2020 Holiday Shopping Season in the Era of COVID-19

This week is Thanksgiving and this holiday shopping season is looking to be anything but normal. With families choosing to spend their virtual holiday celebrations over Zoom and offices participating in virtual gift exchanges, people are seeking out ways to safely reign-in the end of what has been a very challenging year and still keep up some of the tradition. Businesses that have adapted to an ever-increasing demand for online purchases will reap the rewards of these efforts going into 2021.

In a recent Behind the Numbers: eMarketer podcast episode, ‘Around the World with…Holiday Shopping: Thanksgiving Week, Singles Day and Buen Fin,’ Senior Forecasting Analyst Cindy Liu explains some of the history behind the holiday shopping season and what retailers should forecast for 2020. 

Check out the eMarketer podcast episode below! If you’re interested in other podcasts, check out ‘5 Spotify Marketing Podcasts that Inspire and Motivate.’


According to Liu, the holiday shopping season traditionally falls between Thanksgiving and Christmas, with smaller hallmark days like Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Prime Day in-between. These days mark important spending spikes for businesses to bolster their year’s revenue and typically make-up a significant portion of Q4 sales. However this year, there have been noticeable differences in consumer behavior as a result of COVID-19. These changes in behavior–for example a notable 63% of consumers saying they are avoiding stores and citing the pandemic as their main reason–may prove disruptive for retailers looking to entice shoppers to visit their stores in-person.

With the push toward online sales, ecommerce businesses and retailers that successfully adapted to the surge in online orders saw a strong 2020. Some takeaways:

This drive toward online orders means businesses will need to consider not just their inventory, but their entire supply chain model. For example Prime Day, the Amazon holiday invented to showcase new deals and bargains on the leading ecommerce site, was pushed up from October to September (Around the World). Prime day sales make-up 62% of U.S. sales. That’s massive. But unfortunately for some, it’s won’t be a success story. According to eMarketer, apparel and department stores are most likely to suffer this year

So what are retail stores doing about this surge in online orders and shifts in timing for consumer spending?

In short, many stores are not expected to open their doors for the in-person holiday experience this year, however many have adapted to allow for safer consumer visits (Around the World), This includes what some businesses had done during the Halloween season, taking advantage of curbside pick-up. Liu gives an example of the apparel retailer, Nordstrom, that plans to create an outdoor ‘Christmas Wonderland’ experience for folks to bring their families to celebrate safely. 

For retail outlets and malls, the shift toward outdoor events in order to reduce crowds is ever more important this year. In a recent interview with Chuck Steelman, VP of Experience at Trademark Property Company and the National Retail Foundation, Steelman identifies some ways in which Trademark Property is adjusting their holiday events to draw some business.

Some examples include Instagram photo booths with a holiday backdrop and a Santa sign-up, where parents can schedule a time slot to meet Santa (with 6 feet distancing) and have a present waiting for the children. The company is also foregoing the Christmas tree installation at the Galleria Dallas mall and instead selling access to families to ice skate at the venue’s rink in pod-formats, with proceeds going to the Dallas Children’s advocacy center. 

The short story is that businesses and consumers have been adapting and will continue to adapt to the new push toward online retail sales and event marketing in an atypical fashion. This holiday season will serve as a preview of what to expect in the upcoming year.

Featured Image Photo by Ekaterina Shevchenko on Unsplash

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