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Q&A: Smartphones & Bargain Hunting Among Trends for Holiday Shopping in 2011

UAlbany Assistant Professor of Marketing Suraj Commuri provides insight on retail trends

UAlbany School of Business Assistant Professor Suraj Commuri discusses the impact of smart phones on holiday shopping.

ALBANY, N.Y (November 28, 2011) -- Savvy consumers plugged into the latest bargain hunting technologies are more prepared for the 2011 holiday shopping season, according to UAlbany Assistant Professor of Marketing Suraj Commuri. As retailers across the U.S. unveil new sales and deals, Commuri provides insight on business expectations, household shopping decisions and online retail.

Q: How have new technologies and social media impacted family buying decisions?

A: This will be the first holiday shopping season when we will see a significant and widespread use of personal technologies and social media in shopping. Not only have smartphones found their way into more families, but the rapid rise of Android platform has resulted in the app culture spreading much more widely than in 2010.

The more tech-savvy families will be using shared shopping lists to optimize their bargain hunting. At the individual level, we will see a higher reliance on deal/discount hunting applications and websites. Consumers will also use location-aware applications to both announce as well as follow deals, making it difficult for retailers and marketers to hold consumer attention during the crucial hours of shopping.

I think we will also see families relying more on online shopping more than in the past. In addition, price comparison will be more aggressive than in the past, with consumers scanning barcodes to compare prices at other stores and online, particularly when it comes to items not at the top of their shopping lists.

Q: What are some of the ways in which retailers are adapting to meet the changes in shopping patterns?

A: To start with, retailers will announce their holiday shopping discounts/special earlier than in the past, so that they stand a chance to make it on to consumers' shopping lists and online searches. As a result, we will also see some really compelling discounts this year, much more so than in the last couple of years.

UAlbany faculty expert Suraj Commuri
UAlbany Assistant Professor Suraj Commuri

In addition, we can also expect to see more generous price guarantee and matching programs, even from retailers who have shied away from such aggressive competition in the past.

As consumers search and share information more actively, retailers will be prepared to admit that the only way to win this season will be by offering a really attractive discount. However, that also means that retailers will have to rely more on volumes to show respectable profits.

What is the general outlook for the holiday shopping season?

A: Given the economic strain that American consumers have been under for more than a year and the general pessimism which has occupied news over much of summer, consumers can be expected to change their shopping and gifting behaviors. It appears that, once again this year, we will see shrinkage in the circle within which gifts are given. However, that does not mean that consumers will be spending less. In fact, the shrinkage will most likely be because of a change of expectations among gift givers and recipients. In the end, we will see the same amount of money concentrated among fewer recipients.

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