Shopping in Unprecedented Times

Trends / Technology
We Are
Rebecca Rom-Frank
Nov 23, 2022
It’s that time of year again – holiday shopping season is upon us. Searches for “Black Friday” (+72%), “Cyber Monday” (+30%), and "Christmas" (+26%) are up year‑over‑year, meaning that our customers are eager to visualize the shopping experience in the wake of the pandemic. This year, however, the retail industry is already affected by supply chain delays, inflation, and cost‑of‑living increases, and 85% of American adults say the situation has affected their shopping habits.1 Our Editorial customers have been choosing visuals which quite literally illustrate the situation: frugal shopping trips, empty shelves, or people checking receipts with shocked facial expressions. But when it comes to Creative content, inflation’s impact is much more subtle. In 2022, warm tones and models wearing optimistic yellow clothing remain popular as brands attempt to attract customers despite the economic climate. At the same time, our VisualGPS consumer survey found that 8 in 10 Americans appreciate when brands acknowledge the challenges they face. So, this holiday season, how can brands choose shopping visuals which acknowledge shifts in consumer behavior without detracting from holiday cheer?
Reflecting new consumer behavior 
Just as a recession is hard to predict in this unprecedented economic climate, current shifts in consumer behavior are complex or even counterintuitive. For example, a study by Deloitte found that consumers are determined to celebrate the holidays this year no matter what, and are opting to cut back on daily expenses in order to spend more on gifts—low‑income consumers are even expected to spend 25% more than usual.2 RetailDive found that middle‑income consumers concerned about high grocery prices are shopping in‑store to save on shipping costs and to compare prices, and buying more each trip to save on gas.3 And McKinsey reports that even as more Americans are looking for deals on groceries, they are also more interested in eating fresh and healthy food than ever.4 Past economic crises have caused brands to put out somber messaging, but the current moment calls for something different: our VisualGPS consumer survey found that with so many aspects of life feeling serious right now, 7 in 10 consumers are looking for brands to help lighten the mood.

So, to accurately reflect current consumer behavior in visual choices, there’s no need to cut back on the abundance of fresh produce normally seen in grocery shopping trips; in fact, showing consumers with carts full of healthy choices would better reflect the current moment. Holiday gift shopping isn’t canceled, although in recent years visuals have focused less explicitly on Christmas and more on nondenominational winter shopping trips. Looking back at the content our customers used to illustrate shopping scenarios most in 2022, the abundance of shopping bags which symbolized triumphant shopping trips in 2016 have now largely been replaced by piles of cardboard delivery boxes; whereas we used to see visuals of people out and about on shopping streets, coffee cup in hand, we now see more sedentary lifestyles, at home, shopping on their smartphones or laptops. Overall, in the face of inflation, our customers have been downloaded even more visuals that show shopping trips, but shifts in what shopping looks like tends to happen in broader strokes, influenced by a confluence of factors.
To shop online, or in person?
Just as hybrid is the future of office work, omnichannel is the future of retail. And similar to how most office workers want to go back to the office in order to see other colleagues, the top reason people grocery‑shop in‑store is that they enjoy the personal interaction.5 Yes, online grocery shopping has increased by 50%, but 71% of Americans still shop in‑person the same amount, if not more.6 At Getty Images, popular content in 2022 is already beginning to reflect this trend: even while there has been a 46% increase in visuals showing online shopping topics since 2016, there has concurrently been a 146% increase in visuals showing small businesses during that same time period, with scenarios much more focused on the emotionally gratifying in‑person interaction between customer and shopkeeper. So even as online shopping becomes more popular, visuals showing in‑person shopping experiences will need to continue to feel more personal in order to remind consumers of their unique benefit.

Since 2016, the number of popular visuals which show technology as an essential part of the shopping experience has doubled—yet many visuals still show people holding their credit cards next to computers or phones, despite the reality that digital wallets are eliminating the need to re‑enter one’s payment details every time. Our consumer survey found that 8 in 10 Millennials are using contactless payments more than ever, which indicates that it’s time for the visualization of online payments to evolve, too. While it’s unclear what the future of the so‑called metaverse holds, it’s obviously captured the imaginations of consumers and retail brands alike. Our consumer survey found that 7 in 10 Americans are at least interested in the metaverse, whether or not they know what it is, and fashion brands from Nike to Louis Vuitton are experimenting with virtual goods, NFTs, and creating 3D environments that users can explore on their web browsers.7 Visually, there is an opportunity to break up the monotony of shopping at home by showing what’s on the screen in more detail, using visuals that play with the aesthetics of emerging technologies such as augmented or virtual reality, or by using playful graphics that capture the overlap of the digital and the real.
Actually, men be shopping, too
“Women be shopping,” the old joke goes, and the shopping visuals used in 2022 uphold that stereotype: women appear in shopping scenarios twice as often as men, and when men do appear, they are four times more likely to be seen accompanying a woman than on his own. Since 2016, we have seen slightly more men on solo trips, but data from JungleScout shows that not only are gendered shopping habits similar overall, but in 2021, even more men than women were shopping online, buying nonessential goods, and purchasing pre‑owned items.8 Especially considering the mainstream popularity of men’s streetwear fashion over the past decade—largely driven by men of color—there has also been a cultural shift towards more men overtly caring about shopping, as well.9 At the same time, another consequence of choosing gendered shopping visuals is that trans, nonbinary, and members of the LGBTQ+ community aren’t seen in popular shopping visuals at all, even though they are active participants and influencers in consumer culture, too. So to upend stereotypes and better reflect the current moment, choose visuals which leave behind dated ideas about shopping being a gendered activity.

When choosing visuals for this holiday shopping season, remember that visual shifts have been influenced not just by inflation, but by a confluence of new values, tech adoption, and social movements, too.
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