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Holiday Shopping Predictions and What They Mean for Businesses

Zaheer Dodhia
Zaheer Dodhia

Businesses are feeling uncertain about the outcome of the most anticipated time of the year – the holiday shopping season. Here are some predictions to inform your strategy.

  • It's impossible to use past data on holiday shopping to inform predictions for this year.
  • 2020 has already shown that online shopping is a customer favorite.
  • 70% of consumers state that they intend to do their 2020 Christmas shopping online.
  • The obvious big trend for businesses this year: online and mobile!

It's been quite a year – and that's an understatement – but it's finally drawing to a close. For many of us, that means shopping for the holidays.

Even if your personal shopping is over and done with, there's still a lot to unpack in terms of the 2020 holiday shopping predictions and what they mean for businesses. It's time to get ready to mask up and stand in line with the rest of us.

Of course, this has been a year of surprises, many of them unpleasant and some completely unprecedented. So it's well-nigh impossible to predict shopping trends and details with 100% accuracy. That being said, an analysis of common shopping predictions can help us to perceive which of these forecasts is most likely to happen.

1. The holiday season will last longer.

Research from consulting firm AlixPartners indicated that almost 50% of consumers planned to start their Christmas shopping before Halloween, and Amazon set Prime Day on Oct. 13 and 14. For the first time, some consulting firms included October in their assessments as the official beginning of the holiday season.

As AlixPartners put it, the normal definition of the season was "meaningless" this year.

What it means for businesses

We've already seen October come and go, of course, and we're right in the heart of what most would term the Christmas shopping season. Even though it's too late to jump on the October bandwagon, it's still a good idea to be conscious of the mindset of consumers.

This is especially true when it comes to extending the window for returns. Amazon has extended returns for many items that have been purchased throughout November, allowing returns through January. This good customer service acknowledges that the early start to the shopping season means that gifts may be given outside the normal window; to ease the process for their customers, small businesses should consider doing the same.

2. The majority of purchases will be online.

Back in spring, when we still innocently thought that it would only be a few months before we were all hugging each other and eating in restaurants again, the retail industry reacted to the sudden change in the economy by focusing on online sales. "Online or die" seemed to be the thought – and it proved to be true for many businesses.

Fast-forward to the holiday season, and things haven't really changed much. Adobe Analytics forecasts that online sales will go up by at least 33% over the holiday season.

What it means for businesses

If a business isn't offering online services by this point, we're not sure what more can happen to make them understand how necessary it is. You should offer as many of your products or services online as possible, and focus on making transactions smooth and painless for the customer.

3. Products for staying at home will be booming.

The channels that people normally spend in are somewhat limited, such as restaurants and dining out. So there's a good chance that what people actually buy for gifts will reflect the new normal – staying home, cooking for the family, being comfy at all times, and slowly gaining weight.

We've already seen how home gym equipment hit a boom this past summer. For the holiday season, analysts are predicting more money going to warm, cozy clothing and blankets, kitchen appliances, and things to make us feel like we want to be stuck at home for months at a time.

What it means for businesses

Know your cozy: Determine which of your items or services contribute to a comfortable home, because those are going to be in demand over the next several months.

4. Mobile purchases will have their best year to date.

Lexi Sydow of App Annie noted in September that the year had already shown how mobile purchases are growing. If the first half of the pandemic was anything to go by, mobile purchases will be the big winner this holiday season.

What it means for businesses

According to Sydow, retailers should "prioritize features that resonate with shopping-from-home and socially distant needs," meaning that apps should be more user-friendly than ever to capture the most sales. Offering incentives, such as a certain percentage off a customer's first app purchase, should also help to continue the trend. Ensuring that your brand's logo design reflects the colors and moods of the season to be readily identifiable amidst all the other retail apps is certainly an important step as well.

5. Curbside pickup will be a big boost to purchasing.

Online selling is one thing, but what happens when a customer can't get a product shipped to them? What if it's sold out on the store's site but available at their local retailer?

That's where curbside pickup comes in. This trend is another easy prediction, as it's already boosting business for many retailers. The trend is expected to continue as the weather turns bad and we face the prospect of walking all the way across the parking lot in the snow, only to have to go back because we forgot our mask in the car.

What it means for businesses

Big chain stores like Target and Walmart have already anticipated this curve by deploying their holiday workforce in areas like pickup and delivery. Offering curbside pickup is an easy way to retain your customers without building in much overhead.

6. If there's a vaccine on the immediate horizon, sales will rise.

A forecast by Deloitte predicts a "K-shaped" holiday season: If things continue as they are, we're in the lower leg of the K. If certain things turn out for the best – like the promise of a vaccine – then we might move into the upper leg of the K, where there will be up to 3.5% growth, according to Deloitte.

What it means for businesses

Even the upper leg of the K is still a lower percentage of growth than seen last year. This late in the year, it seems rather unlikely that we're going to get positive, concrete news of a widely available vaccine. It's smarter to anticipate the lower level of growth and plan accordingly.

7. Tracking Black Friday sales will contribute to Christmas sale success.

Accurate sales data from past years may not mean much, but Black Friday is traditionally seen as the big opener to the holiday season. So, current data can give retailers insight into what will be sought out later in the season as well. Retailers who use real-time data to inform how they stock and sell items will be the most successful during this turbulent holiday season, according to Redpoint Global.

What it means for businesses

Adaptability is always a plus, and so is working with whatever information you can gather. It's more important than ever to have a finger on the pulse of demand this season and compare it to sales events like Black Friday to stay ahead of the curve.

It's important to strike an encouraging tone if we get another stimulus. We're really all in the same boat; let your customers know you care about them, not just their money. After all, a satisfied customer who feels valued is more likely to remain loyal to a business, through good times and bad.

Image Credit: Kerkez / Getty Images
Zaheer Dodhia
Zaheer Dodhia Member
Zaheer Dodhia is a serial entrepreneur who has a passion for solving small business and startup problems with affordable branding solutions. His deep understanding of business needs and expertise in graphic design and search engines have motivated him to spearhead several online projects with tremendous success. He’s the mind behind the DIY logo design tool