Expert Insights

Tis the Season Unlike Any Other: Holiday 2020

October 5, 2020

By Megan Muetterties, Manager, Planner

2020 has been a year like no other, so it’s no surprise the holiday season will look a lot different than previous years due to the global pandemic, worsening economy, and the upcoming presidential election. We’ve seen deviations to the holiday norm as traditional festivities have been altered to accommodate social distancing guidelines or flat out cancelled. On top of that, the retail environment has been dramatically altered and continues to be challenged. Last month, big brand retailers like Walmart, Target, and Best Buy announced their stores would be closed on Thanksgiving for the first time in years, citing safety concerns and consumers growing reliance on online shopping. Here are a few things for marketing professionals to keep in mind as we get closer to the holidays.

Holiday shopping starts earlier this year

This holiday season, there’s going to be an emphasis on early deals, promotions, and providing value to customers. Most shoppers (70%1) plan to start their seasonal buying earlier to avoid crowds. In response, brands have announced plans to launch holiday season deals earlier than ever. For example, Target is set to launch holiday deals in October, Macy’s is expected to start its deals in full force after Halloween, and Home Depot plans to extend Black Friday deals over a span of two months starting in early November. Additionally, the delay of Amazon Prime Day, from July to October 13th and 14th may become the “unofficial start” of the holiday shopping season as it is likely to attract so much attention and sales.

Online shopping will be this season’s biggest winner

Even before the global pandemic, retail was experiencing a shift away from physical stores to online. Heightened by the pandemic, consumers’ online shopping behaviors the past few months is a trend likely to continue through the holiday shopping season. In fact, 71%2 of US adults said they planned to do more than half of their holiday shopping digitally this year. Other channels, like mobile and social commerce, have captured consumer attention and are expected to drive sales this year, particularly with Generation Z.

Physical stores will take on a different role

Typically, physical stores are places of discovery and exploration during the holiday season, however this year, physical stores will shift to become fulfillment centers. It’s been reported that Amazon is considering converting empty retail spaces into warehouses to process and ship online orders. Sites offering store pickup – curbside, inside, drive-through – are predicted to see a 90%3 increase in digital sales. Additionally, physical stores will reinvent themselves as retailers look for ways to utilize physical space and replicate the in-store experience in lower-risk settings. Outdoor markets, parking lot pop-ups and sidewalk stalls are likely to emerge across U.S. cities. For example, the South Coast Plaza mall in Costa Mesa, California has built open-air suites on top of its parking garages to accommodate masked-up shoppers by appointment.

Shoppers will likely experience supply issues

Some of the biggest challenges during the pandemic has been product availability and shipping delays. Nearly half (47%4) of online shoppers experienced both out-of-stock messages and shipping delays since the pandemic started. Anticipating an increase in demand for deliveries this season, USPS, FedEx, and UPS have announced extra holiday shipping fees starting as early as mid-October.

It will be important for retail marketers to effectively manage consumer expectations and provide guidance around what shoppers can expect this holiday season. While winning the hearts and minds of consumers will be more challenging than ever, there is no doubt brands will find a way to spread holiday cheer in safe and socially-distant ways.