The 2020 holiday season isn’t going away. Families will sit down for holiday meals, though perhaps in smaller groups than before. Kids around the world are still going to open presents. Brands will offer special discounts on some of their best items. But it will not look like the holiday seasons in which we have become accustomed. Consumers will not line up outside of big-box retailers on Thanksgiving night. Doorbusters will take on a different form.

Strategies for Navigating the Future of Retail

For retail and CPG brands, the holiday shopping season is more than just a few weeks of deals leading up to Christmas. It is a major aspect of the entire year, and a large source of revenue, with planning beginning during the heat of the summer and execution stretching through the new year. This year’s holiday season is clouded in uncertainty—both in terms of the financial impact and how to plan for a future environment that is changing by the day.

What is clear is that ecommerce and digital engagement are going to be front and center, and we will see several changes to both shopping behaviors and brands’ approaches during an abnormal year. We have identified six of these changes you should expect to encounter during the 2020 holiday season in our new Holiday 2020 and Beyond ebook.

What will change in 2020

Nothing about 2020 has been normal, so the bright side is that brands have been pivoting and dealing with change for half a year leading up to the holidays. Still, it’s uncharted territory, where the insights from previous years will not be as beneficial as normal and the staples of the season will take on a different form. From shifts in consumer behaviors to unprecedented challenges, here are the biggest alterations to the 2020 holiday season that brands will have to factor into their planning.

1. Consumer traditions

Shopping is a key part of many holiday family traditions, with none being bigger than Black Friday. Several generations of family members follow up their Thanksgiving meals by heading out to stores to shop either through the night or first thing the next morning. That tradition—along with most holiday shopping traditions in brick-and-mortar stores—will have to be put on hold this year.

Not only have retailers like Walmart and Target already announced they will remain closed on Thanksgiving Day, but many states still restrict crowds, and consumers are wary of risking their health.

2. Major shopping days take on new meanings

Black Friday is not going to disappear, even if brick-and-mortar stores are operating at limited or no capacity. The day already has a large ecommerce presence, with consumers who don’t feel like fighting the crowds ordering plenty of items from the comfort of their couches.

Physical store closures will likely enhance the ecommerce shopping done during Black Friday and extend it through Cyber Monday. So, there will still be extra benefits and deals for consumers tied to those days, but they will be part of a larger cyber season compared to normal years.

3. Look for earlier offers and a variety of promotions

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While we’re talking about the shakeup of key days and the uncertainty of what is to come, don’t be surprised to start seeing holiday deals coming out before Halloween. Brands will likely try to give themselves more time, with a heavier reliance on ecommerce and shipping, while also accounting for consumer budgets, which we will get to shortly.

Historically, many holiday shoppers put off their responsibilities until the weeks of December, but in order to spread out their budget and plan ahead, that is less likely this year (though nothing will stop some of the procrastinators in our lives from waiting until Dec. 14 to place their gift orders).

That ecommerce reliance also means that brands will have to get creative in their promotions. While they might have previously focused on getting an online shopper into the store or vice versa, now brands will need to find ways to encourage additional impulse buys through digital channels, while making the experiences as engaging as end caps in stores.

4. The importance of shipping will rise

This should come as no surprise given all that we’ve discussed thus far. Convenience and safety are at the top of consumers’ minds and priorities right now, so buying online and having products delivered to their doorsteps will be the main way consumers shop this holiday season.

Not only will brands have to consider the timing of key shipping days, but the cost and speed of shipping—which have already steadily become more important expectations from consumers—will be even more scrutinized this year.

5. Consumers’ budgets will be tighter

We have mostly focused on the uncertainty of the season from a health perspective. But that uncertainty also has impacted consumers from a financial perspective.

Unemployment rates remain high, and even for those still working, the fear of another virus spike and the resulting economic effects could keep consumers from purchasing as much as they have in past years.

6. Brands will face new merchandising challenges

Merchandising challenges will exist both in terms of operational and marketing components. On the operational side, not only do brands need to ensure their physical stores and warehouses are aligned to maximize inventory, but there is also the concern of what could happen should there be a COVID outbreak in a retailer’s distribution center.

From a marketing perspective, how will merchants of big-ticket items convince people to buy without being able to experience the products first-hand in the store? This concern could be for anything from new appliances and furniture to expensive electronics.

Not only will consumers be making a purchase without being able to sit on the sofa or open the refrigerator, but the ability to ship these large items in time will pose a challenge. Given this, returns will be another major priority for consumers, which again offers a set of challenges for brands.

Many stores still aren’t accepting returns, and if they are, the items likely have to go through a quarantining process before it can be sold to anyone else.

How these changes affect brands

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The holiday planning process is going to be more difficult this year, with a host of new contingencies and challenges to consider and work around. However, by understanding what will be different and what will be most important to consumers, you can still make the holiday season a success and gain positive momentum heading into the new year.

Regardless of how different the season looks, people are still going to find ways to celebrate the holidays and each other—it is needed now more than ever. And while the ways in which consumers will engage this year are new, meeting their needs during the holidays will give your brand a head start as these needs become expectations in 2021.

If you’re looking for more holiday retail marketing strategies, download our free ebook Holiday 2020 and Beyond for more insights to get started.

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