How the Pandemic Will Impact Holiday Shopping

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Most of us have come to terms with the fact that the holiday season is going to look a lot different this year. Though individual countries, states, cities, and families are guided by slightly different principles, we know the Covid-19 pandemic will have an impact on the way we gather. 

Traditionally one of the busiest seasons of the year for brand teams, according to the National Retail Federation, the holidays “represent about 20% of annual retail sales each year.” For those in the hobby, toy, and game market, the number is closer to 30%. This is why understanding how and when consumers want to be communicated with, and what their holiday shopping patterns will look like, is paramount to driving revenue and impacting the bottom line this year. 

To wrap our minds around how brands and marketers should shift their strategies to align with the majority of holiday shopping patterns, we surveyed individuals in Asia and Europe as well as Central and North America on their thoughts and plans about the upcoming holiday season. Here are the highlights.

Consumers are spending less and shopping sooner

Because they want to allow ample time for their gifts to be delivered, 78% of respondents indicated they would be shopping earlier than usual this year. This means brands should expect more shopping to be done in late October and early November than in previous years and should plan email cadences and promotions around that timeline. 

In addition to making purchases sooner, consumers are not so shockingly spending less than in years past. According to our survey, 56% of shoppers will spend less this year on holiday gifts. Brands will need to lean into loyalty and customer relationships to win the limited dollars consumers are looking to spend. 

In-person gift exchanges are few and far between

As many of us have already become accustomed to, online shopping will continue to be the no. 1 choice for holiday browsing this year — 66% of people surveyed plan to shop for gifts online. What’s different in 2020, though, is only 31% of people will be exchanging gifts in person. In place of hand delivery, 48% of respondents indicated they would be shipping their purchases directly to the gift recipient. In North America, that number jumps to 64%. 

When planning holiday promotions around Black Friday and Cyber Monday, consider that even traditional in-store shoppers may be persuaded to shop via your website this year. Discounts including free or reduced shipping may be extra compelling to consumers in 2020. 

Virtual dinners become the norm

As our comfort level with virtual gatherings continues to rise, 61% of respondents indicated their family would be hosting a virtual gathering at some point during the 2020 holiday season. And although 66% of people plan to shop for holiday dinners in-store, 33% will be buying groceries online, either for delivery or curbside pick-up. 

This presents an opportunity for brands to create digital experiences families will value. Consider how you could create a virtual holiday card or video experience for families to share with one another. 

North American shoppers choose electronics over apparel 

While around the world clothes and shoes are the top pick for 2020 gifts (65%), in North America specifically, PCs, laptops, and tablets were most often the gift of choice (89%). That seems to align with the fact that many students are attending school from home this year and may need additional tech to ensure an enriching, at-home educational experience. Up 19% from our 2019 survey, many respondents said they were planning to buy gift cards this year to keep things simple. 

The holiday season is among the most active shopping periods of the year. In 2020, pay particular attention to consumer budgets, earlier in-season sales and messaging, digital channels for holiday deliveries, and digital experiences for families celebrating at a distance. 

Richard Jones is the CMO of Cheetah Digital and host of the Thinking Caps podcast.