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The Five Essential Holiday Season Insights for 2020

7 MINUTE READ | September 8, 2020

The Five Essential Holiday Season Insights for 2020

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Abby Long

Abby is PMG’s senior managing editor, where she leads the company’s editorial program and manages the PMG Blog and Insights Hub. As a writer, editor, and marketing communications strategist with nearly a decade of experience, Abby's work in showcasing PMG’s unique expertise through POVs, research reports, and thought leadership regularly informs business strategy and media investments for some of the most iconic brands in the world. Named among the AAF Dallas 32 Under 32, her expertise in advertising, media strategy, and consumer trends has been featured in Ad Age, Business Insider, and Digiday.

It’s only the 8th of September, and already a laundry list of brand-new 2020 holiday insights has been released from the likes of Facebook, Numerator, Hopper, RetailMeNot, Salesforce, and Square. As we draw closer to the fourth quarter of 2020, we find ourselves in a season that looks vastly different from the last time we were sipping pumpkin-spiced lattes, window shopping, making holiday travel plans, and preparing for the most wonderful time of the year. 

While there is no doubt the ongoing pandemic will reshape the traditional holiday experience, the good news is that consumers are still eager to shop — and celebrate the holidays this year. Seventy-seven percent of consumers anticipate their shopping habits will be a bit different this year from previous holidays. The most common differences are fewer in-store trips, more shopping online, and making a point to avoid popular shopping times and large crowds

RetailMeNot reports three out of five consumers plan to spend the same amount — if not more — than last year, according to new data via SurveyMonkey. In terms of sentiment around the holiday, 41 percent of consumers are looking for a sense of normalcy this year, saying they will be going “above and beyond” to have a “normal holiday” season despite less in-person gatherings and travel. 

According to Numerator’s Consumer Intentions Report, 80 percent of respondents expect to celebrate the holidays differently this year, with 40 percent anticipating to celebrate every holiday of the season differently than in years past. Given this trend, the most common adjustments are limiting gatherings to household members or immediate family, and keeping group sizes small. 

October is the new November, with Amazon earmarking early October for its illustrious Prime Day sale. Target announced a similar month-long mega sale, and Walmart’s Walmart+ membership is dropping just in time for the retailer to compete against rivals for wallet share. Salesforce forecasts that Prime Day could potentially capture up to ten percent of Cyber Week’s digital revenue, if not more, especially considering that only 50 days sit between Prime Day and Cyber Week. 

Consumers are prepared for this early sales period, potential late-season shipping delays, and are ultimately eager to take advantage of the season’s best deals. RetailMeNot reports that 36 percent of consumers are already preparing to spread out their purchases over a longer period of time. Analysts believe consumers will shop earlier than before for several reasons, including: 

Confidence — Shipping and delivery delays have become a byproduct of the current crisis as global supply chains remain under extreme pressure amid surges in ecommerce demand. With this in mind, consumers are reportedly more willing to buy early to avoid the stress of not receiving gifts in time. 

Deals — As people consider their finances more carefully, this year’s shoppers are on the lookout for the best deals. According to Salesforce, promotions and coupon codes have historically been the number one factor influencing holiday purchases. We can expect this trend to continue this season as well. 

Safety —The potential for a second wave of coronavirus infections is raising concern nationwide, persuading consumers to stay home in lieu of venturing out, even as businesses, indoor dining, gyms and more continue to re-open. Likewise, varying store safety policies are anticipated to make the in-store shopping experience unpredictable, further tempting consumers to shop online and avoid the crowds

Scarcity — Anyone who has been on the lookout for paper towels or Clorox wipes these past few months knows there is no guarantee that what you want is available to purchase. Thus, 35 percent of respondents to a RetailMeNot x SurveyMonkey survey reported they are willing to try new brands this season. Forrester reports that 40 percent of US online adults prioritize “convenience and opt for products that reduce effort while enhancing speed and ease.” Popular goods are sure to go fast, so shoppers are looking to buy early and secure the gifts they have their eye on as soon as possible. 

According to Radial data cited by Square, 66 percent of shoppers plan to increase their online spending this year in lieu of buying in-store. Salesforce anticipates up to 30 percent of global retail sales will be made through digital channels this holiday season. More telling is that over 90 percent of consumers in a separate survey said they will not be shopping the traditional in-store doorbuster deals this year. Of course, this prediction is only strengthened by nationwide retailers, such as Target, Best Buy, and Walmart, announcing their stores would be closed Thanksgiving Day. 

That’s not to say storefronts will be empty. In fact, just the opposite. Brick-and-mortar stores are critical infrastructure as fulfillment centers at this time, especially for brands with curbside pick-up or buy online and pick up in-store distribution options. Anticipating this trend, Salesforce predicts a 90 percent YOY increase in digital sales that use these fulfillment capabilities. In total, more than half (roughly 54 percent) of shoppers plan to conduct all or most of their holiday shopping exclusively online, more than double last year’s 22 percent

In recent reports from Zeta Global, Hopper, and research company ForwardKeys, both domestic and international travel outlooks for the 2020 holiday season remain discouraging for travel and hospitality brands. In a survey by artificial intelligence company Zeta Global, nearly sixty percent of consumers said they aren’t planning to travel for the holiday season, up from 49 percent last year, a number equivalent to 31 million fewer travelers. Other industry signals don’t show a promising return of travel either. 

The ongoing threat of coronavirus infections, state-mandated quarantine requirements, and uncertainty around the safety of travel all remain top concerns for Americans who are used to traveling during the holiday season. In the US, prices of domestic “Christmastime flights have dropped 25 percent” compared to 2019 — hitting a new low, averaging $275 round trip. A similar trend is seen in international airfare, with prices hitting a new low of an average of $720 round trip, a 22 percent YOY decrease. Hopper reports that demand for flights is also almost “twice as suppressed compared to last year.” 

A glimmer of hope remains for budget, mid-tier, and luxury hotel brands and resorts as road trips will continue to be the most popular travel option for domestic US travel as we head into the holiday season. Popular hotels and resorts within driving distance of big cities such as New York, Philadelphia, and Boston are seeing increased demand for “festive season stays,” with guests desiring more space, wellness-focused offerings, and private amenities. 

This year’s holiday will inevitably look a bit different from in years past. Online shopping carts replace in-store shopping bags and gift exchanges and holiday celebrations will happen at a Zoom’s distance, or at least with new in-person safety considerations in mind.

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As we inch closer to the holiday season, we will be keeping a close eye on how current events —spanning the election, pandemic, and ongoing social unrest — impact consumer sentiment and shopping behavior during this crucial time for your brand.

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