4 ways that COVID is changing the holiday shopping season


You better get your Christmas list to Santa early this year.

The coronavirus pandemic brought many challenges for retailers and customers alike from store shutdowns to employees being laid off and item shortages.

And much of it is going to continue into the holiday shopping season.

“This holiday is going to be unlike any holiday season I think any of us have ever seen before,” Levi Strauss & Co. CEO Chip Bergh told CNBC.

As we look at the new retail landscape, here’s how shopping will be different this holiday season.

Shopping Begins Sooner

While it may only be October, analysts expect that the kickstart of the holiday shopping season will coincide with Amazon’s annual Prime Day, which was delayed from July to October 13 and 14.

An early start to the holiday shopping season is great for people who like to plan and get their gift lists wrapped up in advance, but it will also require everyone else to be flexible and move up their shopping timelines.

According to a study by Coresight Research, which surveyed 1,116 U.S. internet users over 18 years old last month, three in 10 plan to start shopping earlier. One in 10 said that they still plan to procrastinate, however, retailers will likely try to combat that.

The National Retail Federation recently debuted an ad campaign that features the tagline: “Shop safe, shop early” and puts an emphasis on getting shopping done when the stores are less crowded.

With many people shopping ahead of time, waiting means you also run the risk of not being able to snag the item you’ve been eyeing due to unexpected supply and demand. Keep in mind there are plenty of shortages including on home appliances.

“We’ve seen some data that says customers will be looking for value earlier and participating less in that all-important one-day event in stores,” Bed Bath & Beyond CEO Mark Tritton said in an interview.

This makes it harder to predict consumer spending: “It’s a very different season. And I think we’re all going to learn together as we go through it,” he added.

Online Shopping Will Grow in Popularity

Since March, online shopping has become the go-to for many consumers who hoped to avoid coming into contact with others and spreading the virus.

Many consumers are expected to continue that trend this holiday season.

Deloitte expects holiday e-commerce sales to surge by 25% to 35% to bring in anywhere between $182 billion to $196 billion.

Many retailers have been investing in digital so that they can meet the demand being driven to their websites and store apps. Others are enticing customers by offering free shipping or same-day shipping or expanding their curbside pickup options for online ordering.

Shipping Issues

While retailers are doing their best to accommodate the influx of online shopping, it could become a logistical nightmare in terms of shipping.

The surge in online orders may create bottlenecks in the delivery process and thus, delay packages deliveries.

Salesforce believes packages shipped by providers like FedEx, UPS, and DHL will exceed capacity by 5% starting the week before Cyber Week and running through December 26. Their estimates believe that 700 million gifts might not arrive in time for Christmas.

Salesforce also estimates retailers will face $40 billion in delivery charges from November 15 to January 15.

All this means that customers should plan to shop ahead because waiting until a few days before Chrismtas won’t guarantee your gift will come on time in 2020.

“For consumers, that means if you see something you like and it’s out there early, you might want to scoop it up early,” said Craig Johnson, president of the retail consulting group CGP.

The Types of Gifts People Will Purchase

Coming up with the perfect gift has always been difficult, but it’s even more so in 2020. It’s not as easy as snagging a gift card to their favorite restaurant or getting them a massage!

Roughly 68.9% of people said they won’t be investing in service and will be opting for retail products due to COVID-19 shutdowns, Coresight revealed to the outlet.

Instead of investing in things like food and travel, analysts expect a surge in popularity for things like at-home fitness equipment, loungewear, beauty products, home office supplies, and home decor. Practical gifts are the way of the pandemic.

The fact that people won’t be spending the holidays with their loved ones due to social distancing and quarantine will also affect the types of gifts purchased.

“The consumer is used to buying all these gifts, wrapping them and putting them under the tree,” said Kearney’s Brown. “But even gift buying might be suppressed as we have Zoom gatherings, and families don’t get together, so they send smaller gifts.”

Much like 2020, the holidays are going to look slightly different this year, so plan to buy gifts in advance, opt for online shopping or curbside pickup (to avoid shipping fees and delayed packages), and consider practical gifts.

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