The 2020 holiday shopping season is going to look different this year. Yes, COVID-19 is the biggest contributor to this shift, causing a change in customer expectations, increasing technology adoption, and accelerating ecommerce use. So the strategies and approach you followed last year likely won’t cut it this year. That leaves the question: what will work?

To effectively answer that question, and build a successful retail strategy for the 2020 holiday season, we must take a look at consumer behavior.

More Shopping is Happening Online

Salesforce predicts that up to 30% of global retail holiday sales in 2020 will come through digital channels. From the Commerce segment of it’s Snapshot Research Series, a Salesforce survey also found that 47% of respondents are interested in shopping online for the holidays. If you have any e-commerce, now is a good time to make sure:

  • Your product descriptions are optimized for search and well populated.
  • You have well-trained, experienced customer service folks actively responding to inquiries, complaints, and issues across channels.
  • You have webchat on your site so customers can easily engage with you.
  • Your online store can handle the influx of site traffic by running load and speed tests.

If you’re a brick and mortar store, there are things you can do to help capture some of those dollars that would otherwise go to digital sales. Ensure your Google My Business (GMB) listing is accurate and post your holiday sales and specials on it to capture local search traffic. If you have more than one location, make sure you have, and post to, a GMB for each one. Also consider paid social media and email marketing campaigns to bring shoppers in.

Customers Expect Different Purchase Options

With people’s unease over potential coronavirus exposure, little-to-no-contact purchase options are popular. In fact, Digital Media Solutions reported buy online pick up in store grew over 367% between March and June alone. This is going to carry over into the holiday season, so make sure you have a plan to meet customers where they are at — whether that’s offering in-store pickup, curbside, drive-up, or some combination of the three.

Bad Delivery Experiences Sour Shopping

From packages being delayed to going MIA, many customers are getting burned during the delivery stage of their purchasing journey. This is mostly due to capacity issues with delivery providers, i.e. UPS, FedEx, USPS, DHL, etc. And the capacity issues are likely to worsen during the holiday season due to the expected uptick in digital orders, plus the social distancing and limited occupancy measures in many distribution centers (translating to less bodies to do the work).

Even with this being a somewhat known issue, customers ultimately hold retailers accountable, as Convey reports 84% of shoppers will not return to a retailer after one bad delivery experience. While you can’t completely sidestep delivery issues, there are things you can do to mitigate problems, including:

  • Offering same-day delivery: it gives your customers peace of mind.
  • Clearly communicating shipping cut-off dates: Level-set customer expectations by being up front about when orders need to be placed to arrive in time for Christmas.
  • Choosing the right packaging: This ensures items don’t arrive damaged or broken.
  • Proactively handling shipping problems: Monitor shipments and communicate with customers right away if their order is off track. Be transparent about the problem and offer resolution where possible.
  • Pushing ship-to-store: Encourage ship-to-store for curbside, drive-up, or in-store pickup in lieu of shipping to an address. Bonus: this saves you the costly “last mile” shipping expense.

Stores Are Seen as Fulfillment Centers

If you have both a brick and mortar store, and e-commerce, you have a key competitive advantage: you can leverage your store as a fulfillment center. Doing so checks many of the boxes we already discussed customers are looking for: contactless or limited-contact shopping options, ability to bypass shipping issues, plus the added joy of still “going to the store.”

Using store inventory to fulfill online orders has advantages for your business, too: it limits mispicks, allows you to turn inventory faster, and passes some of the fulfillment costs to the customer. If you want to go this route, to be successful you need to:

  • Clearly communicate inventory levels in real-time. This may require new technology.
  • Staff appropriately to cover stocking, fulfillment, customer service, and sales needs.
  • Invest in training to ensure a good shopping experience both online and offline.
  • Leverage GMB and local SEO to attract nearby shoppers to your store.
  • Employ digital tools and strategies, such as webchat, retargeting ads, abandon cart emails, and similar to capture more sales.

Consumers Expect Deals

With households impacted by reduced or lost income, plus stress over job security, shoppers are extremely price driven right now. So much so that discounts are the number one influence for brand/retailer purchase and loyalty according to the Commerce segment of the Salesforce Snapshot Research Series. Sales, promo codes, or coupons should be part of your 2020 holiday sales strategy, as the best deal is likely to win.

Even with a global pandemic, people will still be looking to celebrate the holidays. In fact, we would argue that celebrating this year may be more important than recent years, because it provides everything we’ve been craving: normalcy, togetherness, and something to look forward to. As a retailer, the best thing you can do is leverage the consumer insights and strategies above to make celebrating as easy as possible. If you want help implementing them, we can do that.