It looks like most Canadians are still doing a lot of their Christmas shopping in-store, but digital technology is shaping the expectations they have for their bricks-and-mortar experiences, a new report by SAS Canada has found, while young people are more likely to take advantage of Black Friday.

According to the report, 85 per cent of Canadians surveyed favour shopping in-store for their holiday gifts, compared to 59 per cent and 70 and per cent of their British and American counterparts, respectively.

The 2016 SAS Holiday Shopper Survey also found that online shopping is now as prevalent as in-store buying, and that most gift buyers will use both channels. Seven in 10 shoppers say they will visit stores, while an equal percentage plan to buy online.

But shoppers are fickle, which means despite a global uptick in e-commerce, retailers need to leverage the power of technology and high performance analytics to understand customers personally, delivering real-time deals and recommendations both online and in-store if they are to be competitive, the survey says, as Canadians have no patience for retailers who find themselves short of inventory.

Whether it’s online or in-store, Canadians will follow the merchandise, so retailers need to be equipped with the right volume of each product in stock during the holidays, researchers found. Half of Canadians surveyed said that if a brand or item they wanted to purchase was not available in-store, they would go to another store to find it, and if it was out of stock online, 59 per cent said they would go to a different website to snag the gift they wanted.

For our neighbors south of the border, Thanksgiving is for turkey, not shopping – unless you’re a millennial, the survey discovered, as nearly four in 10 U.S. shoppers find it to be at least somewhat negative when a store decides to open on Thanksgiving Day, and only 15 per cent plan to venture out after their turkey dinner. It’s younger shoppers who are much more likely than their older counterparts to venture out to the mall.

In the United States, Black Friday is still the most popular shopping day of the holiday season in the U.S., edging out Cyber Monday (28 per cent versus 22 per cent). This is slightly lower than last year, when 35 per cent of shoppers planned to shop on Black Friday, and 32 per cent planned to shop on Cyber Monday.

Shopping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become increasingly popular days for Canadians as well: both are up from last year, at 22 per cent and 16 per cent respectively.

But while Canadians may still prefer to do their holiday shopping in store, they research gift ideas online, with 29 per cent of survey respondents saying they use online retailers’ product suggestions to find ideas for gifts to give, and more than half of shoppers go through with purchasing an item suggested by online retailers at least some of the time. Despite this affinity for online research, retailers still have some work to do when it comes to providing useful product recommendations, researchers found, as 44 per cent of shoppers felt that retailer’s product suggestions based on previous searches or purchases were not very accurate.

Regardless of where they are shopping, Canadian are looking for more personalized communications across the board, with 66 per cent of survey respondents saying they prefer personalized emails from companies they do business with, and 48 per cent saying they like promotional emails and offers in their inbox from companies related to their lifestyle and interests.

The SAS research lines up with recent research from Salesforce, which found that customers want to be treated like people, not numbers, so while connected customers are entrenched in technology, they are still looking for personal relationships with companies.

The Saleforce and SAS research also illustrates that technology is redefining consumer behaviour, and that they expect retailers to quickly adapt to their changing preferences or risk losing their business.

Personally, we think there could be another, simpler reason Canadians want to do their shopping in a mall instead of in front of the computer: It’s an excuse to eat at the food court.

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