I am one of those people who holds Grinch-worthy thoughts: cynical of the merry holiday, cringe at carrols, and look on in disbelief when households throw up their Santa Claus and reindeer decorations in October. So I first apologize for bringing up the C word so early on in the year, but for reasons that go beyond my own self-centered beliefs, we need to talk about Christmas.
Coronavirus has become a prefix to all aspects of life, from the personal to the professional. Ideas, projects, and projections have all been impacted due to the current pandemic. It has closed commerce in huge chunks of the global economy. If you are a retailer or dev agency that creates top-class website platform installations, preparation for the holiday season should start to unfold now.
The large chunk of time at the end of the year, the holiday season, stretches from just after Halloween, drives through Thanksgiving, and hits Christmas Eve. This prized period makes up half of the annual revenue for so many retailers, which, under the current circumstances, may symbolize a saving grace.
So let’s head into the time machine and enter three alternative worlds of December, 2020.
Quick recovery for Christmas
In mid-June the US Department of Commerce published a report on retail and food services sales for May. Within the report, it found that there was an almost 18% increase in retail sales compared to April. Given the circumstances, this was the largest month-to-month increase in retail sales since 1992.
Around the same time in June, the Labor Department stated that there was a fall of 58,000 in unemployment applications, as shops and stores began to reopen across the country, some more tentative than others.
Yet these initial signs are promising for entering into a phase of new normal. In a scenario that sees a quick recovery, by the time Christmas rolls around, coronavirus will be a sorrowful reminder of the unpredictability and chaos that comes from nature. Meanwhile we’ll see a stabilization of retail sales, which have soared and dropped, spiked and dipped over the past few months depending on the sector.
What is less predictable is the level of which lockdown will affect consumer behavior, who may stick more strongly to online purchases, having had to order via online channels for the past handful of months.
Drawn out recovery
Despite the 18% increase in retail sales from April to May, if compared year to year then retail sales are down this year. In May 2020, total retail sales accounted for $485.5 billion, which is down 6.1% from May of last year.
So while there are signs of recovery from the pains of lockdown, it doesn’t leave the industry with a clean bill of health. Another strong sign of uncertainty is the scheduled termination of special unemployment benefits for furloughed and unemployed workers in July. If the pandemic provokes fresh state lockdowns, and causes these workers to remain home, and witness their incomes nosedive, ecommerce spending for Christmas is not going to be a priority for many families.
More of the same
Unfortunately the pandemic continues to persist and its economic repercussions continue to severely restrict consumer spending, and retailers continue to experience record losses. This scenario is a possibility if states carelessly reopen with little restrictions and precautions put in place. We are already seeing a resurgence of cases, and 12 states have paused reopening plans.
This scenario will disfigure the global economy, with retailers facing decisions on how to cut losses yet prepare for the year’s highest spending season. And leaving consumers to splurge out for Christmas online, will retailers manage to handle the busiest time of the year?
Hopefully this final, worse-case scenery turns out to be a practice in hypotheticals, and that all of us work together to flatten the curve, and enter a new phase of normal… in time to celebrate the joys of Christmas, and share in person the gifts we buy online. Perhaps I’m not such a Grinch after all.