By Stacy DeBroff
The pandemic has fundamentally changed holiday celebrations and gift-giving. A recent survey by Influence Central’s Insights Panel reveals just how this holiday season differs.
Holiday shopping: early and online
Expect an early holiday season this year as shoppers get a jump-start to score e-commerce deals, ensure shipping without delay worries, and avoid long delays to get into foot-traffic-limited stores. The holiday selling season, typically reserved for the period following Thanksgiving through Dec. 25, began early. Holiday-related email promotions from retailers such as Crate & Barrel, West Elm, and Anthropologie got launched in September. Amazon hosted Prime Day specials in mid-October. Retailers like Walmart and Home Depot moved their holiday campaigns earlier. With continuous and early promotions, Black Friday and Cyber Monday will be less meaningful than prior years.
Consumers have grown used to on-demand delivery after the surge in online buying due to COVID. This shift to e-commerce will lead holiday gift giving as well. Consumers plan to most of their holiday present shopping online at major retailers such as Amazon, Walmart, Target, and Kohls. Their second choice will be in-store shopping at these same big-box store retailers, while thirdly, they’ll support local and smaller businesses, both online and in-store. Rather than more in-store staff and cashiers, big-box stores have begun mass hires to support e-commerce orders. Target plans to hire 130,000 seasonal workers to help fulfill online orders and curbside pickup, while Walmart will hire workers for its e-commerce fulfillment centers.
The impact of social media on purchasing extends into the holiday season. The ability to drive sales directly on social platforms builds momentum daily and new social media platform technology makes it easier than ever for consumers to see something they like and instantaneously purchase. Nearly half of consumers rate Facebook the most likely social platform to get them to click through to shop a brand. Instagram follows with 25% looking to shop via the popular app. Both Facebook and Instagram continue to rapidly upgrade their click-to-shop options.
Big attractions: deals and discounts
Persuading cash-strapped consumers — including nearly 30 million collecting unemployment benefits — to splurge on holiday gifts and celebrations will be tougher than usual. Economic anxiety combined with COVID resurgences means pricing, promotions, and value-add strategies will prove critical to brands’ competitiveness. The survey shows 44% of consumers worry about their short-term finances, and 58% greatly worry about their long-term finances. In light of economic anxieties, consumers value deals, discounting, and cost-saving promotions.
Consumers have never been less brand-loyal due to budget concerns and to their inability to find favorite brands due to supply-side issues. Over the course of the pandemic, 58% of consumers used generic brands compared to 29% willing to do so at the start of COVID-19. The primary reasons for the switch: cost savings (67%), an inability to find favorite brands and products in-store (63%), and an inability to find favorite brands and products online (39%). This enhances the need for deals and discounts to lure consumers back to brand-name preferences.
Celebrations: Solitary and small
Most consumers’ Thanksgiving and December holiday plans remain up in the air due to the pandemic and economic uncertainty. Three in four consumers already anticipate smaller gatherings this Thanksgiving due to both concerns around large gatherings and diminished long-distance travel. Nearly a third of consumers have cancelled, postponed, or changed their December holiday plans. Overall, consumers anticipate smaller in-person meals than in prior years. A majority of consumers planning to virtually connect with socially distanced or remote family for the upcoming holidays.
When it comes to holiday meal prep, 76% of consumers intend to go in-store to shop for some of their ingredients, with 31% planning to use online grocery pickup, 20% to shop online for home delivery, and 10% to shop directly from a farm or farmer’s market. Charity may also factor into holiday cooking, with cooking up extras getting dropped off to locally isolated family and neighbors in need.
With more isolation, people will crave an infusion holiday spirit after a year of upheaval, set-backs, loss, uncertainty, and anxiety. Brands can capitalize on this through uplifting messaging, infused as a part of their promotions and marketing efforts.
Holiday gift predictions
In addition to the consumer survey on the 2020 holiday season, Influence Central has monitored eight months of consumer overall shopping and lifestyle habits. Psychologists say it takes about 60 days to form a new habit, and the pandemic far exceeds that timeline. Based on ongoing changes in consumer behavior, these key categories are likely to be favorites for holiday shopping.
Cookware and related products — With excess free time, many consumers have turned to home cooking and recipe experimentation. In fact, 88% of people have been cooking more meals at home since stay-at-home orders went into effect. The pandemic ignited a new wave of home chefs who have spent the past six months upping their skills. Stand mixers, multipurpose cookers, cookware, countertop appliances specialty bakeware, recipe books, and chef knives rise to the top of many wish lists this season.
Electronics — With many working from home for the foreseeable future and many children blending virtual learning with classroom attendance, new and upgraded electronics will be huge from upgraded computers, laptops, and tablets to large monitors.
Home entertainment — Electronics always dominate the holiday season, and this year will likely be stronger as 57% of consumers are watching more TV since COVID started. Expect more streaming subscriptions as well as purchases of streaming devices. Also, as 68% of consumers turn to their mobile phones to stream content, expect new cell phones sales to be strong.
Home fitness and sports — Gyms and fitness studios across the country shut down in March, leading a run on home workout equipment. With 35% of consumers still on the hunt for more home fitness options, there’s plenty of space for this sector in holiday sales. Outdoor athletic gear and sports equipment will be hot to enable spending more time outside in colder winter months. From camping gear and warm clothing for backpackers looking to escape into the wilderness to snowshoes and ski equipment, cooped-up consumers will seek more outdoor exercise. Also popular will be weights, indoor bikes, and virtual exercise class subscriptions.
DIY projects and tools — With most people still spending the majority of their hours at home amid work-from-home and social distancing, home projects lingering on the back burner have come roaring to life. As 61% of consumers have undertaken a DIY home project this year, expect gift in this category to be strong. Brands have a unique opportunity to market to these DIYers with an array of relevant products accompanied by inspiring online project ideas and step-by-step instructions. For states facing cold weather, expect fire pit and outdoor heaters to become hot commodities.
Stacy DeBroff is CEO and founder of Influence Central. www.Influence-Central.com