30-second summary:

  • Shoppers aren’t planning to significantly change how much they spend this holiday season compared with 2019.
  • Many more people are planning to make their holiday purchases online versus in stores, where the fear of catching COVID-19 is still keeping shoppers away.
  • While saving money remains a top priority for consumers, the contraction in consumer spending that occurred in April rebounded in May and June.
  • Black Friday is moving online, converging with Cyber Monday to make the overall holiday shopping season for 2020 a very virtual one.
  • Retailers can prepare for holiday shoppers by looking at behavior from the recent back-to-school shopping season. Sprout Social found that consumers and brands interacted much more on social media than pre-pandemic, dominated by social conversations focused on COVID-19.
  • Retailers can prepare for the upcoming influx of virtual shoppers by focusing on personalization, polishing their messaging, understanding what platforms consumers use to communicate with brands, and understanding current consumer expectations regarding shipping times.

It’s been a long, strange summer, with the pandemic continuing to impact nearly every aspect of our lives. The fear of contracting the virus has kept people away from indoor spaces, particularly throughout spring and summer. This is incredibly evident in the way we shop — and in the way we plan to shop as we head into the holidays. As the holiday shopping season approaches, our continued focus on the virus will have positive and negative consequences.

First the good news. A consumer insights survey by ecommerce tech company Radial revealed that shoppers aren’t planning to significantly change how much they spend this holiday season compared with 2019.

What is changing? How they plan to shop, with nearly 70% of respondents anticipating increasing online purchases this year.

The fear of catching COVID-19 is still keeping consumers out of stores. Sixty percent of the over 1000 respondents in the Radial survey plan to shop less in-store due to this (very valid) fear.

Overall, consumer spending is one of the top areas impacting by the virus. In a July 2020 survey of over 19,000 users by cashback platform Dosh, an astounding 90% of consumers indicated that saving money was a top priority, up from 87% in April.

There’s good news from the Dosh survey too. In July 44% of consumers said they’re spending only on necessities, a decrease of 60% compared with a similar survey conducted in April.

Source: Dosh Consumer Check-In Survey – July 2020

So, what does this all mean for retailers as the holiday shopping season looms?

Black Friday is moving online

A survey of 800 US and UK consumers by AI-merchandising and personalization platform Qubit, also found that people are shopping online more than ever before.

This will continue well into the 2020 holiday shopping season, with 44% of respondents indicating they plan to increase their online purchases during Black Friday, Cyber Monday and throughout the Christmas shopping season compared with 2019.

Less than 30% of consumers felt comfortable returning to stores.

holiday shoppingSource: Qubit Christmas in July Survey

How retailers prepare for the drastic increase in consumer shopping behavior (and if they plan to prepare at all), will clearly have an impact on their bottom line.

So, what’s a retailer to do? A good way to understand if your ecommerce website is poised to help or hurt you, is to unpack some key learnings from the recent back-to-school shopping season. Sprout Social did just that.

What we can learn from back-to-school shopping behavior

In their recent report, retail trends for back-to-school 2020, Sprout Social noted that while retail sales fell by over 16% in April due to COVID-19, they rebounded by nearly 18% the very next month.

Sprout Social compiled the report by analyzing over 9000 social media profiles across multiple platforms, studying consumer and retail behavior from January through June 2020.

They found a huge increase in social conversations focused on COVID-19, specifically questions from and to retailers about how they were navigating the pandemic.

Here’s an example of a pandemic-related post from Harrods:

holiday shoppingSource: Sprout Social

Although many retailers paused their paid media during the first half of the year, they remained active on social media. Consumers responded by increasing their social engagement by 40% with retailers in Q2 2020 versus Q2 2019.

This level of engagement will likely continue into the 2020 holiday shopping season, particularly since there will be less interaction with consumers in stores.

That means retailers must have a customer care plan in place to address inbound messages from consumers. Consider that daily inbound messages increased by 72% in Q2 2020 versus Q2 2019. That number was even higher for mid-market retailers who saw a nearly 90% increase!

Winter is coming, my friends, and it’s going to be busy.

How retailers can prepare for the ecommerce onslaught

There’s really no need to panic. Yes, the 2020 holiday shopping season looks to be an extremely virtual one, but at least people are still planning to spend money.

Here are a few ways you can prepare:

  • Focus on personalization. Two-thirds of Qubit’s respondents said they expect personalized experiences once they’ve shopped with a brand and over half recognize that brands are personalizing experiences. Ensuring that the ecommerce experience, particularly for returning customers, is personalized and relevant will help increase sales and keep customers from wandering away to a competitor’s website.
  • Polish your messaging (and start that right now). With customers turning to social media, ecommerce websites, and other digital touchpoints more than ever, it’s important to plan your messaging strategy now — keep it professional, consistent, and (above all) authentic.
  • Know what platforms your customers are using. Sprout Social’s back-to-school survey found that retailers received the highest average inbound comments per day on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter (in that order).
  • Understand consumer expectations (and try to meet them). The Radial survey asked consumers what they felt a reasonable timeframe for holiday gift deliveries was and the answer may surprise you – half of respondents indicated 5 days for delivery was reasonable, while 28% said one week was acceptable. Just 14% indicated they expected their holiday gifts to arrive in two days versus 35% back in the halcyon days of 2018. So, there’s some good news for those of you that aren’t Amazon.

Source: Sprout Social

Dorian Stone, Grammarly’s Business General Manager, has this to say about preparing for the 2020 holiday shopping season:

“The holiday season — which represents a considerable portion of retail sales even in typical years — is an opportunity to recover some revenue. With shoppers going largely online, written communications may be one of the only opportunities to engage with consumers across multiple digital touchpoints and channels this year. Whether engaging customers over email, through social media, or in chats, it’s important that customers feel like they’re talking to the same company on any channel. Scalable tools like style guides integrate easily into teams’ workflows and require minimal oversight, training, or extensive administration.”

So, there you have it, a glimpse into the future of 2020, a year where we’ve seen paradigms shift and norms turned on their head.

The key takeaway, as of now, is to stay connected using every digital touchpoint at your disposal. Consumers are using the internet in ways they never have before — and that’s not going to change anytime soon.