‘Tis the Season of Change: 10 Ways Holiday Shopping is Different in 2014

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As we've seen all year, online and mobile are on the rise, but this year we'll be on the lookout for season-specific changes, such as earlier shipping deadlines.

This post comes from Josie Rubio at partner site DealNews.

Shoppers, take note: Although there is one more day between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, it’s still considered a short holiday season, with five fewer days than in 2012. That means it’s time to start thinking about the holidays!

There are some significant differences between this holiday shopping season and last year’s. Here are some other things to keep in mind, whether you’re buying last-minute gifts online, filling up your gas tank to travel, or considering a holiday gift for the mail carrier.

1. More people will shop online than ever before

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that even more people are doing a bigger percentage of their holiday shopping online. The average shopper will do 44 percent of his or her total shopping online this year, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual Holiday Consumer Spending Survey. And while 51.5 percent of shoppers last year reported that they planned to shop online, 56 percent will do so this year, the most in the survey’s 13-year history.

In fact, in-store shopping has been steadily decreasing, from 38 billion visits in November and December in 2010 to 17 billion last year, though overall sales increased in the same time frame from $681 billion to $783 billion. This year, the NRF says shoppers are expected to spend more on gifts this year, on everyone from their families to their co-workers to their pets.

2. More mobile (wallet optional)

While one-third of tablet owners will make purchases from their devices, a record high of 19.1 percent of smartphone owners reported they would use their smartphones to make purchases this year.

Mobile phones have also become increasingly important to shoppers in stores, and it’s not just to document epic retail freakouts. According to the NRF data, 35.8 percent of smartphone shoppers use their phones to research products and prices, while a Google/Nielsen study found that 93 percent of those shoppers proceed to make a purchase, usually in a store.

In fact, one-third of respondents in a Google study said they would use their phones to find the information they need rather than asking a store employee. You’ll also see more phones at the cash registers, with 23.9 percent of shoppers using phones to redeem coupons, while 30 percent will use phones to pay for items with Apple Pay and Google Wallet.

3. Packages will arrive seven days a week

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night — nor the arrival of Sunday — will stay U.S. Postal Service couriers from the swift completion of their appointed holiday season rounds this year.

If you’re in one of the areas where the USPS delivers Amazon packages on Sundays, the sight of postal trucks might not seem so unusual. Amazon struck a deal in November 2013 with the USPS to deliver packages daily in New York and Los Angeles, expanding to more than 20 areas throughout 2014.

But in early November, the Postal Service announced it would deliver packages seven days a week, not just those from Amazon, in major cities and high-volume areas through Christmas Day. The holiday schedule is in response to an expected 12 percent growth in the volume of shipped packages, estimated to reach 450 million to 470 million this holiday season.

4. Earlier shipping deadlines (and hopefully fewer empty stockings)

Procrastinators, take note: About 79 percent of retailers will set deadlines for guaranteed Christmas delivery at least a week before the holiday, up from 74 percent in 2013, according to a Shop.org survey. Just 21 percent will allow online shoppers to purchase an item to be delivered in time for Christmas after Dec. 19, down from 26 percent last year.

While that means you’ll need to place your orders a bit earlier this year, the deadline shift by retailers in turn ensures that deliveries will make it to the destination in time for Christmas, so there won’t be empty spaces under the tree like last year. In 2013, UPS and FedEx were overwhelmed by last-minute holiday orders and bad weather, leaving thousands of shoppers without the gifts they’d ordered. (UPS is also hiring more seasonal employees this year to make sure the delays don’t happen again.)

If you do wait until the last minute, however, 1 in 5 companies surveyed by the NRF are planning to offer free or expedited shipping that will extend the shopping deadline until Dec. 23.

5. Earlier shipping, earlier shipping deals

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