Holiday gifts: 7 ways shopping will be different this year

Holiday gifts will be more heavily discounted, a result of an underwhelming Black Friday. More stores are also offering in-store pickup of holiday gifts this year, among other differences. 

Ina Fassbender/Reuters/File
People walk through a shopping mall in Essen, Germany last month. In-store pickup of more holiday gifts is one way the shopping season will be different this year.

Outside of Black Friday, the holiday season remains a busy shopping for both the consumer and retailers. And as is the case with all things, the changing times have affected how we will approach our holiday gift list this year. From higher shipping minimums to expanding price matching policies, here are seven ways that holiday shopping will be different in 2013.

Price Matching Gets Serious & Amazon Is the Target

On trend from last year, price matching is a serious business. And it has become an even more significant service in 2013. This year, a handful of brick-and-mortar stores will price match select online vendors, primarily Amazon. (In some cases, this is the only online retailer that they will match.) Target and Best Buy introduced the policy last Christmas, and then extended the policy to to match prices year-round. For 2013, both Toys "R" Us and Staples have joined the fray. Staples (which is apparently the second-largest e-commerce site in the world) will match Amazon in-store as well as over the phone for online orders. In most cases, you will need to bring up a current Amazon price on your phone and show it to a store employee to get a match. And even if a store doesn't have a policy in place with regard to Amazon, it doesn't hurt to ask!

The Shorter Shopping Season Will Lead to Panic Purchases

The shock of emerging from Thanksgiving and realizing it's suddenly December has already sent many shoppers into a holiday planning frenzy. And, as a result, there's a chance consumers may end up making unwise purchases. Believing that the holidays will be here "before you know it" might make some people feel uneasy waiting for prices to drop, and they might ignore the financially-responsible practice of shopping around in order to find the best deal.

An Underwhelming Black Friday for Retailers Will Yield Panic Sales

According to BusinessWeek and various other sources, more people shopped on Black Friday this year, but they actually bought less stuff. This is attributed to savvier shopping and people arriving at stores with very specific items in mind thereby avoiding "filler deals" that offer higher profits for merchants. As a result, BusinessWeek posits that retailers will react by offering more significant price cuts during December as a way to coax shoppers into buying more. These sales will be great for consumers, if they can avoid making any aforementioned unwise purchases and instead hone in on the truly great deals.

More Flash Sales

Short-lived flash sales and daily deals are growing trends in retail because they effectively leverage a shopper's fear of missing out on a great deal. These promotions, which make products available at a certain price for only a short period of time, can also be exciting for the "thrill-seeking" consumer. But these types of sales also offer shoppers very little time to properly consider the deal at hand. Since the shorter holiday season will already lower consumer defenses, and retailers are looking for any way to encourage sales, we anticipate a big push for flash sales this month.

More Stores Will Offer In-Store Pickup

An alternative to offering same-day and discounted expedited delivery, retailers are catering to last-minute shoppers with in-store pickup. Stores with both an e-commerce and brick-and-mortar presence will meet the demands of customers who like shopping online but hate paying for shipping, or don't have time for an item to be delivered. Both Target and GAP have rolled out such programs this year, two major additions to the growing list of retailers that offer such services.

Amazon's Higher Free Shipping Minimum

For many people, Amazon's $25 free shipping threshold made the retailer a prime holiday shopping destination. As of last month though, the retailer has upped its minimum purchase requirement to $35. The extra $10 might not seem significant, but when you consider some of the smaller impulse purchases that holiday shoppers make — cheap DVDs, toys, or stocking stuffers — that gap becomes more noteworthy. Whether the extra green will become a roadblock to using Amazon as a source for Christmas gifts, or whether it just makes shoppers buy even more to reach the free shipping minimum, remains to be seen.

More People Will Buy Gifts with Their Phone

It should come as no surprise that mobile shopping grows more popular with every passing year, but 2013 alone has seen some big leaps. According to Branding Brand, Black Friday sales on smartphone-optimized websites increased by 187% over 2012. And we expect this trend to continue into December, since many people find it easier to gift shop as ideas come to them, rather than all at once. For example, if you're walking down the street and see a poster for a TV series that your brother loves, you might be inspired to buy the box set; with your phone by your side, you can have it purchased and on its way to your house in a matter of minutes. Retailers will promote this type of behavior, especially as a means to combating the time crunch of the shorter season.

Readers, what do you think? Are these holiday shopping trends for the better or worse? Have you noticed new ways to shop for the holidays this year? Let us know in the comments below!

Lindsay Sakraida is the features director for, where this article first appeared:

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