Just because retailers began advertising and decorating stores for the holidays well before Halloween doesn't mean consumers are shopping earlier. Yes, some have been, having learned tighter inventory controls increased chances that if they wait too long, products might not be there. But that's only 24% of shoppers. For the rest, 40% indicated that they'd begin shopping this month, with a third of consumers waiting for the traditional Thanksgiving Black Friday, and Cyber Monday sales. Thirty-six percent (36%) of shoppers are waiting till December, with 9% indicating they'll actually wait until the last 2 weeks of December. So much for all that early-earlier-earliest holiday advertising!

Interviews with 16,200 consumers last month about holiday spending revealed a 6% increase over last year. That's double last year, or an $870 average holiday spend. But higher spend comes wrapped with higher consumer expectations. The retail equation moved from 'price-value' to 'value-for-dollar' a while ago, but the retail brand (and what it stands for) still remains a surrogate for added value, and if managed and marketed properly by retailers will result in a larger piece of the holiday pie for them.

As every sentient being on the planet is already aware, retailers have been offering holiday sales and discounts for more than 2 months now. But as many "sales" as there are and as often as they're advertised, those are the price-of-entry year-round now. Which is why you now see them year-round. Shoppers' lists read "remember brand + deal, whenever," with 60% telling us they'll rely on price comparison apps. Fifty-six percent (56%) indicated they'd rely on traditional and electronic coupons, too. Nearly everyone (92%) believes retailers will always find a better deal to offer shoppers. So they're waiting to buy.

Consumers indicated that they'd use the full range of retail channels, with online (again) leading the way:

Discount Dept. Stores 90%
Traditional Dept. Stores 70%
Online 97%
Specialty & Clothing Stores 40%
Catalogue 68%

And here's what they're going to buy:

Gift Cards 93%
Clothing & Accessories 75%
Electronics/Computers/Phones 60%
CDs/DVDs/Video Games 30%
Jewelry 18%
Personal Care Products/Services 30%
Food & Wine 20%
Books 5%
Home Décor 10%

Consumer expectations are up – regarding value-for-dollar, shopping experience, and anticipated mobile outreach. And some retailers are finding themselves paraphrasing Mr. Beckett in their feeling, "It's the holiday season. There's no cure for that." Bur the real cure is retailers who can factor what consumers truly desired – beyond deals – into their branding and marketing will find a cure of their own: loyal and engaged customers contributing to their holiday bottom lines.

And these days, that's a cause for celebration for any retailer.