Who’s ready for the holidays? In the midst of rising COVID-19 cases that are creating concern for both citizens and health officials alike, 2020 is proving to be a difficult year. And for some individuals, it has been equally challenging to get themselves into the holiday spirit. But alas, here we are, on the precipice of the most consequential election in U.S. history and around the corner from the holiday season. While our spirits may not be quite as cheery as in years past, the holidays are still a time to enjoy the company of friends and loved ones and appreciate our blessings, regardless of the difficulties this year has presented to us all.

As a brand, the holiday season presents both vast opportunity and increased pressure, as sales projections and increased marketing efforts become amplified. Are your brand marketers ready for the 2020 holiday season? Hopefully so, because experts expect it to be a big one.

Salesforce, the cloud-based software giant, predicts 30% year-over-year growth in overall global digital commerce this holiday season, compared to the 8% growth witnessed in 2019. Customers are predicted to spend a record $940 billion globally in digital sales and $221 billion in the U.S. alone, according to Salesforce.

We have put together a few key points of consideration for marketers to keep top of mind this holiday season – and what the future holds for brands in the wake of a global pandemic.

 

Things For Marketers To Think About Heading Into The Holidays

Though experts expect big holiday sales this year, when factoring all sales, both physical and digital, customers are not expected to spend that much more than they did in 2019. This despite the massive digital commerce growth with Amazon Prime Day (Oct. 13-14), Black Friday (Nov. 27), and Cyber Monday (Nov. 30) being the pillars of the digital holiday season. Some major businesses, like Best Buy, even aligned their Black Friday promotions with Amazon Prime Day, or held the event sometime during the month of October.

So what are some of the ways marketers can brace for the 2020 holiday season? Here are some considerations to keep in mind.

woman holding gifts walking

Holiday Spending Is Starting Early in 2020

Amazon’s decision to move its Prime Day from July to October 13th and 14th may have triggered the beginning of a new type of peak season. The move by the e-commerce giant effectively kicks off the 2020 peak season roughly 30-45 days earlier than usual. And in a year that has brought about many changes, Amazon’s ability to condition consumers to its adaptations – and the need for competitors to follow suit in order to keep up – likely means that an earlier peak will be the trend moving forward.

Amazon’s decision to move Prime Day to the first week of October will pull forward holiday spending and purchase behavior much earlier than in years past. It is likely that the mid-October period will become a new jump-off point for Amazon’s massive holiday promotions that feed directly into what had been the traditional peak cycle.

Adding fuel to this trend is the fact that 50% of Americans are already shopping online for the holidays because they’re bored at home, according to new research conducted by OnePoll. The study asked 2,000 Americans how the Coronavirus pandemic has affected their holiday plans and shopping habits. While the days turn to weeks couped up in their homes, 47% of respondents said they were using their increased free time to get a head start on their holiday shopping.

So while the holidays are not quite upon us, the shopping season is already in full swing.

Peak Days Are Replaced By A Peak Season

The peak holiday shopping season is always a crucial time for brands and retailers. And this year, it’s more critical than ever before. But 2020 will present unique challenges for obvious reasons.

Total retail sales are down significantly for the year across most sectors, and peak season represents a crucial time for retailers to capture some of this lost revenue. But unlike in years past, peak season this year will be characterized by the unique challenges created by the Coronavirus pandemic. These challenges will require retailers to approach the holiday season with a creative plan of attack.

With eCommerce demand likely to remain high, and in-store traffic continuing to be greatly limited, a focus on digital is seemingly obvious. This will prove to be particularly wise if a surge in COVID-19 cases requires reinstatement of nationwide lockdowns. But the most challenging aspect lies in customer behavior, which will continue to be extremely difficult to predict with the vast number of unknowns that exist.

A contradiction may exist between marketers’ priorities and what consumers really want. While some brands are opting out of the peak season due to this uncertainty, consumers are opting in: According to Netimperative, 8% more consumers plan to shop online this peak season than last year, which means some of these marketer concerns may be unfounded.

In fact, brands are actually faced with less competition for an increased and more engaged customer base this year. This shows that eCommerce leaders have a golden opportunity to increase their market share during this peak season if they decide to pull the trigger.

large crowds shopping during black friday

Ravenous Black Friday Crowds Will Be A Thing Of The Past

In years past, major retailers went all out trying to drive consumer traffic to brick-and-mortar stores for the mass hysteria that is Black Friday. Whether it was flash sales or limited-quantity doorbusters, the fervor and marketing hype was massive.

But this year, many storefronts are closing their doors to reduce the risk of spreading the Coronavirus. So in light of crowds being discouraged for the sake of public health, retailers are switching things up this holiday season.

Retail giant Target kicked off its holiday sales earlier than it ever has, stretching its usual 14-day price-matching policy to cover Nov. 1 through Christmas Eve. If the price of a purchase drops in a Target store or on Target.com, customers can have their receipt adjusted to the lower price. In addition, the company will offer Black Friday deals for the entire month of November.

Target’s competitor Walmart is offering “Black Friday Deals for Days,” three separate Black Friday events during the month of November. The sales will be spaced out at different times both online and in stores throughout all three days. The retailer’s first Black Friday event will be three weeks earlier than usual, starting Nov. 4 online and Nov. 7 in stores.

For many brands, evaluating the success of all these 2020 holiday efforts will be a challenging task. Revenues will be generated in different months than in prior years, and with an increased volume in online sales than in years past, but with a worse performance in terms of in-store sales. This makes drawing conclusions that can prove to be useful for next year somewhat of a tricky proposition. But this trend of increased online sales likely isn’t going anywhere, even post-pandemic, and brands should adjust in response.

 

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An Increased Push for Contactless Shopping Points

COVID-19 rapidly accelerated the adoption of “contactless” technologies. One of the most notable of which was Zoom, the video conferencing platform that millions used to stay in touch with loved ones during lockdown measures. Zoom and other video-conferencing platforms have scaled massively in recent months, and employers are now anticipating a future where working from home is the new status quo. This lack of direct contact – for justified reasons, no less – has created an increased interest in contactless shopping points for consumers looking to prioritize their health.

This ties back into retailers learning to adapt on the fly to changes in consumer behavior, in turn, increasing their focus on both contactless pick-up and online shopping options. Coronavirus has made digital the core of the modern retail experience; doing so through automation, virtual assistance, and an increased focus on digital payment options.

Say So Long To Same-Day And Next-Day Delivery

Sales are booming for brands far and wide during the holiday season, and such a large surge in online shopping is likely to cause bottlenecks in the delivery process. The same-day and next-day delivery that online shoppers have grown accustomed to will no longer be reliable, as an uptick in e-commerce demand makes it impossible for fulfillment services to keep up.

Consumers should expect the average holiday order to take 7-10 days to be delivered, far from the one- to two-day delivery guarantees offered by many brands in recent weeks. In a recent survey from Convey, 42% of the respondents–30% of whom said they plan to do all their holiday shopping online–said late deliveries were their biggest shipping concern this year. Brands need to keep this in mind when promoting their expected delivery dates. In fact, nearly 90% said that on-time deliveries will be a critical contributor to a positive holiday buying experience.

The retail supply chain is still struggling with massive dislocations as a result of the ongoing pandemic, and a sudden, massive shift to e-commerce from brick-and-mortar has created frequent delivery delays in nearly every sector. Salesforce is projecting that 700 million gifts shipped by traditional delivery providers like FedExUPS and DHL are at risk of not arriving at homes before Christmas. Brands have acknowledged this challenge, and are actively looking for solutions before the real rush of the holiday begins.

Brands Should Adapt To The Shift To Digital

Though Black Friday has been slowly losing its clout in recent years, the Coronavirus pandemic could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The often weekend-long event of doorbuster deals and mob-like crowds have long been considered the unofficial kickoff to the holiday shopping season.

It’s not just discount-seeking consumers who look forward to the event. The buying blitz that is Black Friday can have a profound effect on a retailer’s bottom line, oftentimes pushing them “into the black,” toward profitability. And after three-quarters of consecutive sales losses in the midst of COVID-19, many brands are banking on a big holiday season to help recoup the losses incurred throughout this unsettling period.

In previous years, a typical Black Friday could equate to roughly an extra week of sales for some retailers, according to analytical intelligence firm 1010data. But with many retailers proactively announcing store closures on Thanksgiving and Black Friday to limit crowds and large gatherings, this will further accelerate the shift to online channels in Q4.

Analysts expect a huge portion of sales to move online this year, with many of us still stuck at home and the threat of rising infection rates during the winter months. In turn, brands should look to increase their focus on digital, allocating additional resources to reaching consumers online rather than in-person. One area of focus should be the utilization of social media.

While many brands paused their paid media during much of the first half of the year, they continued to remain active on social media. And consumers responded, increasing their social engagement with retailers by 40% in Q2 2020 versus Q2 2019. This level of engagement is likely to spill over into the 2020 holiday shopping season, especially due to the limited interaction with consumers in-store. Brands should look to double down on their digital and social strategies to help capture the benefits of this increased engagement and shift in consumer behavior towards online shopping. 

Joe Biden pointing at President Donald Trump during the Presidential debate

The Unknown: How The Election Will Impact The Economy

Historically speaking, election years have provided a boost to the US economy. But in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic shutdown have muddied the waters and cast uncertainty on the economic outlook of the country. A divisive election is underway that will have direct ramifications on consumer spending, behavior, and consumption – not to mention taxing the mail service further.

It goes without saying that the Coronavirus and an uncertain economy have added new layers to what likely was already a landmark U.S. election cycle. But the key takeaway is still largely straightforward: The impact of divided versus a unified government is likely a better predictor of future policies than which party’s candidates are able to achieve victory.

Continuing to manage the fallout of the pandemic will remain the top economic priority for the next administration, at least in the short term. In the long term, the rise in inequality and its potential consequences are of concern to authorities, including the Federal Reserve. The COVID-19 crisis has only worked to exacerbate the situation, as it is the most fragile groups within this dynamic that have been hit hardest by the crisis-induced unemployment and economic rollbacks.

It’s hard to predict what the future holds for both the U.S. and global economy, but as the election nears, repairing the fallout of the Coronavirus will be the top priority for either administration.

A Virtual Holiday Season

The cultural shift that is taking place from in-person to virtual activities will vastly alter how the holiday – and gift-giving – is experienced in totality.

Americans are turning to virtual celebrations as a means to combat COVID-19 restrictions during the holidays. According to the Coinstar Holiday Survey, respondents are considering attending a virtual church service (21%), planning a virtual gift exchange among friends or family (19%), and competing in a Zoom-attended tacky holiday sweater contest (12%) as a way to participate in traditional holiday activities without the risk of personal contact.

Unfortunately, holiday gift-giving will look different, and less personal, this year. But that doesn’t mean that it still can’t be rewarding. And it also doesn’t mean that there aren’t enhanced opportunities for brands. In fact, brands should look to adapt their offerings to the increase in online shopping and the longer peak period taking place this holiday season. Tailoring an offering around the virtual elements of celebrating with friends and family may be appealing to consumers who do not have the opportunity to give gifts in-person this year.

 

In Closing

Hopefully, these insights will help as your brand navigate the holiday season and beyond. While there is an abundance of uncertainty that awaits businesses and individuals alike, the only certainty is that changes in purchase behavior are taking place in real-time, with only more change on the horizon. How your brand adapts to these changes may prove to be the deciding factor in a happy holiday for your bottom line…or a nightmare before Christmas.

We only do marketing that works.

Work with us →

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