Thanks to the ongoing realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s holiday season will look very different from any we’ve seen before, especially for retail business owners. As shoppers continue to favor shopping online over browsing and buying in-store, the plans you so carefully made earlier this year to generate more foot traffic—and more revenue—this coming season have gone completely out the window. So what do you do now that the holiday season is just around the corner?
A recent report by Think With Google indicates that the pandemic will affect how half of shoppers plan to shop for the holidays, but exactly how shopping habits will differ this year is unknown and difficult to predict. This makes it very tough for retailers to plan for what is often one of the busiest and most profitable times of year.
Here’s what the Think with Google report predicts:
- Changes in demand: Demand is especially difficult to forecast this year—pent-up demand may make people more willing to buy, but on the other hand, many people have less to spend thanks to business closures and job losses. One thing is certain: shoppers will be buying more online this holiday season, whether for delivery to their doorstep, curbside pickup, or buy online pick-up in store (known as “BOPIS”)—47% of planned shoppers report that they’ll use options to buy online and pick up in store or curbside, and 53% of shoppers saying they’ll choose to shop at stores that offer contactless shopping.
- Prioritizing local businesses: According to Think with Google, 66% of planned shoppers will shop more at local small businesses than last year, especially as interest in curbside pickup grows and shipping and delivery systems for larger retailers are stressed.
- Fewer shopping trips at different times: 80% of planned shoppers intend to consolidate their shopping to make fewer trips than in the past, and 70% of shoppers say they will plan their shopping earlier to avoid crowds.
- Shopping for deals: Reductions in household cash flow may drive more customers to shop for deals than previous years.
While most retailers begin preparing for the holiday season as early as spring, this year’s far-from-usual circumstances may have left some business owners unsure how to plan. Whether you’re starting from scratch or modifying your pre-pandemic plans, now is the time to make sure you have all the kinks ironed out—not in November when holiday shopping will be in full swing.
8 holiday season planning considerations for retailers
With shoppers more discerning about how and where they spend their money this holiday season, the last thing you want to do is disappoint those who do shop with you. That means that your ability to provide a seamless online shopping experience or high-quality (ideally contactless) services—and then deliver packages on time—will be paramount in 2020, especially as the pandemic continues.
Here are 8 things to consider when planning for the 2020 holiday season:
Most inventory decisions that impact holiday performance are made months before the festive season looms, but this year’s unique challenges may have made planning and managing your holiday inventory even harder than usual: changes in the shopping environment and the general shift towards online purchasing may make it tough for retailers to move holiday inventory purchased earlier in the year, but on the other hand, supply chain challenges and shipping delays may prevent retailers from accessing the inventory they need for the holiday season. Despite these challenges, accurately managing your inventory is more important than ever in 2020.
67% of shoppers say they plan to confirm online that an item is in stock before going to buy it, so as a retailer, one of the best things you can do for your shoppers is to provide an easy online shopping experience that clearly specifies if an item is in stock before customers make a purchase.
Many retail businesses hire additional staff to help out during the holidays, but physical distancing regulations and capacity restrictions may make it tough for you to have more employees in your store at one time. If you have a physical location that can’t accommodate a larger staff, ask what you can do to make it easy for people to shop without stressing your employees, such as encouraging shoppers to buy online and pickup in-store or scheduling personal shopping appointments.
If you do plan to take on additional staff, you should also give some thought to how you will keep your employees safe and healthy. Consider your PPE needs, whether staff can safely physically distance, or if it’s time to install plexiglass safety barriers around your checkout area.
3. Increased foot traffic
According to Think With Google, more than ⅓ of shoppers who normally shop in store for Black Friday say they won’t this year. Chances are, many holiday shoppers will continue to avoid in-store shopping throughout the season, but there’s no way to accurately predict what the holiday season will bring. Use these next few weeks to create a plan for how you’ll maintain physical distancing in your store (assuming you’ll have more visitors than you currently do), and consider creative ideas for limiting the number of people in your store, such as:
- Offering free local delivery
- Specifying one-way aisle traffic, installing floor decals and hanging signage, or widening aisles to permit social distancing
- Altering your floor plan and merchandising to encourage a quick in-and-out visit rather than enticing people to stay and browse
4. Peak hours
Is your business usually busier at certain times of day? If so, can you do anything to reduce or redistribute your foot traffic throughout the day, such as offering curbside pickup or free local delivery? Shopping by appointment or scheduling pickup windows can also help limit in-store foot traffic during peak hours.
5. Changes in shopping patterns
In addition to shopping more online, people may opt to begin their holiday shopping earlier this year, especially if they typically leave their gift-buying till the last minute. Getting an earlier start gives shoppers more time to account for longer shipping estimates, wait for items to come back in stock, or find alternatives in case the items they want aren’t available.
To take advantage of early bird shoppers, some big box retailers have already started offering holiday promotions in a bid to encourage safe social distancing and avoid crowds looking for deals.
For smaller retailers, creating a strong, easy-to-use e-commerce website, or a least a place where local visitors can review (if not purchase) your products online, can make it easier for you to reach these customers and take advantage of changing patterns of demand.
With more people buying online, there will be greater-than-usual stress on delivery and shipping networks around the world. To make sure your customers have a good experience, clearly communicate shipping timelines and consider adding a liberal buffer in case there are delays, especially as you get closer to the holiday season.
Curbside pickup is also a good solution for local shoppers.
Whatever delivery method you opt for, now is the time to prepare for the expected surge in online shopping by making sure all your employees are trained on how to prepare packages for shipment, as well as how to handle BOPIS or curbside pickup.
Retailers should also factor in shipping costs when planning for the holiday season—parcel shippers like UPS and FedEx always add holiday surcharges, but these surcharges will likely be higher this year as global shipping networks are taxed by surges in residential drop offs. USPS has also announced that they’ll be adding holiday surcharges for the first time ever in 2020.
7. Customer service capabilities
Is it easy for your customers to reach you with questions if they aren’t coming into your store? Setting up a chatbot on your website or on Facebook Messenger makes it easy for customers to contact you, and can be a vital channel for helping potential customers get answers to simple questions about your business, such as hours of operation or delivery options.
Advertising your business on social media and other online platforms can help get your business in front of new eyes or remind past customers that you are around to help this holiday season. Social media ads are a great place to highlight features like contactless purchases, curbside pickup, or local delivery to help buyers make purchases with confidence.
Shoppers may also be more easily swayed by promotions this year, especially if they’ve experienced a decrease or loss of income. If you run a sale or promotion, advertise it to your audience so they know there are deals available.
Getting small business funding for the holiday season
From building a website to training your staff on how to fulfil online orders, adapting to the unknown reality of the 2020 holiday season requires working capital. If you’ve been operating under restrictions and have experienced a decrease in revenue or don’t have the cash flow to promote your business or invest in holiday inventory or new strategies to manage foot traffic, there are many funding options available to you, including federal and state funding and alternative online lenders like Greenbox Capital.
Alternative lenders offer a number of advantages for businesses impacted by COVID-19, including:
- Easier qualification criteria with less paperwork to gather
- Faster review and approvals, with approval in as little as 2-5 business hours and funding in a little as 1 business day
- No restrictions on how your funds are used—use them for inventory, PPE, advertising, or hiring additional staff
- A variety of funding options are available to suit your business’s needs, including merchant cash advances, small business loans, invoice factoring, collateral loans, and business lines of credit
- Businesses with low credit can receive funding. Instead of focusing on your credit score, our Funding Advisors will review the overall health and potential of your business
- Businesses in high-risk industries can also receive funding
Unwrapping success this holiday season
There’s a lot we don’t know and can’t predict about the 2020 holiday season, but there’s one thing we do know for certain: people will be buying more online.
As a retailer, the most important thing you can do to ensure your success this holiday season is to make sure you have a functional, easy-to-use e-commerce website with up-to-date inventory information so you can easily sell items to customers in your area without relying on foot traffic, or even connect with new buyers around the country. If you don’t sell items online, make sure potential customers can find all the information they need about your product or service online—almost 75% of shoppers say they will browse online for gift ideas, not in-store.
Retailers should also:
- Offer curbside pickup or contactless buying if they aren’t doing so already.
- Update their website and social media profiles regularly with current hours of operation, special and promotions, and any other information their customers might find useful.
- Consider how to manage crowds. What can you do to enforce or maintain physical distancing in your store? Can you realistically limit how many people are in your store or facility at any time? Is it time to adopt floor decals or one-way aisles? Should you hire staff to help ensure proper mask use before shoppers enter?
- Promote early and often. Many shoppers are likely to be more cost-conscious this holiday season, and they may be more motivated by a good deal than in previous years. If you do offer a promotion, advertise it early and remind your customers often so you stay top of mind.
Many retailers may not have the capital they need to get ready for the upcoming holiday season. Federal and state funding options are available, but many businesses have already exhausted these funding options. If you’ve run out of federal funding or didn’t get approved in the first place, you still have a number of options, including alternative online lenders like Greenbox Capital.