Women wearing masks and carrying shopping bags

Holiday 2020: The Most Unprecedented Time of The Year

As we’ve all heard a countless number of times through news and commercials, we are in the middle of an “unprecedented” time. This encompasses everything from trying to find our favorite toilet paper brand, attending a Zoom wedding, learning your kid’s fourth grade common core math, deciding which mask matches your outfit today, and of course, planning for the upcoming holiday shopping season. Even with our long history of managing our clients’ holiday season planning and execution, we are having to pivot and revisit our holiday best practices ensuring we’re prepared for the changes this year. Based on our analysis from the last six months, measuring the impact of the shifts we made this summer, and how the back to school shopping period has reacted, we have found the below variables to be the biggest factors in play for the upcoming season.

Factor #1: Fear of Going Out (FOGO)
As we have seen over the last six months, COVID-19 and the stay-at-home orders that have come with it, have greatly impacted consumer shopping patterns. The biggest pattern being even more people shopping online as stores have been closed, and as stores have started reopening in some areas curbside pick-up has become a larger trend. With the possibility that retail stores may see another round of store closures this fall and winter as COVID-19 cases continue to fluctuate across the country, online will see continued focus. Even where stores are open, consumers are looking for the quickest way in and out of the store. This will put more pressure on retailer sites to retain their in-store customers, as consumers are doing a larger amount of their research online, along with actual orders. This disruption of the consumer’s shopping behavior also opens up the risk of them changing the brands they choose to purchase from. Various studies have revealed nearly half of all consumers purchased from a new brand since March 2020.

You’ll want to prepare for new features and betas from vendors that highlights buy online pick up in-store (BOPIS) and curbside pickup services. Utilizing audience specific data within all your online marketing channels will also be key to ensure your ads and promotions are getting in front of the correct people at the right time to both earn new customers and retain your past customers.

Factor #2: Shift in Category Trends
With so much of people’s everyday lives and hobbies being impacted by COVID-19, we have seen the categories people searching for online greatly shift as well. Travel enthusiasts who are now homebound are not purchasing their travel accessories, and people who would dress up for the office each day are now moving away from their more formal attire as they work at home. We have seen these shifts within search interest as well. Searches for sweatpants are up nearly double compared to last year and searches for gardening gifts are up 58%, while gifts for travelers are down 14% compared to previous years.

These environmental changes mean we cannot rely on last year’s trends to determine budgets or consumer interests. Continue to track search trends for your brand and top categories. Besides mining your own search data or social insights, year-over-year views Google Trends for Search or views in Shopping Insights can help you keep a pulse on search intent and brand health. You will want to track closely any dips that may mimic the significant decrease in search trends we experienced across industries since March 2020.

Factor #3: Inventory & Shipping
Inventory challenges will be impacting almost every retailer, including the supply chain in receiving product to stock, fulfilling orders within retailer factories, and demands on shipping companies such as FedEx and UPS. Due to the need to social distance within factories, as well as delivery services demands, many are forecasting the cut-off for Christmas delivery to be in the first week of December. This will be the same week as Cyber Monday, and about two weeks sooner than in past year’s cut off dates, creating a need for brands to communicate this change to consumers early in the season.

Use your digital tactics to assist in encouraging consumers to shift their holiday purchases earlier. Beginning in your display and social messaging at the top of the funnel, following down to the lower funnel tactics like sitelinks messaging within paid search.

Develop a plan for December, and consumers who may have missed the shipping cut-off. Focus on BOPIS features, gift cards, e-gift cards, and add a website functionality that allows gift givers to buy a particular item which then notifies the recipient to pick out their size/color for a more personalized experience.

Factor #4: Amazon Prime Day
As many insiders had speculated, Amazon Prime Day has been moved to October 13th and 14th, with some deals available to members now. This will add extra competition to all online retailers, both from Amazon, as well as the other retailers likely pushing promotions during the same time to compete against Prime Day. On the positive, Prime Day will play a big role in getting consumer’s mindset focused on Holiday shopping earlier. We predict this will also result in Prime Day stealing at least some sales away from Black Friday and Cyber Monday, especially for categories like electronics.

Factor #5: Election Year
And finally, as we witnessed in 2016, the chaos leading up to and potentially following the U.S. Presidential election may impact shopping confidence in Q4. At a minimum, brands should be prepared and forecast a decrease in purchase intent and researching within 10 days of the election.

This disruption in consumer confidence, along with Prime Day and the shipping cutoff date being moved up, means you will most need to shift marketing dollars earlier than usual and allow them to be agile. In doing this you will want to also work alongside your inventory planning team to ensure your shift in marketing spend will align with product available to purchase.

Impact & Forecast

With all the additional factors this year, Black Friday and Cyber Monday will actually be concluding the online holiday shopping season rather than starting it. With this shift, Black Friday and Cyber Monday expected growth should be tamer than years past. Shoppers have historically begun shopping earlier each year, but the need to evade crowds and avoid shipping delays will have consumers purchasing earlier than ever.

While brands will be focusing on online revenue, they also have an opportunity to increase their impact beyond the bottom line this year. Not only are people’s shopping behaviors going to be disrupted this year, but so are their charitable traditions. People who historically spend time volunteering in soup kitchens or going to the mall with their kids to shop for a child off the angel tree, likely won’t be able to do that this year. There’s an additional opportunity for brands to offer charitable opportunities, beyond just adding a dollar to your purchase for charity, to their consumers during this time. Brands who take this intentional approach stand to increase their realm of influence to those in need, as well as build a stronger loyalty with their customers as we head into 2021.