IBM: Baby-boomers to fuel online holiday spending growth

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
Dan Berthiaume profile picture

Global consumers are changing how they shop for the holidays as the pandemic continues. 

More than 60% of respondents plan to shop online for the holidays, according to “Home for the Holidays,” a new survey of more than 12,500 global consumers (including the U.S.) from the IBM Institute for Business Value. This is a huge year-over-year upswing, as e-commerce accounted for only 20% of holiday sales in 2019. 

Much of this growth is driven by baby boomers, who plan to buy online 116% more than they did in 2019. Meanwhile, 62% of consumers surveyed shopped in-store for the holidays in 2019, but only 28% plan to do so in 2020. (All metrics are for global shoppers.)

On average, global consumers are buying for 33% fewer people than they did in2019, and have slashed their holiday budgets by 25%. There are demographic exceptions, such as upper-income consumers in the U.S. who are only reducing their spending by 7%, and respondents across income brackets in Germany plan to spend just 12% less.

Respondents also show a willingness to spend more on things they can enjoy at home. While global consumers expect to spend 20% less on dining out and 11% less on local outings during the holiday season, they will spend more on toys and games (+9%), electronic goods (+13%), digital/streaming services (+39%), and furniture (+33%).

By the end of October, one of every three global respondents had already started their holiday shopping, with major online shopping promotions like Amazon Prime Day and Alibaba Singles Day helping drive early holiday purchases

Another emerging influencer on global holiday shopping habits is sustainability. When shopping for the holidays, 44% of respondents will be considering sustainability to a great extent as they choose brands. More than half (54%) of respondents say they are willing to change their holiday purchasing habits to help reduce environmental impact. This figure is even higher in the emerging markets (74% in India, 74% in Mexico, 66% in Brazil).
"The research shows more consumers have started their holiday shopping earlier than in prior years, and many plan to shop online instead of in-store given rising cases of COVID-19. While last year 60% of shopping was done in-store and almost 30% online, this year those numbers may be nearly reversed," said Jesus Mantas, senior managing partner, IBM Services.

IBM Institute for Business Value surveyed consumers in Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, Mexico, Spain, U.K., and U.S. in October 2020.