How Holiday Shopping Will Change in 2020

What are your favorite images of the holidays? Costumed children running from house to house collecting candy? A large family gathering sharing a Thanksgiving meal? Holiday shopping, including those maddening Black Friday visits to a favorite store? New Year’s Day football viewing with family and friends? All those activities will undoubtedly change in 2020 thanks to the novel coronavirus. But retail businesses that count on the holidays for 30% or more of their annual revenue can brace for the changes in holiday shopping with a little ingenuity and planning. 

What Will Be Different 

Normally, retail business owners start planning for the holidays during the summer by attending trade shows and dealer markets to stock up on the latest products. Coronavirus not only up-ended those gatherings – most buying events went virtual – it changed the way business will be done for the foreseeable future. It also introduced a new wave of variables and category of experts to the retail equation. The opinions of health experts and physicians are now as valuable as those of retail and economic theorists.  “My gut tells me I don’t think the holidays are going to be normal this year,” says Dr. Joseph Khabbaza, a critical care and pulmonary physician at Cleveland Clinic.  Deloitte’s annual estimate of holiday spending predicts a stunted 1% to 1.5% growth in holiday spending from last year and sales of $1.1 billion.  Big parties and large family gatherings are only for the brave. In fact, up to 70% of respondents in Morning Consult polls indicate their holiday plans will change as a result of the coronavirus. In general, the survey shows Americans will be traveling less, having smaller get-togethers, and spending less.   

74% of adults say they will be having smaller holiday get-togethers

49% say they will be shifting to virtual gatherings

47% will be canceling their regular holiday gatherings

75% won’t be traveling for Thanksgiving and 72% won’t travel on any of the upcoming holidays

71% plan to cut back spending during the holidays on food, drinks and snacks

39% say they will be spending less on gifts.

Is this RIP for Black Friday? For decades, retail businesses have exploited the impatience of American shoppers and lured them en masse to their stores. They have turned the day after Thanksgiving into a frenzy of consumerism. It grew so big that it eventually crept into Thanksgiving and beyondThat will change in 2020.   “Everything has changed, and retailers are having to reinvent themselves,” says Marie Driscoll, managing director at the retail advisory firm Coresight Research. “The deals will start in October and retailers will re-up week after week. They’ll have one limited edition on week one, and week two it’ll be something else so they can get consumers to keep buying.”  The big boxes – Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kohl’s and others – have already announced they will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, thus eliminating the in-store mobsThat doesn’t mean they’re giving up on the holiday rush, though. Instead, they will trot out their holiday sales earlier than ever. Target is starting its holiday campaign in October with both online and in-store sales.  Google, which, like it or not, probably knows more about your holiday shopping preferences and habits more than you do, agrees that Black Friday will look decidedly different. According to its surveys, more than a third of American shoppers who normally participate in Black Friday sales say they won’t be doing it this year, and half say the pandemic will affect how they’ll shop during the holidays.  All these variables make it hard for businesses to plan as they normally would. Timetables have been jumbled, manufacturing and supply chains have been inconsistentand consumers have changed their shopping habits and have been hesitant to return to stores. 
Expect More from Cyberweek. Marketing specialist Salesforce expects a later-than-usual Prime Day will cut into both regular holiday sales and CyberMonday or Cyberweek, depending on your preference. The company predicts up to 30% of global retail sales during the holidays will be made online.  Deloitte estimates e-commerce to jump by 25% to 30% from last year thanks to increased activity due to the coronavirus.

All Doesn’t Appear to be Lost  

It actually doesn’t count as holiday – unless you consider all those parents who celebrate the return of their children to school – but the back-to-school shopping that started in August showed increased foot traffic, which was encouraging for brick-and-mortar stores.  Best Buy showed a 7.6% increase in the first week of August and the store says 60% of sales flowed through its brick-and-mortar stores either through curbside pickup or ship from store programs. 

How to Make Holiday Shopping Joyous 

Luckily, many of the lessons retail businesses learned during the coronavirus-induced economic shutdown and restart will pay dividends when preparing for the holidays.  Omnichannel is Omnipresent  When economies all over the world began shutting down to stop the spread of coronavirus, it was painfully evident that businesses that had robust and interactive on-line and in-store sales programs fared best. Depending on your reference, DigitalCommerce360 reports that U.S. online sales increased approximately 49% during the first weeks of the shutdown, while programs like click-and-collect and Buy Online Pickup In-Store (BOPIS) increased over 200%. Those numbers make omnichannel retail a must for stores going forward, not just this holiday season.  Kick it to the Curb – With many consumers still leery about visiting potentially busy stores and BOPIS, click-and-collect and curbside pickup programs having gained heavy momentum during the coronavirus shutdown, customers will expect those kinds of services during the holiday shopping season.  June 2020 survey from TPN, a commerce agency, shows that 60% of BOPIS users were doing so to avoid crowds and long checkout lines and 52% said they were using it to minimize time spent inside stores.  Gift CardsYes, those immensely impersonal gifts that are often very popular with the recipient because they let them choose their own gifts, will be widely given during our upcoming Covid-19 holidays to prevent the spread of both the virus and potential returns. So, it’s a good idea to have plenty of gift cards in stock this year.  Create Your Own Holiday – With occupancy restrictions in place in many parts of the country for many businesses, store owners might consider using their rewards or incentive programs to create special invitation-only shopping events for their good customers. These events can be spread out between Halloween and Christmas to provide ample shopping opportunities. Parking lot sales are another way to dodge indoor occupancy issues.   Delivering the Goods – With more people working from home and shopping online, the need for programs like curbside pickup and local delivery have never been more important. It’s a lesson Amazon learned long ago and works constantly to improve. In 2018 the company spent $27.7 billion on shipping. That’s more than Starbucks reported in annual revenue. Thanks to that effort, shoppers now expect those services from almost every store, and most are working to oblige.  Retail Dive reported in March that Instacart (218%), Walmart Grocery (160%) and Shipt (124%) saw average daily download increases over compared to the previous month. Target also saw a 98% increase jump from February to March. Delivery is so important to Target that in its effort to keep pace with Walmart, the company paid $550 million in 2018 to acquire Shipt, a same-day delivery service.  Independent businesses can employ the stalwart delivery companies – USPS, FedEx, UPS, or DHL – employ one of the many delivery startups such as Dropoff, Deliv, GoShare and others, or do it themselves. Many companies today are investing in delivery services to keep up with the big boxes. These programs are made more effective with mobile retail technology connecting sales associates outside the store and delivery drivers with the store database. 

Happy Holidays

2020 probably won’t set any records for holiday shopping but by making sure your store can sell on multiple channels and deliver a cohesive customer experience, the holidays can still brighten your year. 

brian bullock 

Author