April 15, 2021 6:07 PM

How Will COVID-19 Impact This Holiday Shopping Season 2020 – And Tips to Prepare

Ayesha Saini

What the 2020 holiday shopping season may turn out to be – like much of the year so far – remains anyone’s guess.

It’s worth recalling how just a few months back, COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the global supply chain for all kinds of products and retailers, even Amazon. Then in the summer and still under stay-at-home mandates, consumers increased their spending on house goods and furniture, including pool, grill, and gardening items.

As the holidays approach, pandemic-weary shoppers reflect on the season differently, including their interest in how, when, and where they shop.

Consumers are preparing for a holiday shopping season that starts earlier…and unfolds to be even more online

2020 has upended consumers’ shopping needs, priorities, and expectations. The click-and-collect option saw a 95% increase while home delivery lured 39% more consumers to beeline digital purchases.

A Nielsen report suggests a 49% growth in e-commerce sales since the start of the pandemic. Online marketplaces will benefit most this holiday season, as consumers are likely to shop more online versus in-person shopping such as malls, big box, and department stores, which are expecting major declines.

Furthermore, reversing recent trends, many of these big-box retailers, including Walmart, Target, and Best Buy will stay closed on Thanksgiving Day. They are instead promoting shoppers to start their holiday season earlier in October.

A big part of this is because consumers do not feel it “back to normal” to shop in person. Temperatures are dropping, and there is a lingering doubt whether this would translate to yet another surge in COVID-19 spread and infection.

As a result, 30% of retail sales worldwide are expected to lean heavily on online marketplaces as consumers avoid the perceived risk of shopping in-person.

Media mix will dramatically shift to personalization

Let’s face it: Many retailers fell into a major financial and sales hole this spring and are still climbing out of it.

With budgets tight, retail marketing is refocusing towards targeted-performance branding. Companies are increasingly focused on using sophisticated data techniques to understand shoppers’ preferences and improve digital customer experiences across all channels and devices.

This experience also includes significant investments in digital marketing: personalized messages, near-time optimization, and automation across multiple channels that drive conversion, purchase, and other measurable outcomes.

Last-mile supply chains will remain under pressure

Even now with growing online sales, customer expectations remain high. And they are not willing to let potential delivery delays dampen their holiday shopping spirit.

A surge in digital orders, along with social distancing measures in warehouses and distribution centers is putting unprecedented pressure on last-mile delivery and logistic providers.

Salesforce predicts a nearly $4.5 billion increase in delivery surcharges from traditional delivery partners. This additional cost comes with a high risk of about 700 million delayed gifts this holiday season.

Six Tips to Help You Navigate the Holiday Season

Shopping will never be the same this year. As Riversand tracks the season ahead, let’s look at how retailers can woo and retain the 2020 holiday shopper.

1. Upgrade the product content experience to engage end consumers

In e-commerce, your products are the centerpiece of your customer relationships. Every digital product aims to delight and deliver a super engaging shopping experience, achieving your operational and commercial goals.

But think about it: if your consumers (or partners or distributors) primarily engage with your product virtually, it’s the product information that is the key point in your audience understanding, helping them make their buying decisions.

The perception of your product is their reality. In that case, we’d argue that product information is your product.

The digital content experience you should develop and deliver includes:

  • Detailed product descriptions (sometimes by demographic, psychographic, or firmographic if possible)
  • Product search features & SEO
  • Product catalogs
  • Product pages
  • Images
  • Video
  • Rich media
  • Unstructured information for mobile consumption

Moreover, contextualizing product data with relevant recommendations will deliver a more personalized experience to your consumers, leading to better conversion rates. All that starts with the right data and the ability to create these insights with this data.

Thus, even if you sell your products entirely through distributors, enhancing the product-centric experience using Product Information Management (PIM) and Digital Asset Management (DAM) created on the right data platform is a great way to keep up customer expectations and develop lasting brand loyalty.

2. Enable omnichannel commerce

The switch to digital commerce is here to stay even after the pandemic subsides.

McKinsey predicts the share of global sales that will move through consumer ecosystems will grow to nearly 30% by 2025. Retailers must build purchase confidence in various channels by offering customers a unified, omnichannel experience.

You can support the full customer journey with product data intelligence and creating connections across all buyer touchpoints. Once consumers are in your “store,” whether physical, virtual, or experiential, you can keep them there.

Strategically, this requires that you integrate all customer touchpoints or domains. Tactically, to actually accomplish this, you must equip your e-commerce team with a multi-domain cloud-native system that allows you to store, manage, cleanse, and share accurate and channel-ready data with speed and agility.

3. Automate selling, shipping, and fulfillment with a globally connected ecosystem

Retailers can create value, foster innovation, and support new business decisions in their supply chains with an up-to-date customer, partner, and vendor data that moves at speed and scale.

Expand your sales channels: A study by Adobe suggests that BOPIS (buy online, pickup in-store) saw an uptick of 195% in 2020 due to COVID-19. With brick-and-mortar shops, you can deploy BOPIS for customers who prefer same-day or predictable day purchase and pickup, but avoid physically shopping in stores. This trend is not expected to go away post-COVID-19.

Make D2C channels work for you: Consumers love to connect directly with a brand for more products, and with direct to consumer (D2C) selling you can take advantage of such impulse buys. Retailers can leverage this better on their online commerce platform (and save the customer the hassle of physically going to a brick and mortar store) by proactively connecting via email, push notifications, and so on.

Sell to international customers seamlessly: Make most of the busiest and longest holiday shopping season by enabling e-commerce syndication to hundreds and thousands of channels.

Keep track of your customers’ buying habits, purchase history, and preferences. Offer personalization using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) capabilities and secure new modes of payment. Invite them through an engaging and interactive website.

And suppose your e-com syndication strategy is current or forward-thinking. In that case, you’ve got a system in place to achieve this without damaging the productivity or morale of your e-com, marketing, and merchandising team. If your tech is sound, it’s an additional opportunity to increase channels…not a burden of needlessly more work.

Efficient and automated shipping and fulfillment: Holiday season is likely to bring in more traffic, but it also means more automation and efficiency in the supply chain. While you can consider local and national in-house shipping, outsource shipping, and fulfillment for your International orders to third-party logistics providers (3PL).

4. Expand product range with industry-standard data pools such as GDSN

Data pools such as GDSN offer a big zone of opportunity to impact your customer experience.

GS1’s Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) supports retailers and brand manufacturers in managing and sending product content across traditional wholesale trading partners and e-commerce channels.

To fuel this, retailers must position their marketing, e-commerce, IT, and Master Data Management (MDM) teams to upload and manage high-quality product content, and synchronize and share it automatically with their trading partners.

Brands with accurate, accessible, and updated high-quality, GDSN-compliant data have more chances of winning against the COVID-19 economic slowdown.

5. Add convenience with holiday-special apps

Remember, holidays can be an extremely stressful time for the consumer. Consumers may find themselves browsing through different brand offerings to make convenient purchases.

Brands can transform the ‘shop-till-you-drop’ motivation to ‘lay-and-shop’ mode of holiday shopping by developing holiday-special mobile apps that raise your visibility and conversion.

We mirror the expectation that 30% of e-commerce sales will be through mobile commerce, and figures to grow 300% faster than traditional e-commerce business. What’s more, 66% of mobile transactions will occur through an app.

You can build and leverage apps before the 2020 holiday shopping season kicks in.

  • Use push notifications to inform users about “holiday season specials” or “holiday-only” offers.
  • Offer a single-press one-touch checkout and payment process.
  • Keep users engaged with the latest promotional deals and limited products.
  • Put in place a two-way communication channel to increase the speed and quality of customer support.

All of this is possible by having pre-existing SDKs and APIs in your master data platform. A robust extensibility helps with quicker integration and faster deployment leading to increased reach across ecommerce marketplaces and social platforms.

6. Embrace a digital-first world

2020 has delivered one curveball after another to retailers, and more broadly, the entire supply chain. It’s been more about survival than celebration.

You can stay ahead in the modern commerce game by rapidly transforming to adapt to a new, digital-first world. Make systemwide improvement and optimization to your e-commerce stores.  This will ensure you have fewer abandoned shopping carts, better user experience, and great reviews from satisfied customers and prospects.

The most resilient companies will use trusted data as a strategic asset to navigate competition and build stronger, more valuable relationships with their customers. Real digital transformation occurs when companies embed technology at speed and aim to innovate at scale.

Ultimately, the businesses with strong omnichannel capabilities and powerful digital connections built on a robust data fabric will be able to manage this holiday shopping season and beyond.

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