The COVID-19 crisis has turned the world upside-down and created an uncertain future for businesses operating across all sectors. It may still be summer but, before we know it, the nights will be drawing in and the holidays will be on the horizon. Planning ahead for Christmas is more important than ever this year for both brands and buyers. If you’re looking to position your brand not just to survive, but to thrive, during the holiday period, this guide should prove useful.

What Will the 2020 Holiday Season Look Like??

Usually, when the holidays are around the corner, there’s an air of anticipation and excitement. While many people will still be looking forward to the holidays, there’s no doubt that Christmas 2020 will be different both for gift buyers and brands. Routine trips to the mall to stock up on presents, enjoying the experience of Christmas shopping, and dropping off presents with friends and family may be off the cards, with online shopping and virtual presents and gifts more likely to appeal. With experts predicting another spike in cases this winter, there is a chance that shops could be closed and, if they are open, that many shoppers will rightfully be reluctant to step foot into a crowed shopping center. For brands and buyers, it’s a good idea to start thinking about what the holidays will look like and then plan accordingly. 

Steps to Prepare for a Very Different Holiday Shopping Season

Step 0: Sell Online

Before we even get started, let’s address the obvious. If you’re not already selling online, start. This is the most crucial consideration for brands, with the threat of COVID-19 still looming and a very real chance of further lockdowns as temperatures plunge. If your brand is not already selling products and goods online, now is the time. Online sales have soared during the lockdown, and this is a trend likely to continue growing in the coming months. Statistics from econsultancy suggest that ecommerce sales grew by 25% during the quarter ending in June 2020. At a time when people are more reluctant to spend due to financial pressures and anxiety about the future, this is a significant increase. Adding an online sales channel is a means of catering to evolving customer preferences, future proofing your business, providing safe options for buyers, and establishing a ready-made contingency plan if a second wave occurs and physical stores are forced to close in the fall or winter months.

So I’ll say it again: If you’re not already selling online, start.

Step 1: Get a Head Start

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Preparing in advance is essential for all brands as the holiday season looms. However, this year, it’s particularly important to start thinking about how to start riding whatever waves this season is going to bring. Online shopping is increasingly popular and, year on year, the number of people who buy presents and other items linked to the holidays is rising. This year, as the risk of store closures hangs over retailers, and customers look for simple and safe ways to stock up on festive essentials and purchase gifts, buying online is expected to be even more popular. Research conducted by Adobe suggests that online sales during the holiday period increased by 13.1% in 2019, with 59% of people doing some or all of their shopping on the Internet. In light of our current societal situation, it would not be unreasonable to expect that figure to double this holiday season.

Interestingly, despite global financial uncertainty, a survey by Rakuten revealed that 87% of consumers are not planning to reduce their budget for Christmas spending in 2020.

This is a great sign for online retailers, as the market will be flush with buyers. However, it means that there will also be a drastic increase in sellers, A.K.A. Competition.

One of the best ways to be prepared for this holiday season, and get ahead of the onslaught of new sellers in your space is to start laying down the foundations now. Over the last couple of months, we’ve seen what happens when eCommerce infrastructure experiences even a marginal increase in activity in a short time – longer delivery times and inventory shortages. So, people may also be more inclined to buy gifts earlier than they usually would  in order to avoid potential delays and take advantage of savings and offers.

This year, consider starting your holiday promotions a month or two earlier to try to attract early buyers, beat the crowd, and hedge against delayed delivery times. You should also start liaising with suppliers and distributors now to shore up all your inventory while you still have some breathing room.

Even absent a pandemic, starting early is just good business. Statistics show that shoppers are buying festive products earlier each year and, if you can target customers in October and November, rather than in December, you can reduce the risk of delays and increase sales. According to Deloitte, consumers who start shopping before Thanksgiving spend an average of $400 more than those who shop later in the year. Offering incentives to buy early can also help you beat competitors. This advantage will be particularly important this year, due to increased competition for online sales.

Step 2: Consider Offering Pre-wrapped Gifts

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This year, Christmas may be very different because social distancing measures are likely to still be in place. Mass gatherings might not be up and running, and there’s a chance that we might not be able to organize parties and large family get-togethers. As such, exchanging gifts may not involve meeting up to give friends and relatives gifts. As a someone looking to capitalize on holiday sales, it’s beneficial to think about what people will want to buy this Christmas, as well as how you can supply goods in a way that will capture the spirit of the holidays. Offering to ship your goods pre-wrapped and ready to put under the Christmas tree is a good gesture and a competitive edge during a holiday season when in-person gift-giving is likely to be taboo.

Consider offering services like pre-wrapped gifts or a gift-wrapping service to boost your bottom line and enable customers to send festive parcels to loved ones through the mail. It will be much better for recipients to have a beautifully-wrapped gift to open on Christmas morning, instead of a pile of poly bags or brown boxes. If you use 3PL fulfillment services, start communicating now to ensure that you’re ready to offer revised or additional services by the time orders start coming in.

Step 3: eGifts and Gift Cards

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Going to a store, filling a cart, and popping round to the houses of friends and neighbors might not be viable this year. To cater to changing preferences and to respond to uncertainty linked to going out and shopping in physical stores, brands can introduce digital gifts / eGift cards that can be sent and redeemed with a couple of mouse clicks. Virtual gifts and digital gift cards are an excellent idea because they give recipients control over what they buy, and you can purchase and send them in an instant from the comfort of your own home. Research by McKinsey suggests that over 70% of Americans don’t feel comfortable going out to partake in “regular” activities, such as shopping, yet. Providing online options will enable you to generate sales, while also making customers feel safe. Depending on your business, you could also think about introducing a subscription service. If you sell beauty products or luxury chocolates, for example, you could encourage people to sign up for a monthly box of goodies or treat their loved ones to a 6- or 12-month supply.

Step 4: Sanitization and Infection Control

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Whether you run a physical store or eCommerce store, it’s beneficial to communicate to your customers the steps that you’re taking to sanitize and ensure the proper handling of goods to keep them safe. If you are delivering goods, accepting returns, or welcoming customers to a shop, make the guidelines clear. Even eCommerce brands that ship from 3PL facilities are not immune to customer fear and uncertainty. Communication is key. So update customers regularly through emails, websites, and social media, and ensure that support is available if people have questions or concerns.

Step 5: Promote Extras and Add-ons to Boost Sales

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Many shoppers look for convenient ways to buy gifts and items they need for the festive season. This year, the ability to buy a lot of items at the same time in the same place is going to be even more appealing to shoppers. Aim to increase the range of products you offer—as well as up-sells, add-ons, and extras—to boost revenue and encourage consumers to buy more from you. Instead of buying one gift and then moving to the next store or website, try and persuade shoppers to add more items to their cart. You could explore options like creating bundles with your products or partnerships with other brands to offer an extended product line or more diverse bundles.

This year, buyers will also be very receptive to volume discounts, which encourage people to spend more to save more. The idea is simple. If you could go into one store and finish all your Christmas shopping in one swoop, would you? Of course. So, why not try to offer the same one-stop shopping solution to your customers.

Step 6: Show Empathy and Understanding

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For many people, this Christmas is going to be particularly difficult. We are all going through a pandemic and desperately trying to adjust to a “new normal.” As you communicate with customers and reach out to new clients, be mindful of the situation and show empathy and compassion. Connect and engage with customers, keep in touch, show the human side of your brand and strengthen relationships by using marketing techniques, such as storytelling, personalized emails, and social media posts that feature your customers. At a time that is challenging and distressing for some, it’s also a good idea to remain upbeat and positive and to channel the spirit of the holidays, helping people get excited and look forward to the elements that we can still enjoy. The holidays will be different, but that doesn’t mean that they cannot be a joyous time.

Wrapping up

As we approach the first COVID Holiday Season, businesses all over the world will be trying to put measures in place to boost sales and drum up interest in products and services. Planning ahead, selling online, encouraging people to buy early, offering pre-wrapped gifts and virtual gifts, and providing services that cater to changing consumer preferences can all be beneficial. It’s also a great idea to connect with customers, to maintain open channels of communication, and to showcase the human side of your brand. If you’re looking to enjoy a bumper holiday season, take these tips on board to ensure that your brand thrives.