This post was originally published on Social Media Today.
The 2020 holiday season is shaping up to be like none other before.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has upended our everyday lives—dramatically shifting consumer behaviors and expectations while forcing businesses to quickly adapt to a new and unprecedented retail environment.
To stay afloat, many retailers have switched gears, prioritizing online shopping and other safe options for a consumer base wary of virus exposure.
Brands that were predominantly eCommerce-focused before COVID-19 have tended to fare better than others during the shutdowns. However, increased online competition, higher numbers of budget-conscious consumers and the overall unpredictable nature of the 2020 holiday shopping season are putting added pressure on an already critical time of year for retail success.
So how can retailers ensure a successful 2020 holiday season?
Key Retail Predictions for the 2020 Holiday Shopping Season
1. The holiday shopping season will start earlier
Every year it feels like the holiday shopping season starts earlier, and this year that’s especially true. In fact, the holiday shopping season has already begun!
That’s right. This year, Amazon moved its annual July Prime Day to October 13-14th—effectively kicking off the 2020 holiday shopping season early. The results? A record-breaking $3.5 billion in sales across 19 countries—up 60% from 2019. Other global retailers will likely follow suit and implement early rollouts of Black Friday sales.
Another reason for the early shopping season is the increase in out-of-stock products and longer shipping times caused by the pandemic. To ensure gifts for loved ones arrive before the holidays, many cautious consumers are planning to purchase items earlier in the year.
2. Online shopping experiences will be more important than ever
The 2020 holiday season is set to center around eCommerce stores for the first time ever.
At the beginning of the pandemic, when non-essential stores closed and people had to quarantine, online shopping rates exploded.
According to PriceSpider, eCommerce site traffic each day in April was higher than it was during Black Friday in 2019. Even after brick-and-mortar stores started to reopen, online shopping trends continued—likely fueled by ongoing concerns about in-store virus exposure. Adobe reported that eCommerce sales reached $73 billion in June—up over 76% from last year.
Not to mention that many major retailers—including Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Target and Walmart—have already announced they’ll be closing their stores on Thanksgiving Day, which traditionally kicks off the Black Friday shopping weekend.
According to daVinci Payments, 71% of U.S. adults plan to do more than half of their holiday shopping online this year—presenting a huge opportunity for Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) and other eCommerce-focused brands to break into traditional retailers’ share of holiday sales.
3. Curbside pick-up to become a key fulfillment channel
Although curbside pick-up and buy online, pick-up in store (BOPIS) options have been offered by some retailers for years, its popularity spiked recently in response to the coronavirus-driven safety concerns of consumers—prompting many retailers to expand BOPIS offerings.
By pairing the convenience of online shopping with the immediacy of in-store pick-up, BOPIS has experienced record-breaking 208% year-over-year growth during the pandemic.
With online shopping set to play a dominant role in the 2020 holiday season and the anticipated additional strain on shipping and delivery services, retailers will need to leverage their physical stores as cost-effective and convenient fulfillment centers, as well as shopping locations.
4. Mobile will be in the retail spotlight
Mobile has long established itself as a crucial component of any successful B2C marketing strategy, and time in quarantine has only served to amplify its use and influence.
During the pandemic, mobile usage has increased an average of one hour per day globally and mobile ad engagement has grown by 15%. These increases in mobile time and engagement mean retailers should be strategically shifting ad spend from desktop to mobile wherever it makes sense (including social ads, which are largely viewed on mobile screens).
In 2019, for the first time ever, Adobe reported that over $50 billion was spent on smartphones during the holiday season, and 2020 is expected to be another record-breaking holiday season for mobile.
Winning the Holiday Season with the Power of Social Proof
Social proof—the user-generated photos, videos, ratings and reviews shared by real customers—has long been one of the most influential forms of content for brands. Post-pandemic, social proof has become absolutely crucial to retailers’ marketing strategies.
Because of COVID-19, budgets have been reduced, teams are smaller and the ability to produce new visual content has significantly diminished. For retailers struggling with some or all of these challenges, user-generated content (UGC) is a cost-effective and sustainable solution.
Not only is UGC abundantly available and proven to be the most trusted, engaging and influential content to consumers, but it also has the ability to connect with people in a way that brand or agency-created content simply can’t. By its very nature, UGC is real, human and personal—and in times of crisis, human connection is what people crave most.
To break through the online holiday noise and cost-effectively drive sales in this ever-evolving retail environment, brands will need to leverage UGC in every touchpoint across all their omni-channel holiday strategies—from sharing it in organic and paid social posts and ads to featuring it as inspiration and validation across eCommerce web pages and emails.
This will be the most important holiday shopping season in recent retail history. After reading these 2020 holiday shopping predictions, make sure you’re prepared with an eCommerce strategy built for 2020.