By Rieva Lesonsky

How can consumer holiday shopping habits guide your business development in the coming year? The holidays are a time when consumer trends are brought into the spotlight and become obvious, often for the first time. I’m thinking of last year when the sudden surge in consumers buying the iPad and other tablet computers essentially reshaped the face of retailing.

A study reported by CNET that almost half (40 percent) of teens have iPhones, 44 percent have tablets, and 72 percent of those tablet owners own an iPad, got me thinking about trends, the holiday retail season and how both can affect your business.

I personally was surprised to see the predominance of Apple products such as the iPad among teens, given that there are many other lower-cost competitive tablets and smartphones achieving strong sales. So what does teens’ preference for Apple mean to your business? Some things you might think about are:

  • As teens get older will they continue their allegiance to the iPad and iPhone?
  • What smartphones and tablets are other demographics using most often?
  • What types of tablets and smartphones are even younger kids using?
  • Do teens who start off with less expensive phones or tablets when they’re younger move up to costlier Apple products when they get older?

If you’re a tech company, app developer, aftermarket accessories maker or retailer involved in tech and/or teens, this news matters to your business. But what other kinds of trends might you spot this holiday season? Some to consider include:

  • What’s the hot toy and how is it changing?
  • What kinds of gifts are people buying for different demographics—men, women, kids, seniors?
  • What needs do those gifts speak to (convenience, luxury, status)?
  • On what kinds of products are customers looking for deals and on what kinds of products are they willing to spend more?
  • Are shopping budgets going up or down?

The answers to these kinds of questions can tell you where an industry is headed. For example, in recent years the hot toys have moved in the direction of high-tech, interactive products or electronics as opposed to traditional toys. If you’re a toy retailer or manufacturer, that means you’d want to think about how you can stock or make products that incorporate interactive features or electronics.

What makes the holiday shopping season such a trend bellwether is that it’s a time when consumers’ pent-up wishes and desires are realized, and they spend on the things they’ve been wanting all year. What do their buying habits say to you about your customer base, both now and in the coming year?