Holiday Retail Report 2021
Since 2017, WSU’s Carson College of Business has surveyed consumers across the Pacific Northwest (PNW) to examine how behavior and attitudes shift around the holiday shopping season. This year, we continued to investigate how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting shopping behavior, exploring influences such as vaccine and mask mandates and ongoing supply chain issues.
As we look at the region’s holiday shoppers, it is clear PNW consumers feel more optimistic about the holidays this year despite this being the second holiday season in a pandemic. PNW residents appear to be encouraged by the return to some normalcy around the holidays and look forward to partaking in shopping and celebrations.
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 more broadly on retail, 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 compared to last year
- Complement existing research 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 how PNW shoppers perceive this year’s holiday shopping season, this survey was commissioned by WSU’s Carson College of Business and conducted by Edelman Data & Intelligence, a full-service consumer research firm. Fielded between September 22, 2021, and October 8, 2021, the online questionnaire surveyed 1,000 respondents in the PNW (Washington, Oregon, and Idaho) aged 18 and older, with an additional oversample of 750 respondents from metro areas Seattle, Portland, and Spokane/eastern Washington.
- KEY FINDING 1: The PNW is reclaiming the holidays: More people have a positive outlook this holiday season compared to last year.
- KEY FINDING 2: PNW shoppers are split over whether vaccine and COVID test requirements for in-store shopping are hindering or helping this holiday season.
- KEY FINDING 3: While PNW residents are shopping more this year, supply chain issues and shipping delays are also influencing their behavior.
- KEY FINDING 4: Not all COVID changes are bad: Small and local businesses remain top of mind for PNW shoppers this season.
Key Finding 1:
The PNW is reclaiming the holidays: More have a positive outlook this holiday season compared to last year.
This year, there is increased optimism about the holiday season. More PNW residents feel like celebrating and are planning to travel to see family and friends, despite some lingering concerns.
When asked how they felt about the upcoming holidays, 67% of PNW residents said they are excited to have a reason to celebrate, and only 39% said they do not feel like celebrating. Last year, over half of the respondents (52%) expressed feelings of anxiety, loneliness or overall unenthusiasm around the 2020 holidays.
Additionally, the pandemic is still pushing many residents to avoid travel. Just over half (51%) of respondents said they are avoiding all travel this holiday season to avoid potential exposure and spread of COVID-19 (down from 65% in 2020). Residents in Spokane/Coeur d’Alene (38%) and Seattle (41%) plan to travel to see friends more than those in Portland (29%).
Younger generations continue to show more enthusiasm around having a reason to celebrate and look forward to holiday shopping this year more than older generations. Last year, 74% of Gen Z respondents and 73% of millennials said they looked forward to having something to celebrate compared to 63% of Gen X and 53% of boomers. This year, numbers have increased across the board with 81% of Gen Z and 75% of millennials excited to celebrate compared to 68% of Gen X and 59% of boomers.
Key Finding 2:
PNW shoppers are split over whether vaccine and COVID test requirements for in-store shopping are hindering or helping this holiday season.
Compared to last year, more residents feel in-store shopping is perfectly safe right now, primarily because more people are becoming vaccinated. 65% of respondents said they feel safer now because of the increasing number of vaccinated people. In 2020, only 54% of shoppers said they felt safe in-store.
Social distancing remains a major factor in shoppers’ perception of safety across the region. 66% of respondents in Spokane/Coeur d’Alene and 77% in Seattle and Portland/Vancouver metro areas said they only feel safe shopping in-person as long as there aren’t many other shoppers, and people are social distancing.
Likewise, many shoppers still report feeling safer if people are wearing masks, although less so in eastern Washington and Idaho. 26% of shoppers in Seattle and 29% in Portland/Vancouver said they would feel comfortable shopping in person if people were not wearing masks, compared to 44% in Spokane/Coeur d’Alene. However, across the board, safety concerns associated with masks have dropped. Last year, 12% of Seattle shoppers, 17% of Portland shoppers, and 29% of Spokane/Coeur d’Alene shoppers said they would feel safe shopping in-store if people were not wearing masks.
While there is broad support for social distancing and mask mandates, support wanes when it comes to stricter policies, such as requiring vaccines or negative tests for employees/customers. 42% of respondents said they would not want to shop anywhere that required customers or employees to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. The story is different state by state—49% of Washington residents reported they would only be comfortable shopping in-store at places that require a proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for employees, compared to just 29% in Idaho and 47% in Oregon.
Key Finding 3:
While PNW residents are shopping more this year, supply chain issues and shipping delays are also influencing their behavior.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many shoppers were forced to adapt to online shopping. Now, we are seeing another shift in shopping behavior due to safety concerns, supply chain issues, labor shortages, and shipping delays.
While some will continue online shopping for the foreseeable future—finding it to be more convenient than in-store shopping—the current supply chain issues are pushing others to shop in-store. 61% of respondents said they are likely to shop in-store if stores are open, and 44% said in-store shopping is easier because of supply chain issues and shipping delays.
The ongoing labor shortage is also a concern for in-store shoppers—over half (53%) agree it makes it difficult for them to have a good experience, and about a third (31%) of respondents are waiting until stores can ramp their customer service level back up before they resume in-store shopping.
Despite these challenges, the majority, especially millennials, missed being able to shop in-store and love being able to do so again. 84% of millennials said they love being able to shop in-store again, followed by 76% of Gen Z, with Gen X and boomers right behind, at 75%.
Key Finding 4:
Not all COVID changes are bad: Small and local businesses remain top of mind for PNW shoppers this season.
A majority of PNW shoppers still feel it is important to purchase holiday gifts from small and local businesses alike.
There is also support for American and minority-owned businesses; however, it is not as strong as the support we see for small and local businesses (67% for small and 72% for local compared to 63% for American-based and 49% for and minority-owned).
When it comes to purchasing habits, PNW shoppers are keen to purchase from companies that help their local community (54%). Across the board, PNW shoppers are also eager to support businesses that use green, sustainable, or environmentally friendly materials in their stores. 69% of respondents in Seattle said that impacts their decision to buy, and we see similar sentiments in Portland/Vancouver (62%) and Spokane/Coeur d’Alene (60%).
While these are positive changes, sentiments around Black Friday are low and sustain the dip in enthusiasm we saw last year. The majority are “over” Black Friday, would rather do something else, and state that they can get those Black Friday deals anywhere, any time.