they will avoid travel entirely this holiday season.

One third (33%) of the PNW has experienced a decrease in household income due to COVID-19. Additionally, 32% of respondents are planning on spending less this holiday season (up from 26% in 2019).

Interestingly, 55% of respondents said if they were to receive another stimulus check from the government, they would use it to buy holiday gifts for their family and friends.

But this doesn’t mean the holidays are cancelled. More people are looking for a reason to celebrate (63%), and for many, shopping is a way to feel normal in a not-so-normal world (68%).

Key Finding 2:

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on shopping behaviors, but these changes are strengthening the PNW’s connection to local business and the community.

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on shopping behaviors. 91% of respondents report their shopping habits are different now from how they used to shop prior to the pandemic, and 50% share that they are shopping less than they were before COVID-19.

PNW residents report shopping online more than before with 58% saying they are shopping slightly or much more online – up 17% points from 41% last year. Yet, many expressed a sense of fatigue with online shopping with 3 in 4 wishing they could go back to how shopping was before the pandemic.

Amid the pandemic, in-store shopping still plays an important role in holiday shopping with 41% of respondents sharing they get their inspiration from walking around a store. However, 77% percent of respondents shared they only feel safe shopping in-person if the store is enforcing mask use.

The pandemic has shone a light on the need to shop local and support our communities. 7 in 10 (71%) say shopping in-person is worth it to help local businesses stay open during COVID-19. 81% of respondents shared that it’s hard for them to watch their favorite stores have to close.

Key Finding 3:

Enthusiasm for Black Friday is waning, especially as many are planning to start their shopping early to avoid crowds.

Holiday shopping is less likely to revolve around big shopping events this year, with declining interest in Black Friday and Thanksgiving Day shopping.

For many shoppers, their plans don’t include shopping in-store on Thanksgiving Day (83%) or Black Friday (77%), and over half (51%) of respondents shared they plan on starting their holiday shopping earlier to avoid crowds.

This year, when asked how they feel about Black Friday shopping, 65% of shoppers report being “over it” (+10pp from 2019). 80% of respondents also report wishing more stores would decide to stay closed on Thanksgiving.

Interest in Cyber Monday is also decreasing, with only 64% of respondents planning to shop that day (-10pp from 2019).

Key Finding 4:

Views on COVID-19 safety and in-store shopping vary by state and region

While Washington and Oregon residents are more hesitant to shop in-store and are also demanding higher standards for COVID-19 safety protocols, residents in Idaho are the least concerned about shopping during COVID-19 as it relates to safety procedures.

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of Washington residents say they like shopping online because they can avoid potential COVID-19 exposure. Meanwhile, 37% of Idaho respondents feel safe shopping in person even if people are not wearing masks, compared to only 18% in Washington and 22% in Oregon. Residents in the Spokane/Coeur d’Alene area are the least concerned about shopping in-store with 41% saying the store closures and regulations are not necessary to keep everyone safe.

Idaho residents are heavily focused on supporting their local businesses in this time of need with 8 in 10 (81%) Idaho respondents saying shopping in-person is worth it when it’s to help local businesses stay open during COVID-19 and 66% of Idaho residents are likely to shop in store for holiday gifts.

Residents in Washington (32%) and Oregon (35%) are more likely to purchase from companies that support people of color (POC) and/or social equality movements like Black Lives Matter. Additionally, 51% of Seattle Metro residents and 50% of Portland/Vancouver Metro residents indicated they are more likely to buy from a company that supports Black Lives Matter and/or other social equality movement. In Eastern Washington, 62% of respondents indicated they are more likely to buy from a company that doesn’t express any political affiliation.*

* Paragraph updated 11/24/20.