Just like almost every aspect of life last year, the pandemic and rolling lockdowns greatly affected the holiday season for brands and retailers. It forced them into change; adopting digital solutions in a year that was all about the resulting sustained growth of ecommerce. But also to incorporate safety and social distancing measures such as a policy of buy online pick up in store and curbside pickup. Online customers grew, as old schoolers – who’d resisted online shopping thus far – finally gave in and started buying online for the first time.
So much of how we live and relax, work and pass time changed in 2020 and remain so as we begin 2021. The holiday season of 2020 was like no other. And here are the biggest factors that punctuated the holiday season of 2020.
Black Friday ecommerce shot up 21.6% from 2019’s festivities, while many huge retailers kept closed thousands of stores across the country. It was a huge jump, yet fell short of expected sales given the circumstances. And that was largely due to the deep discounts being offered earlier on in the year.
Footfall fell on the final Saturday before Christmas by 40.9% compared to the same time last year.
Those ecommerce brands and retailers that had invested in omnichannel and strong digital solutions were in the best position to gather up big ecommerce gains, with a few companies recording 100-200% growth in ecommerce, such as Overstock.
In spring, many retailers began to close their doors – either voluntarily or mandated by the government – and in response consumers flocked to virtual stores to purchase necessities, food, and casualwear. And despite many retailers reopening over the last few months of the year, consumers remained buying online.
The large online presence presented challenges to brands and retailers – acutely around logistics and possible shipping delays. Same day deliveries were rolled back for many, while in the last few weeks before Christmas, issues remained around getting presents delivered in time.
Amazon postponed its summertime Prime Day, moving it to October, and ultimately encouraging major brands and retailers to follow suit and drop prices – effectively kicking off the holiday season much easier than usual. The reasoning behind it was to hold back the massive influx in online orders and spread it out more throughout the second half of the year, attempting to offset shipping problems.
But the holiday season is ultimately the holiday season. And big waves of ecommerce were expected. To help combat these waves, many retailers focused on in-store fulfillment capabilities, while also clearly communicating cut-off dates in order to not disappoint groups of customers.
Now that the holidays are over, brands and retailers are already preparing for the first big test of the year: the expected wave of product returns, which are set to increase by 50-100% from last year. While Salesforce expects the value of returns to reach $280 billion.
It’s thought that around only half of retailers offer in-store returns of purchases made online, which is going to be a huge advantage for them as the other 50% of retailers are at risk of annoying their customers who are unable to swap products, and potentially lose them all together.
2020 was when anything that was in-person translated into the virtual if possible. New services were required to deal with the shift in shopping habits, forcing brands to get creative during a period that is traditionally punctuated with packed shops and hands-on reviews of products in stores.
Take for example Macy’s 94th annual Thanksgiving Day parade. In 2020 it became virtual and was televised. The amount of participants was reduced by around 75% and carried out social distancing and wore masks.
And Santa’s yearly meet and greet? A favorite inside malls across the country, Santa’s visits also became virtual. Many malls provided interactive and virtual Santa experiences, while others allowed festive folk to make a personal video call to Santa.
Meanwhile, some retailers – particularly those that sell products that are more likely to be tried by consumers first – offered virtual shopping appointments to their customers. For example makeup retailers worked with stylists to narrate and guide these online experiences.
An uncertain consumer
At the beginning of the outbreak the government made available a federal aid package, such as payments to families and individuals – in addition to job-saving protections and loans to businesses.
For those who were struggling even before the pandemic kicked in, this gave many people some form of a lifeline, and helped to keep fridges full and cupboards stocked, buoying retail sales mostly coming from online.
As the financial aid dried up, a smaller round of federal support was passed in late December and may keep up the performance of ecommerce into January and February.