Holiday shopping 2020: Potential trends and customer preferences to guide your marketing

The 2020 holiday season is just around the corner and yet we’re all still battling the curse of COVID-19. Can this year’s holiday shopping season prevail and what can business owners expect of holiday shoppers during a pandemic?

Holiday shopping: Overlay of Christmas decorations and wrapped gifts

It’s been a tough year for many businesses. ‘Tough’ might even be an understatement. And yet we must continue to look forward.

That’s why for many, the upcoming holiday season is one you’re probably counting on to give your business a much-needed sales boost—and help keep your business afloat.

So what will this year’s holiday season look like in the midst of a global pandemic?

Could the upcoming holidays be the proverbial light at the end of the (lockdown) tunnel?

And more importantly: How to win more customers and recoup losses (or make some gains) in what has otherwise been a dismal sales year?

Let these anticipated holiday shopping trends and consumer preferences guide your 2020 holiday season marketing.

Potential 2020 holiday shopping trends and preferences

The end-of-year shopping season is just around the corner and yet we’re still battling the curse of COVID-19.

That has us asking: What can small business owners expect of this year’s holiday shoppers? Also, what’s the best way to prepare for—and accommodate—them?

Here’s what recent Google-commissioned Ipsos surveys have discovered.

Holiday shopping: Man lounging on sofa with a laptop and credit card in hand.

More Online Shopping

It goes without saying that the online shopping habits developed during periods of lockdown coupled with ongoing infection fears mean that, compared to previous years, more holiday shoppers are expected to take their holiday shopping online.

In fact:

  • Over half of all survey respondents said that the pandemic will affect how they will shop for the holidays this year.
  • More than 1/3 of Canadian shoppers who tend to shop in brick-and-mortar stores for Black Friday have said they won’t be doing so this year.
  • 73% of those surveyed said they will search for gift ideas online, not in-store.

Takeaway: If you haven’t done so already, now’s the time to ensure that your website is responsive (for all mobile devices) and e-commerce ready. Or, at the very least, that you’re offering potential customers alternative ways to buy from you.

This also means you must be prepared to cater to all types of ‘remote’ inquiries whether that’s by phone, e-mail, or through chatting services like Viber / Line / WhatsApp / Messenger.

Finally, don’t forget to keep an eye out for inquiries / requests / orders via your social channels, through direct messages and comments.

Modified Offline Shopping

In-store holiday shopping can’t go back to the way things were before—at least not yet. Social distancing requirements, capped capacity and persistent virus fears translate to consolidated and shorter shopping trips as well as less physical interaction with both store personnel and actual products inevitably impacting the entire retail experience.

To be more precise:

  • 82% of survey respondents say they will consolidate their shopping and make fewer shopping trips.
  • 71% say they plan to shop more at small local businesses.
  • 69% of Canadian shoppers are limiting the touching of items in-store.
  • 65% are spending less time browsing in-store.
  • 44% say they will use options to buy online then pick up in-store / curbside.

These findings seem to indicate that online search (and information gathering) will likely continue to precede in-store purchases.

Takeaway: Even among those that prefer in-store visits and shopping, most consumers are still wary of health risks in crowded, indoor spaces. That means if you want to win a larger share of the holiday shopping pie, you need to make it easy for holiday shoppers to find what they want and if it’s available at their desired location.

Classic Shopping Priorities

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, shoppers sought out convenience above all else. Home delivery, product availability and online chatting applications (for instant responses from the retailer) were deemed very important. These preferences are likely to remain priorities through to the end of the year.

Price is also likely to be the decisive factor in this year’s holiday shopping, especially in light of pandemic-induced job losses and overall uncertainty.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Price (40%), convenience (31%), and availability (28%) are consumers’ top priorities for both online and in-store holiday shopping.
  • Discontent with any of the same three factors is reason enough for consumers to shift to other retailers.
  • Holiday shoppers are open-minded about buying from new retailers.

Takeaway: Now more than ever, you need to deliver on the comfort and convenience front. The brand or store that offers the greatest value – whether that’s price or in terms of the overall shopping experience – is the one that will capture more holiday shoppers.

Omnichannel Shopping, Early Research

The same Google survey found that:

  • Over 20% of Canadian shoppers start looking for gift ideas as much as 3 to 6 months in advance.
  • The majority of holiday shoppers use more than 3 channels to complete their shopping in a 2-day period.
  • For Christmas, around 1/5 of holiday shopping is completed during Christmas week or the week after Christmas.

Relevant to this year is the finding that 74% of survey respondents said that they intend to avoid crowds by planning their shopping earlier.

All this to say that holiday shopping, which starts with browsing for gift inspiration and ends with the actual purchase, happens over a longer period of time than you might have thought. Also, it starts much earlier than you might have expected.

That’s not likely to change this 2020 holiday season, especially as more families look to make value-for-money purchases, account for availability (or shortages), and factor in potential delivery delays.

Takeaway: You need to be present throughout shoppers’ purchase journey, offering value and solutions at every stage so you increase your chance of converting prospects into paying customers. And it’s important that you’re there early! Don’t wait until the last minute to get your brand, products and / or services in front of your target market lest you want the competition to swoop in before you.

How your small business can prepare for holiday shoppers

The takeaways mentioned above should have given you an idea of what you can do to capture more of the holiday shopper pie but now we’ll get into a bit more detail.

Tip #1: Optimize the online shopping experience

If it wasn’t obvious, online is where it’s at—now more than ever. That means your first step should really be to elevate – improve, upgrade, refine – the online shopping experience you’re offering customers.

  • Ensure that your website is responsive.
  • Install a user-friendly e-commerce plugin or customise your e-commerce template.
  • Offer different payment methods.
  • Give potential customers different ways to reach out to you.

PRO TIP: While credit card payments are great, do consider that the more payment options you can offer, the wider the customer base you can serve. After all, not everyone has a credit card. Bank transfer, PayPal, and even cash on delivery (even if the physical transfer of cash may not be hygienic) can all help increase your sales.

With regards to being contactable: In addition to phone numbers and email, you might want to set up chat applications or alternative customer service / ordering channels where your team can communicate with prospects in real time.

It also goes without saying that you shouldn’t make customers wait too long. That’s where giving customers more ways to speak with your sales staff can give you a significant advantage over the competition.

By the way, don’t just install any old app. Look at which messaging apps are popular in your region (WhatsApp, Line, Viber, WeChat) and with your target market and use those. You will also want to make sure you’re prepared to communicate with and potentially accept orders through your social channels.

You might also like:
» Small business e-commerce: Why is no one buying from my online store?
» E-commerce website problems: Are you making these common mistakes?
» Online shopping statistics – what your business wants to know

Tip #2: Improve online store product descriptions

What’s an online store with bad product descriptions? Useless – that’s what it is. Sorry, but that’s the harsh reality of the online shopping scene.

If you want to increase sales, you need to stimulate desire. And to do that you need great product photography and an even better product description. Make the reader want or need your product so much that they add to cart and finalize payment.

Again, you can’t achieve that if your product descriptions are lacking. That is lacking in information, personality or relevance. In fact, too little product information is one of the most common pain points (inconveniences) experienced by online shoppers.

The other pain points are slow customer service response time (see tip #1 for more on this), lack of product reviews, when registration or logins are required to complete a purchase, and product unavailability.            

So before the holiday season comes around and people start looking for perfect gifts for their loved ones, put in the time and effort into crafting product descriptions that sell.

You might also like:
» Is there an ideal product description length?
» Examples of great product descriptions and what you can learn from them
» How do you write good product descriptions?

Tip #3: Harness the power of content marketing

If you aren’t creating content to help promote your brand and market your products or services, then you aren’t maximising your reach. And you’re definitely not benefiting from what is quite possibly a much larger customer base that simply hasn’t heard of you (or discovered you) just yet.

Let’s face it, unless you’re a category champion in your specific field, every small business could use that awareness boost of landing their brand in front of potential new customers.

Remember that your brand needs to appear in shoppers’ search results. Put another way you need to be discoverable and present through every step of the customer’s purchase journey.

The best way to do that is by creating intent-specific content that will help move those prospects along the sales funnel.

Your brand / business blog is a great and (proven) effective way to increase awareness, drive conversions and eventually drum up sales. For the holiday season, you can post anything from gift guides, shopping tips, product highlights, “best [insert topic here]” lists, and so much more to get shoppers’ attention!

You could also be using video content on YouTube to engage your audience with unboxing videos, collaborations with influencers (where relevant), and so on.

In short: Content is one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways you can get your brand in front of your desired audience. So start early and be consistent.

You might also like:
» How to use search intent in copywriting—and increase your conversion rate!
» Business blog content strategy – where to start
» Stages of the purchase journey: What kind of content works best?

Tip #4: Take your e-mail marketing seriously!

Your newsletter and e-mail campaigns are important for building strong customer relationships—and driving sales. In fact, done right, every $1 invested in e-mail marketing can yield $44 in sales. That’s impressive. It’s also why you ought to give your e-mail marketing just as much attention as all your other marketing initiatives.

Use e-mail marketing to:

  • Drum up excitement for upcoming promotions, sales, or deals.
  • Share new arrivals or new products.
  • Communicate important updates such as changes to operating hours, in-store shopping guidelines to adhere to local health requirements, etc.
  • Keep your customers invested in your brand.

If you’re wondering where you’re going to find the time to plan and prepare newsletters, the good news is that the content you previously created (if you followed tip #3) means you already have useful material that you can re-purpose for your newsletter.

When it comes to email marketing, you need to focus on what your potential customers deem useful and valuable. You also need to give prospects a great reason to sign up and then deliver on that promise.

In other words take the time to understand what they want to know or are interested in receiving. (Aside from discounts, that is.)

One last thing: You want to find the right messaging frequency. E-mail too often and you risk annoying readers; too little and you risk being forgotten.

You might also like:
» Why start an e-mail list? 6 reasons you can’t ignore!
» Gen Z e-mail marketing: Statistics and tips
» The best ways to build an e-mail list

Tip #5: Fix your pages, so you actually get found

As a small business, you know just how much hinges on your website – more specifically product and sales pages – being discoverable. If you can’t be found on search engines, who’s going to buy from you? How will you grow your customer base?

Put another way, having a website isn’t enough. You need visitors—prospects that could turn into paying customers.

To achieve that you must optimize your pages for search engines, so you actually get found. That involves paying extra attention to your copywriting. It should be written for your desired audience, with search intent and incorporate relevant keywords.

You might also like:
» Write content for readers and search engines – tips for small businesses
» Search snippets: How to write meta descriptions that increase your click-through rate
» Nudge theory: How nudging can change behaviour

Tip #6: Plan paid ad campaigns early

If your budget still allows for paid ads, then it’s also a good idea to plan and prepare your campaigns now. That is, sooner rather than later.

Here’s why: Everyone’s going to be vying for shoppers’ attention at the same time come holiday shopping season. In other words it’s going to be hard to break through all that noise.

Getting a reasonable head start with a great campaign and strategic timing can win you valuable (early) awareness and eventually sales.

The planning process would involve thinking about the types of ads you want to run; where you want to run them; who you’re targeting; and measurable goals / objectives.

It also requires preparing corresponding landing pages, ad copy (for message match), calls to action, and an effective keyword strategy.

You might also like:
» Benefits of landing pages for your business
» How to develop high-converting landing pages
» How to write an effective call to action and increase conversions!

Tip #7: Secure inventory and prep customer service

From the shopper’s perspective, there’s nothing that can dampen one’s retail therapy quite like finding out that the product you really want and have set your heart on (after much research, by the way) is no longer available at your desired outlet or totally out of stock.

There are a few ways you can mitigate the disappointment that comes with such scenarios.

  • Make sure your online store accurately reflects product availability—including in-store!
  • Where possible, secure sufficient stock of your top-selling or most popular products for the holiday season.
  • If you do run out of stock, offer to put customers on a prioritised wait list. Or ask if they wish to be informed by e-mail as soon as a product becomes available again.

It’s also important to note that every customer’s pet peeve is an unsatisfactory customer service experience.

A slow turnaround time, unresponsive (even rude) personnel, and customer service staff that lack information and are therefore unable to actually help are really frustrating experiences. So too is being promised one thing (e.g. express delivery in 2-3 days) only to get something else entirely.

Before the holiday shopping season rolls around, make sure your team are well trained and well equipped to handle inquiries. Also, that the promises you make are promises you can keep.

Business copywriting, content writing - all the words you need without having to think about them

Having said all that, I’m well aware that doing all this on your own or with a small (possibly downsized team) can be pretty overwhelming. You can’t be everywhere, managing everything, at the same time all the time.

That’s where I come in—with all the words you need, so you don’t have to think about them!

Whether it’s sales landing pages, product descriptions, content writing or e-mail campaign copywriting, I’m here for all your business content and copywriting needs.