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A Behavioral Science Perspective on Holiday Shopping

The holiday season is an exciting time for many, but for retailers, it can be a bit of a rollercoaster ride. 

The holiday season of 2023 is shaping up to be no exception, as headwinds and tailwinds continue to shape the industry and consumer behavior. Overall, despite inflation and the resumption of student loan repayments, high consumer confidence has kept the holiday season relatively resilient. Recent studies show that shoppers are still looking to save money, but are also willing to indulge in small splurges during the holidays. Still, FMI’s recent Food Retailing Industry Speaks publication reports that 75% of retailers surveyed believe that inflation will negatively impact consumer shopping behavior.

As the industry relies on factual shopper insights to produce an accurate measure of buying behavior, only time will tell how consumers will show up and talk with their wallets this season. In the meantime, retailers and brands should focus on maximizing every touch point to ensure success.

Here are a few thoughts top of mind in our Behavior Labs as we enter the holiday season.

Holiday Entertaining is Back and Bigger Than Ever.

According to 8451, 93% of shoppers are planning to attend festive gatherings of the same size or larger than they did in 2022. With the increase in social gatherings, there will be a higher demand for hosting and occasion-based items. This may include wine and spirits to toast to the special moments, specialty and seasonal food items to indulge in, decadent treats to satisfy the sweet tooth, and hosting gifts to thank the host for their hospitality. As people gear up to celebrate the holidays, retailers and brands have the opportunity to reflect on the role of brick-and-mortar retail in the holiday experience, carving out an experience that is memorable and valuable to customers.

Visual Storytelling Plays Essential Role in Motivating Behavior.

To captivate shoppers, brands can use striking visuals of family and friends gathering together. By allowing shoppers to envision themselves in these images, they are more likely to make a purchase. Additionally, visually stunning pictures of meals made with seasonal recipes can help entice customers to add the ingredients to their carts and prepare the dishes at home.

Visual storytelling is most successful when it is consistently presented throughout the entire omni-channel experience, which means brands must carefully orchestrate continuity in messaging across social media, personalized marketing, retail media, and, of course, the in-store experience.

The power of visual storytelling lies in its ability to evoke emotions and connect with the audience on a deeper level. It allows brands to communicate their message in a way that is both entertaining and informative. As technology continues to advance, the possibilities for visual storytelling are endless. From virtual reality experiences to interactive in-store displays, brands have more opportunities than ever to engage with their audience through creative and compelling visuals.

Bring on the Enchanting Experiences.

Shoppers have more options than ever before when it comes to buying fast moving consumer goods and food items. Brick-and-mortar retailers can differentiate and inspire purchasing behavior by provide an enchanting in-store experience that simply can’t be obtained from the comfort of one’s home.

During peak holiday season, when shoppers are shopping for parties and other festivities, the experiential element cannot be overlooked. From product samplings to live cooking demonstrations to wine tastings and gift wrapping services, brick-and-mortar retail can create magical experiences that delight and drive loyalty, while also inspiring buying behavior. Behavioral scientists have found that people are more open to trying new things at certain times. The holiday season represents one such time, where shoppers are less on auto-pilot, and more likely to stop, consider, and try new things. Meet this desire for novelty by delivering with an in-store experience that is engaging, exciting, and convenient. The holiday season is the perfect opportunity for brick-and-mortar stores to really solidify and strengthen their brand loyalty with customers.

Novelty Wins

Behavioral scientists have found that novelty has a profound impact on human experience, and that “novelty contributes to interest, surprise, attraction, and can even contribute to decision to purchase (Pradeep, 2010). Essentially the brain is hardwired to ignore the old and focus on the new. Novelty is a powerful cue that determines what we pay attention to out in the world. Harness this through seasonal LTOs and holiday displays that trigger the brain to consider a purchase occasion and inspire behavior towards action.

Don’t Blend In.

Easier said than done, right? But in the sea of red packaging and candy cane ribbons, look closely at how your visuals will, or won’t, stand out in that crowded room. Good marketing, above all else, breaks through the clutter. Doing so triggers the Von Restorff Effect, which is the human brain’s tendency to notice things that stand out. We spend much of our life on autopilot, and grocery shopping is no exception. The context, or the total environment, that your message exists in will impact how the stimulus is received, if, of course, it is even visually recognized and processed. VideoMining’s Behavior Labs routinely zoom out to give a panoramic view of the full shopping experience, offering insights that you would miss if you focus solely on your brand, or aisle, or focus group results. The beauty of human behavior is that it hugely influenced by the totality of the environment, and every small piece of stimuli along the way plays a role in shaping the sum. The challenge, for marketers, is to see through those blind spots and build campaigns that fully take into account the entire shopper experience. And, of course, to create visual works of art that remain on-brand and trigger that powerful stopping effect.


At VideoMining, we leverage powerful AI technology to decode shopper behavior science into actionable insights that move your business forward. From A/B testing to visual merchandising design diagnostics, we’re here to support your creative efforts with empirical data captured from real shoppers on real trips.  Click here to get in touch.