The biggest e-commerce Q4 in history is right around the corner. The global pandemic has reshaped almost every aspect of American life – with this upcoming holiday season being both challenging and an opportunity for marketers. Looking at trends from earlier holidays this year, we know that people are shopping online and much earlier. On average for those holidays, Amazon’s relevant search terms increased dramatically 2-3 weeks earlier compared to previous years. Father’s Day product searches on Amazon, for instance, spiked 3 weeks earlier this year than in 2019, and the same trend is happening now for Halloween with people already shopping for costumes and decorations.

To help marketers respond this season, we’ve outlined our predictions for how consumer behavior is shifting, along with ways your brands can prepare for the pace and growth of what’s to come.

How Will Holiday Shopping Be Different This Year?

  1. Continued e-commerce boom. It’s no surprise that there has already been a shift to e-commerce since the start of the pandemic, but that is going to take a huge leap this year. Best Buy, Target, Walmart and many of the major retailers have already closed for Black Friday, indicating a major shift to online sales.
  2. Consumers want value and flexibility. With constrained expenditures from the recession and widespread unemployment, there will be an emphasis on early deals, promotions, and brands providing value. Safety will also be a key concern, with shoppers prioritizing stores that offer curbside pickup and contactless buying. According to a Google Study, 53% of shoppers said they’ll choose to shop at stores that offer contactless shopping, and 47% of planned shoppers said they’ll use options to buy online, pickup in store/curbside pickup.
  3. Shift to more traditional gifting. In previous years, there have been significant shifts to gifting experiences including sporting events, concerts, and vacations. As these have been scaled back by the pandemic, we predict people will be spending more on traditional gifts like electronics, apparel, and toys. In recent weeks, sales of larger and more expensive toys have tripled, with families purchasing trampolines and $1,600 playscapes to keep their kids occupied while stuck at home.
  4. Shopping locally and sustainably. More and more, we’re seeing that consumers are buying based on their values and moral beliefs. This year, 66% of shoppers said they plan to shop more at local small businesses and 61% of shoppers state that how well a brand responds to this crisis has a huge impact on their likelihood to buy from that brand.
  5. Parking Lot Pop-Ups and Converted Malls. While e-commerce will account for a majority of sales this Q4, it’s still important to accommodate consumers who want to browse and buy in person. Outdoor markets, like the one South Coast Plaza in LA, allow customers to shop in the open-air stalls once they book an appointment. For other traditional malls suffering from bankrupt stores, Amazon has reportedly been in talks with the largest mall owner about converting its spaces into fulfillment centers. This will be a big move for Amazon to solve for crucial last mile delivery issues, especially as many competitors grow concerned with logistical challenges around shipping and delivery.

What Brands Can do Now To Capitalize on the E-Commerce Upswing

Regardless of industry, to succeed and capture sales this holiday season, businesses will need to reimagine their approach – whether through messaging, promotions, or offerings – to reach a more digital yet fragmented shopper base. Here are a few things your brand can do almost immediately to get a competitive edge.

  1. Communicate with empathy and compassion. Consumers want to know what positive impact your brand is making, whether it’s ensuring your employers are protected from the virus or using social media to facilitate a sense of community to help people stay emotionally close. Recently, people have taken notice on how brands have responded to the pandemic, especially in light of social and political issues currently happening. And with 60% of consumers saying they turn more to brands they can absolutely trust, having the right tone – one that is a delicate balance of informative and also empathetic –  will be important to winning customers.
  2. Transparency will be key in your brand’s messaging strategy. Many retailers have enhanced their messaging to over-communicate details such as order fulfillment, changes in store protocol, and supply chain disruptions. As concerns around shipping delays and low inventory levels rise among consumers, it’s paramount to ensure that any impact on your retail operations or store information is upfront, honest, and clear to the customer.
  3. Mobile heavy, social first. With sales shifting online, a large portion of shopping will be done on mobile devices, and more specifically, on social channels. In Q2 of this year, we saw a 62% increase in mobile shopping on apps including Amazon, Ebay, and Walmart. We predict that of all mobile orders this season, 30% will be through social channels, with peak days reaching up to 40%. Since the pandemic, 66% of Gen Z consumers stated they have made a purchase on social. Companies like Facebook are making it easier for brands to show up online, with the launch of Facebook Shops – an online marketplace that allows small businesses to create to online store on Facebook and Instagram. Brands who show up and are on these channels are better positioned to capture this mobile-heavy users. 
  4. Creative promotions and diversified discounts. Promotions and discounts are going to be huge for customers this year, especially given the economic challenges that a lot of consumers are facing. Incorporating promotional strategies will be key to unlocking more sales, but it has to be done at the right time and in the right way so as to preserve your margins. Brands need to think about targeting different levels of customers at different stages, with varying degrees of promotions. Consider tactics like time-bound discounts with low inventory notices or flash sales, bundled promotions to help sell some of the not-so-best sellers, or staggered discounts.
  1. Flexibility and dependability will be key conversion motivators. Looking at the recent surges in search terms of buy online pick up in store options, we have a good sense that this a new way people want to shop. Brands will stand to gain a lot of the market share over competitors if they’re able to accommodate how consumers want to shop – whether its curbside pickup, BOPIS, or virtual and personalized appointments. Dependability also plays a major role in converting shoppers. They want to understand: how dependable is your inventory? Will their products get shipped and delivered on time? How seamless and effortless is the digital experience? Establishing a variety of ways to shop, and also securing trust in your site and shipping, will be critical pieces not just for this holiday season, but for your Q4 and beyond, especially with the lasting implications brought on the pandemic. 

The stakes have never been higher this holiday season as the pandemic continues to disrupt the industry. While there isn’t a magic 8 ball to predict what is in store, there is an opportunity to make dynamic forecasts based on the shifts already observed in the market. Keeping a real time pulse on the day to day consumer swings, being nimble, and having a backlog of marketing materials for holiday will help brands react fast to these constant anomalies in consumer buying behaviors and position your brand ahead of the competition.  

– Emily Le, Senior Marketing Strategist, Direct Agents

Connect with our team at Direct Agents and let us help plan your digital marketing strategy for the holiday: