When I think about the 2021 holiday season, two things come to mind: First, how has another year already gone by; and second, I better get shopping. Yes, I have been caught up in reading about supply chain issues, and I am not alone.

In fact, according to a recent survey done in partnership with CivicScience, 90% of U.S. consumers tell us they are aware of global supply chain issues, like factory closures, shipping delays and labor shortages, with half stating it will impact their holiday shopping, to some degree. Younger consumers (age 18 to 24) are more likely to be unaware of supply chain issues. Older consumers (age 55 and over) are very aware, but far less concerned about it than younger consumers. I fall somewhere in the middle since many of my concerns vary by category.

So how will this impact apparel and what can we expect from the category this holiday season?

Blending Early and Late: A seasonal factor will benefit apparel sales during the fourth quarter. We haven’t yet gone a full calendar year to replenish all our cold weather needs, after our 2020 clothing purchase hiatus. The mid-October retailer push excited a new breed of early shoppers to take advantage of early promotions, available inventory, better ship times, and, ultimately, less stress. This push will likely lead to a shopping lull after Black Friday, but inventory shortages for other categories could boost last minute in-store sales for apparel, if consumers are looking to fulfill gifts that may be sold out. In addition, there are still one-in-five consumers who will wait until December to start their holiday shopping, which opens an opportunity for the apparel industry to combat the post-Black Friday lull to help apparel exceed 2020, and even 2019, dollars.

Online Evolution: With 85% of holiday shoppers reporting that they plan to do part of their shopping online, this channel is constantly evolving. Between 30% to 35% of holiday dollars could be generated online, as retailers continue to invest in making the process seamless. An expansion of buying online and picking up in-store (BOPIS) and more free shipping options, like ship to store, are just some examples of buying options gaining more attention this year. The online platform will also be a place for trend discovery. After all, we saw how impactful social media was in the skinny-jeans shakeup and in the emergence of crossover leggings and nap dresses.   

In-Store’s Curb Appeal: While the online channel continues to advance, let’s not forget that the bulk of apparel sales still take place in physical stores. In fact, as consumers returned to stores this spring, in-store revenue share reached its highest level since the onset of the pandemic. However, labor shortages could plague this space, as nearly half of consumers stated they recently experienced poor in-store customer service. Of those who experienced poor service, close to half left the store without making a purchase — essentially leaving money on the table. New shop-in-shop partnerships like Ulta and Target, and Sephora at Kohl’s, are just some of the ways retailers are looking to draw consumers back into stores for a positive retailer experience.  

Comfort (and Joy): Today’s comfort dressing is a continuation of the lifestyle that the pandemic accelerated, and consumers are not turning back. Looser fitting denim, oversized shackets, and the return of tracksuits are just some of the items accentuating our desire for comfort that are expected to sell well this holiday season. The definition of “dressy” has evolved, especially as we ease back into in-person work and social gatherings. We’ll mix and match elements that look put together, while adapting functionality, fabrics, and fits for less structured wardrobe offerings.

Apparel maintains its ranking as the top category consumers plan to buy during the holiday season, according to the annual NPD U.S. Holiday Purchase Intentions Report. With so many options, ranging from various brands and styles, coupled with a much-needed update to our winter wardrobes, the apparel industry has a clear opportunity to shine this holiday.