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4 ways this holiday shopping season will be different

It's a mad dash to the holiday gifting finish line -- if you're still shopping, you might have to adjust your expectations.

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Last year's holiday shopping season was somewhat offbeat. Since the pandemic kept most shoppers indoors, online shopping surged. Plus, the idea of camping out all night with strangers to score the best Black Friday deals felt somewhat antiquated and risky. This year, as many of us continue easing into a new normal, the holiday shopping season still hasn't felt the same as before the pandemic years. And early data and trends show that this year's gift-buying tendencies are already quite different.

Here are four ways holiday shopping won't look like it did before.

1. The holiday shopping season started much earlier this year

"Christmas creep" refers to the trend of introducing holiday-themed items ahead of time in the fall. Though Thanksgiving and Black Friday might've marked the beginning of the holiday shopping season in previous decades, early holiday marketing about gifts has been spotted as early as September and October in recent years. 

Many shoppers have already started their holiday purchasing this year, with 33% reportedly starting their shopping at the beginning of November, according to a Gallup survey. And with early Black Friday deals becoming the new norm, many have started spending before the Thanksgiving break. 

2. Must-have gifts may be hard to find

Pandemic restrictions and an uptick in online shopping have contributed to a clog in the supply chain, making it difficult to get your hands on popular gifts like the elusive PS5 and Xbox Series X. In fact, out-of-stock messages have risen 172% since January 2020, according to a recent Adobe shopping forecast report. Since current manufacturing can't compete with the high demand, scoring one of these coveted gifts is bound to be difficult, and in some cases, costly.

Our advice? If you're feeling frustrated with the shopping competition -- and corresponding high price tags -- opt for gifts that won't go out of stock this season or turn to alternative gift ideas, like experiences or trips. 

And if you find yourself stumped, don't overlook gift cards. "A recent Bank of America survey found 53% of people are hoping to receive gift cards or cash this year," says Mary Hines-Droesch, head of consumer and small business products at Bank of America. "Gift givers often overlook these open-ended gifts as less than personal, but they can save loved ones from the potential hassles of returns or clutter. Avoid supply chain challenges and budget creep by making 2021 the year of the gift card."

3. Some are skipping holiday shopping altogether

Pandemic-related expenses, job losses and inflation have pushed holiday gift buying to the bottom of the priority list for some. While consumers making over $100,000 annually say they'll spend more than last year this holiday season, those making under $50,000 per year predict they'll spend 22% less than last year on gifts, outings and other holiday-related expenses, according to a November Deloitte holiday retail survey

In fact, 11.5% of consumers surveyed plan to skip holiday shopping altogether, a large jump from 2020 when only 4.9% of shoppers anticipated not buying during the holidays.

If gifts, parties and travel don't fit into your financial budget this year, opting out may make sense. With so many shoppers deciding to skip gift-giving this holiday season, you likely won't be alone.

4. Shoppers expect to spend more on gifts

It's not just high-demand items causing prices to increase this shopping season. Inflation and supply shortages are also factors. As of October 2021, 73% of shoppers who plan to make holiday purchases (specifically those making over $50,000 per year) expected to spend more (or significantly more) this shopping season than they did last year, according to Deloitte. 

You should be prepared to pay a little extra this holiday season -- and if your holiday plans were canceled last year, you might not mind spending a little extra to rekindle the holiday spirit.