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Peak Season Report 2023: Building a risk-resistant ecommerce strategy


 10 minute read



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What can you learn from this report?

Retail Economics and Metapack asked over 8,000 consumers (in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy and Spain) about how they shop. We discovered a treasure trove of insights to help you with strategy. Insights like:

  • 57% of shoppers plan to do most of their shopping online.
  • One out of two shoppers expect orders to arrive in under 2 days.
  • Flexible returns & visibility and tracking are gaining more importance.



Download the full report to learn about:

  • Spending intentions and behaviours 

  • Channel and delivery trends

  • Delivery priorities

  • Strategies for success at peak


This report is divided into five main sections:


Section 1: Global retail and consumer landscape

Section 2: Peak delivery trends and shopping behaviours

Section 3: Strategies for success at Peak





The holiday season is more than just a time of gift-giving – it’s an ‘annual pilgrimage’ for many shoppers. It’s a time when consumers discover new products, wallets loosen, and purchases hope to deliver seasonal joy on the ‘big day’. For retailers, it’s the apex of the year, the golden quarter. Shoppers are primed and brands are presented with the opportunity to outperform, and in doing so, delight customers and generate much needed sales.


Optimism that 2023 would bring relief to retailers after a turbulent 2022 needs to be tempered and contextualised. While the spectre of pandemicrelated disruptions and high inflation has largely stabilised for many markets, new challenges have arisen.

The global retail landscape continues to be dominated by cost-of-living concerns, as consumers feel the attritional effects of two years of squeezed disposable incomes. Inflationary effects continue 
to smoulder and the rise in interest rates has resulted in cautious behaviour. Consumers’ intention to cut back on non-essential spending remains high as shoppers continue to favour businesses and channels that offer value-for-money.

However, technological strides, digital transformation, and lessons from the past three years have readied many businesses for a successful holiday season in 2023. Here, brands can provide value-driven solutions and exceptional shopping experiences across the entire customer journey, from the discovery of products to delivery and returns.

Loyalty is increasingly becoming more fragile, and shopper expectations soar during the Peak Season. In this context, the need for delivery speed, flexibility, and reliability in the parcel journey has never been more critical. It transcends merely free shipping; it entails delivering a high-calibre, all-encompassing, and dependable service.


The research explores three key themes:

1. Global retail and consumer landscape - An overview of the macro economic forces and cost of living pressures facing consumers and how this impacts demand expectations for Peak,

2. Key industry themes for Peak trading 2023: Explores shifting shopper behaviours and three key trends that will shape over the performance of retail markets during Peak Season.

3. Strategies for success at Peak: Key strategies for retailers to navigate ongoing economic pressures over Peak Season and beyond.


Insights within this report are crucial for online businesses of all sizes
to better understand and navigate the consumer crunch as it unfolds.



Key stats

Marketplace spending in peak


Countires tinmelines





Section 1: Global retail and consumer landscape

Peak season report 2023

This section focuses on the outlook for consumers and retail over the 2023 holiday season, the current economic challenges, and the regional differences  and sales expectations. 


Peak Uncertainty

As 2024 nears, advanced economies once again face heightened uncertainty. The global economic backdrop is mixed. For many consumers, the dual impact of sharp interest rate rises and prolonged cost-of-living pressures has dampened prospects for a continued post-Covid rebound.

To some extent, economic conditions have improved since last year’s Peak Season: inflation has receded from decade-high Peaks, Europe’s energy crisis has subsided, labour markets are resilient, earnings growth is accelerating, and consumer confidence has picked up from record lows.

On the other hand, to curb inflation, central banks worldwide have undertaken significant interest rate hikes, propelling borrowing costs to levels not seen since the 2000s. Simultaneously, pent-up pandemic savings that sustained household spending over recent years are in decline, exposing consumers to the cumulative toll of nearly two years of disposable income erosion.

UK consumers have experienced the highest levels of inflation across the countries covered in the research and continue to show intentions to either cut back, trade down or fiercely manage budgets. However, in some markets such as the US, rates  of inflation have been shallower, and spending power has already returned to positive territory.  As such, this makes peak trading performances highly uncertain.



Economic Worries Persist

As interest rates rise and cost of living pressures continue to pinch personal finances, Peak Season 2023 will once again be defined by a cautious consumer backdrop. 

Across all major markets included in the research, nine in ten (91%) consumers are concerned about economic prospects and their personal finances heading into the Peak Season (Fig 1),  up from 87% last year.

Although global inflation is cooling, it remains  the single biggest factor affecting households,  as price pressures take time to return to palatable levels, particularly in the UK and EU which experienced steeper double-digit Peaks.

Lack of savings is also becoming a growing concern for consumers as the pandemic ‘war chest’, built up from fewer holidays and less commuting during lockdowns, starts to deplete.


Fig 1: Consumers’ worries heading into the 2023 Peak Season

Q: Thinking about the economy and your personal finances, what are you most concerned about heading into the Peak Season?

Peak Season Report 2023

Source: Retail Economics, Auctane



Peak Cut Back Intentions

Consumers’ cutback intentions remain elevated. Three in four consumers plan to cut back over the Peak Season, up from 58% in our 2022 Peak survey. Only one in four (26%) intend to spend  as normal over retail’s golden quarter.


Fig 2: Consumers cut back intentions at Peak, by country

Q: Thinking about your non-food spending over Black Friday  and Christmas, do you expect to cut back (i.e. spend less,  delay purchases) this year compared to last year?

Peak season report

Source: Retail Economics, Auctane

The increase on the last Peak is being driven  by a step change in the proportion of middle and higher income households planning to cut back (Fig 3). Cost of living concerns are extending beyond the least affluent, as higher interest rates increase pressure on the middle classes, including those with mortgages and student debts.


Download the full report by filling out the form at the top of this page for the rest of this section including:

  • Regional Variations

  • Merchant Sales Expectations



Section 2: Peak delivery trends and shopping behaviours

Peak season report 2023

This section focuses on the outlook for consumers and retail over the 2023 holiday season, the current economic challenges, and the regional differences  and sales expectations. 


Theme 1:

Peak Trading: Spending Intentions and Behaviours

This section explores consumer behaviours during Peak trading in the context  of spending intentions, shopping strategies and timings, and regional differences amongst other factors.


Region: Strongest Spending Prospect in the US

Reflecting ongoing cost-of-living concerns  and cut back intentions (covered in section one), all international markets show an overall negative net spending intention over the holiday season.

Shoppers in the US are most likely to ‘keep calm and carry on’, with almost two thirds  (63%) planning to either spend the same, or more (24%), than last year. Whereas the UK, with the highest rates of inflation among developed markets, shows the weakest spending intentions. Here, almost half (47%)  of consumers plan to spend less than last year.


Fig 6:  Consumer spending intentions by region

Q: Thinking about your shopping in the final three months of the year (e.g. Black Friday  and Christmas), what are your spending intentions?

Peak season report 2023

Source: Retail Economics, Auctane


Sector: Apparel and Beauty Preferred over Big-Ticket Home Purchases

While all categories show negative spending intentions over Peak Season, some will prove more resilient than others as consumers adopt recessionary behaviours.

DIY and Electricals are most at risk of consumer cutbacks. Our research shows 48% of consumers plan to spend less on DIY and gardening items this holiday season, followed closely by electricals (44%).

This reflects subdued demand for big-ticket items and home improvement as borrowing costs rise.

Electricals’ sector also faces cyclical challenges as the latest generation of games consoles provides less support with tougher annual comparisons.  Last year, the men’s FIFA World Cup helped boost sales of electrical products over the Black Friday period, particularly in Europe, additionally presenting tougher annual comparisons.

There also continues to be ‘hangover effects’  from Covid-19, as consumers continue to prioritise leisure and social occasions, boosting categories such as Apparel and Beauty which show the strongest spending intention over the Peak Season. In contrast, there is less demand for Home & Electrical items as demand was brought forward during lockdowns.


Fig 7: Consumer spending intentions by sector

peak season report

Source: Retail Economics, Auctane


Download the full report by filling out the form at the top of this page for the rest of Theme 1 including:

  • Consumer holiday shopping strategies

  • Consumers using the 'early bird approach'

  • Shopping behaviours by generation


Theme 2:

Peak Channel Trends: Online to Fare Better

Ecommerce performances have significantly fluctuated in recent years. Many businesses experienced unprecedented highs during the pandemic, followed by lows as stores reopened and spending reverted to physical channels  quicker than expected.

The 2022 holiday season saw a strong resurgence in physical store sales as shoppers gravitated to  in-person experiences in what was the first ‘normal’ Christmas since Covid. There were also many bargains to be had in-store as retailers turned to discounting to clear inventory backlogs as supply issues eased and consumer demand softened.

While the consumer backdrop remains tough, our research indicates better online prospects this year. 57% of consumers globally plan to do most, if not all, of their holiday shopping online, up from 49% last year (Fig. 12).

Merchants are in agreement, with 41% expecting customers to shop more online compared to last year, versus less than 10% expecting to shop more in-store – with the caveat that most retailers surveyed are online sellers.

For many brands, the distinction between online and in-store is now less relevant. Consumers are adopting omnichannel behaviours, transitioning between digital and physical channels on the path of least resistance towards purchase. They want the ability to shop effortlessly across all channels reaping maximum benefit, including browsing online, ordering via apps, and collecting in-person, with marketplaces playing an increasingly pivotal role in facilitating demand for seamless and convenient shopping experiences.


Fig 12: Consumers’ channel preferences for Peak 2023

Q: Where do you plan to do most of your Peak Season shopping this year?

Peak season report 2023

Source: Retail Economics, Auctane


Marketplaces to Outperform

Online marketplaces (e.g. eBay, Amazon) are  set to be the most popular online channel for consumers during the holiday season.


Nine in ten (88%) shoppers plan to shop on online marketplaces for their holiday shopping this year.


Around one in every two online orders over the holiday season will be made via a marketplace, including general marketplace giants such as Amazon and eBay, and more specialty marketplaces such as Etsy and Depop. 


Fig 13: Shoppers’ most popular online channels over Peak Season

Q: Which of the following online channels do  you expect to use for your holiday shopping  (e.g. Black Friday and Christmas) this year?

Peak season report 2023

Source: Retail Economics, Auctane


Across our eight markets, online marketplaces will account for ₤202 billion worth of sales over the Peak Season, with growth outpacing the wider e-commerce market, according to Retail Economics.

North America accounts for the vast majority of this (£142 billion/$178 billion), with US-based retailers such as Amazon, Walmart and eBay among the largest marketplaces worldwide.


What is Driving the Growth of Marketplaces?

Online marketplaces are becoming increasingly relevant with more retailers recognising the value of forming partnerships and offering consumers a wider range of choice, hosted by brands they know and trust. They represent an attractive alternative to traditional first-party online channels, with 68% of shoppers globally indicating marketplaces as their preferred method to shop online.

In a competitive retail environment with high customer expectations and fragile loyalty, marketplaces deliver the convenience (shipping times, wider assortment, and product availability) and compelling value that consumers demand; so much so, that almost half of online product searches now start on marketplace platforms  in key markets such as the US and UK.

Leading retailers from across North America and Europe (including Macy’s, H&M, Decathlon, and B&Q) have recently launched marketplace propositions, opening up their online storefronts  to third parties to attract shoppers and drive loyalty.

For sellers and smaller brands, marketplaces offer access to a larger customer base and economies  of scale, considerably reducing investment costs  in fulfilment and developing their own online presence.

Notably, there is more headroom for further growth and expansion of marketplaces - over half (57%) of shoppers wish their favourite brands/ products were more widely available on online marketplaces.


Older shoppers value low prices and comparison shopping, while time-poor younger shoppers and choice offered by marketplaces


Download the full report for all insights from Theme 2...



Theme 3:

Peak Delivery Priorities: Beyond Free Shipping


Download the full report to view Theme 3...


Peak season report 2023


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Section 3: Strategies for success at Peak

Peak season report 2023

The retail industry has faced unprecedented challenges in recent years. Now, Peak 2023 will test its resilience once more. We explore the key themes that can help retail brands improve operations during Peak trading. 


Optimising Holiday Promotion Strategies

As the holiday season approaches, retailers face a delicate balancing act between driving sales and maintaining profitability. Shoppers are embarking on their holiday buying journeys earlier than ever, seeking value for money and aiming to capitalise on promotional events such as Black Friday. The allure of mega-sale events like Black Friday can tempt businesses into deep discounting and prioritising free delivery, potentially eroding profit margins amidst rising costs.

While such strategies can boost short-term revenue, they should be approached with caution. Considering various commercial factors like balance sheet strength, pricing power, market share dynamics, and regional competition, many retailers will need to explore ways to maximise operational efficiencies and profitability - instead of relying solely on heavy discounting for longterm success.

Sophisticated use of analytics and forecasting tools can help retailers with targeted promotions, sophisticated customer segmentation, optimising inventory management, reducing overstocking,  and minimising the need for steep markdowns. Given the soft consumer backdrop in many markets, there will be pressure on retailers to focus on value to entice a wider range of customers and to remain relevant. Using data to create sophisticated customer segmentations (e.g.  based on the most profitable customers) can provide a much higher return on investment. Retailers can transform  their data into competitive advantages, helping to personalise promotional messaging and shift away from generalised marketing.

By focusing on operational efficiency and adopting intelligent promotion strategies, retailers ensure that peak season sales contribute to long-term profitability rather than being a short-term spike.


Offering a Range of Delivery Options for Peak Season Success

During the bustling holiday season, consumers demand a greater choice of delivery options,  and many are willing to pay for premium services to match their heightened needs and expectations. Retailers must, therefore, ensure they offer a comprehensive suite of delivery choices, catering to the diverse needs of customers.

This includes economical shipping solutions  to expedited delivery services and convenient  out-of-home locations, providing a valuable middle ground that effectively balances cost considerations and delivery speed.

By adopting this approach, retailers not only safeguard their bottom line but also meet the heightened expectations of customers during  the peak season, preventing potential profit erosion and contributing to a smoother and  more satisfying shopping experience.


Download the full report to view the rest of the strategies...



In the dynamic world of retail, the approaching Peak Season presents a golden opportunity  for retail brands to excel, having learnt valuable lessons over the past three years. However, amidst the backdrop of a post-pandemic recovery, deeply understanding consumer behaviour, spending intentions, and ongoing economic uncertainties is critical for success.


Covering eight international markets, this report sheds light on three key themes for Peak trading in 2023:

- Peak spending intentions and behaviours;

- Peak channel trends where online is set to fare better;

- Peak delivery priorities and going  beyond free shipping.


Presented with cost-of-living concerns, inflationary pressures, and interest rate hikes, consumers worldwide will approach the holiday season with caution. Essentially, they will want to retain festive norms, but will be highly budgetconscious, seeking value-for-money and costeffective solutions.

Nevertheless, resilience and adaptability within the retail sector is clearly evident. Technological advancements, digital transformation, and  a focus on customer-centricity has enabled businesses to manage disruptions and provide exceptional shopping experiences.

While cost-of-living concerns prevail globally, regional variations in consumer spending intentions highlight the need for retailers to tailor strategies accordingly. To succeed in this environment, retail brands need to: focus on profitability and operational efficiencies, hone value propositions, remain customer-centric,  form strategic partnerships with carriers, and leverage data and technology. Importantly, loyalty is at a premium, so prioritising shipping options  to meet heightened demands with delivery speed, flexibility, and reliability during the festive season, is more critical than ever.

These collective actions will not only help retail brands get their customers through a challenging end of year, but will also position them as beacons of resilience, adaptability, and as trusted allies, ready to deliver value, convenience, and a touch of festive magic during the holiday season and beyond. 



We hope you found this article interesting. For more insights and industry analysis be sure to connect with us.


About this report

This report is published by Retail Economics in association with Auctane explores the outlook for Peak Season 2023, with impacts of consumer behaviour, consumer priorities and strategies for success.

Complete the form at the top of this page now to secure your free copy. 




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