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2020 Holiday Season: What Retailers Need to Know

Retailers are poised for a different experience as we enter the 2020 holiday season. The impacts of COVID-19 are still being felt, with store traffic down significantly and a portion of stores still closed around the country. From a spending perspective, initial projections show a flat or slight increase in holiday spending, but with unknowns around additional stimulus from the fed and a potential second wave of COVID, even these projections exist on shaky ground.

We’ve already seen early adjustments – major retailers such as Target and Walmart are going to close on Thanksgiving, reversing the trend of starting Black Friday as early as possible each year. What else should retailers be thinking about as we near the 2020 holiday season? Here are five things that should be top of mind.

Early Communication with Customers for the 2020 Holiday Season

While we don’t know exactly how and when shoppers will do the majority of their holiday shopping, it’s clear that the in-store traffic that’s come to be expected around Black Friday and the weeks leading up to the holidays in December will be tepid this year compared to previous years. While some customers will still be open to shopping in stores, restrictions from local governments and social distancing standards, along with the general sentiment of shoppers to avoid crowds, this year will almost assuredly see the highest number of shoppers buying online versus in-store.

This will put pressure on retail supply chains, with the easiest antidote being to entice the shopper to buy earlier rather than closer to the holiday itself. By communicating early and often, and being clear on shipping cutoff deadlines, retailers can help control the demand to an extent and prevent unhappy customers who don’t receive their gifts on time as a result of shipping delays in the final days of the season.

Curbside and In-Store Pickup Services

In 2019, we saw a big increase in the use of buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS) and buy online, pickup at curbside (BOPAC) fulfillment options across the country. For retailers who had yet to invest in these technologies, COVID forced many to implement as quickly as possible as customers looked for contactless pickup services. This trend will continue into the 2020 holiday season, so ensuring that these processes are optimized for higher traffic will be key.

A recent survey reports that 55% of consumers will use curbside pickup more than they did last year. In order to be prepared for this, retailers should ensure all associates are trained on the proper processes to ensure orders are picked within the correct timeframe, that the stores are staffed appropriately to managed increase orders, and that the pickup experience for customers is clearly communicated and adhered to in order to ensure a positive customer experience.

Creating a Positive Gift Ideation Journey

With the likelihood of in-store wandering and browsing down, retailers have a void to fill as it comes to gift ideation. Retailers need to think about how they can re-create the in-store browsing experience online. Historically, retailers have leaned on digital gift guides, but as broad buckets like “For Him” and “For Her”, these can leave a lot to be desired. The more a retailer can embrace segmentation and dig into specific customer personas to provide better gift ideas, the more likely they’ll be able to capture the sales of gift givers looking for ideas. Since many customers tend to rely on the help of store clerks when shopping, retailers should also think about how to re-create that experience online. Customer service teams should be trained to be able to help advise frazzled shoppers and, when possible, technology should be used to make those interactions as seamless and immediate as possible. While the gift ideation journey can be a boon for a website, it still must keep in mind good CX practices – the UX needs to be simple, mesh with the overall feel of the site, and ultimately feel natural and enhance the browsing experience.

Using 2020 Holiday Season Messaging to Reinforce Brand Values

With advertisers spending more during Q4, retailers need to find unique ways to cut through the noise and reach their customers. Typically, during the holidays marketers lean on emotional messages that will resonate with their customers, highlighting moments of togetherness and reflection.

In 2020, we see this need for an emotional connection being stronger than ever as crucial issues have taken center stage across the world. Retailers that are able to align with consumer values around COVID-19 responses, racial justice, and other environmental and social issues will fair far better in today’s world than those who do not. This must go beyond bold statements and social media posts though. Customers are looking for brands and retailers to follow through with their assertions and take action. Organizations should share any progress they’ve made addressing such issues, but also be transparent about what they can and need to do to continue to drive our world in the right direction.

Prepare for Increased Returns

Retailers are certainly accustomed to the uptick in returns around the 2020 holiday season, as gift giving is more art than science and the continued growth in eCommerce and buying without trying leads to more products needing to be sent back for exchange or permanent return. However, as online sales expect to be at an all-time high this 2020 holiday season, returns will likely be increased as well. Retailers cannot avoid this completely but can mitigate some returns by ensuring they have the right information available on their website – clear pictures and videos of the product, detailed product information, and sufficient product reviews can all lower the number of returns. Chatbots or customer service reps that can quickly answer product questions can also ensure that the purchase is one likely to stick.

For those returns that are unavoidable, the focus for retailers should be on clear communication on the returns process, and ensuring the process is as easy as possible for the customer. Customers that find themselves dealing with unforeseen hurdles in order to return their purchases or gifts, or find themselves waiting an abnormal amount of time for a refund or store credit, will be less likely to want to shop there in the future. These actions are all easy to take – but require deliberate action in advance to ensure the proper messaging is communicated to all parties.

While the upcoming 2020 holiday season certainly has question marks surrounding it, there are clear steps retailers should be taking now in order to ensure that they can make the most of it. With these things in mind, retailers should be set up for success for the holidays of 2020 and the start of 2021.

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Tags: Retail Planning and Execution, Specialty Retail, Retail