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2020 Holiday Sales Wrap-up

Challenged by a pandemic and an unstable economy, online and brick-and-mortar retailers scrambled to salvage the 2020 holiday shopping season. Most merchants started offering discounts much earlier than in previous years to accommodate the changed shopping dynamics.

This is my third consecutive holiday sales wrap-up, following installments for 2018 and 2019.

Research firms defined the 2020 holiday season as the months of November and December (through Christmas Day). Early online discounts diminished the impact of the Cyber 5 — Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday — which, according to Adobe Analytics, saw an increase in online sales in the U.S. of 21 percent over 2019. This compares to a 32-percent online increase over 2019 for the entire U.S. 2020 holiday shopping season. Adobe examined more than 1 trillion visits to American-based ecommerce websites.

Almost all of the overall holiday revenue growth was attributable to ecommerce. In-store sales were sluggish and did not increase over 2019. Statista estimated the growth of U.S. retail sales — online and in-store — at 3.6 percent.

Revenue

According to Adobe Analytics, online U.S. holiday-season revenue exceeded $188.2 billion, a 32-percent year-over-year growth. Every day, including December 24, exceeded $1 billion in revenue. November reached $100 billion in U.S. online sales, the first time a single month has reached that figure. The Cyber 5 days accounted for 18 percent, $34.4 billion, of the entire season, down from 20 percent in 2019.

Mastercard SpendingPulse data showed total U.S. retail sales — in-store and online — rose 2.4 percent between November 1 and Christmas Eve over the same period in 2019. Online sales grew 47.2 percent during that time according to Mastercard, much greater than Adobe’s estimate. The Mastercard report showed ecommerce accounted for 19.7 percent of total retail sales — up from approximately 13.4 percent in 2019.

Data from Salesforce showed an even bigger increase in digital spending — 50 percent — over 2019. Consumers spent $1.1 trillion online worldwide and $236 billion in the United States (much higher than Adobe’s estimates), compared to $723 billion worldwide and $165 billion in the U.S. in 2019, according to Salesforce. Sporting goods and home goods experienced the largest sales increases.

Salesforce also reported that U.S. retailers offering online purchasing and local pickup — in-store and curbside — saw digital revenue grow 49 percent on average year-over-year, while retailers that did not offer these options experienced 28 percent average digital growth. Buy now, pay later usage saw a year-over-year increase of 109 percent as retailers accommodated pandemic-concerned consumers.

Other Data Points

  • Average online order values remained flat year-over-year, according to Adobe.
  • Adobe data showed Christmas Day, typically the biggest mobile shopping day, saw 52 percent of total revenue coming from smartphones — the highest rate ever. In both November and December, 40 percent of revenue was generated from smartphones. Compared to 2019, $23 billion more revenue came from smartphones in 2020.
  • Paid and organic search accounted for 45 percent of both visits and revenue during the 2020 holiday season, according to Adobe; paid search was slightly more effective in generating revenue.
  • Mastercard SpendingPulse determined that home improvement and consumer electronics retailers saw strong growth whereas apparel and jewelry were slower. Home improvement was up a combined 14.1 percent online and in-store, with ecommerce sales up 79.7 percent.
  • According to Mastercard, department stores saw an overall sales decline of 10.2 percent but their online sales grew by 3.3 percent.
  • Other Mastercard findings included: (i) Affiliate and partner referrals resulted in six percent of online traffic and 14 percent of revenue; (ii) Free shipping was slightly less prevalent this year due to its increased cost; and (iii) As in past years, social networks did not generate much revenue — less than 5 percent of spending and 10 percent of visits.

Returns

The increase in online purchasing will likely create a huge uptick in returns. UPS expects holiday returns this January to exceed last year’s level by 23 percent. UPS expects about one-third of all holiday purchases will go back to merchants.

Narvar, which manages online returns for hundreds of brands, predicts that consumers are likely to return twice as many items as they did during the 2019 holiday period. Many large retailers have extended the return period to the end of January.

It costs retailers much in labor and resources to receive, warehouse, process, repackage, and restock items that consumers return. This year Amazon, Walmart, and Target decided in January to let some gift recipients keep the items they don’t want even though they still get a refund.

Initially, Walmart offered a free pickup service — Carrier Pickup by FedEx — for items purchased and shipped by Walmart.com. The expense of that option most likely caused the company to reconsider. Amazon is encouraging its marketplace sellers to implement the “returnless refund” policy as well, which could have a devastating effect on small merchants.

5 Retail Insights from a Covid Christmas

Holiday consumer spending offers insights into the retail industry, including ecommerce’s continued growth, consumer spending, and customer relationships.

2020 has been extraordinary — the pandemic, natural disasters, and a divisive U.S. election.

Despite this, U.S. retail spending is up. The National Retail Federation recently reported that total U.S. retail sales (excluding automobiles, gasoline sales, and restaurants) for the first 10 months of 2020 increased 6.4 percent from the same 2019 period. And that includes the stunningly poor retail sales in April 2020 when so many stores and businesses were closed.

This isn’t to say that everything is hunky-dory in the retail industry. Just ask Pier 1, Sur La Table, Motherhood Maternity, J.C. Penney, Neiman Marcus, or any of the other dozens of merchants that filed for bankruptcy during the year.

So what does it all mean? What follows are five insights from the 2020 Christmas season.

1. Ecommerce Is Booming

From early October through Christmas Eve, online retail spending rose an amazing 49.0 percent, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse.

“At the onset of the pandemic, overall retail sales were down. But there was a major shift occurring, and it was by far the largest move toward ecommerce that we have ever seen,” said Joe McCarthy, director of performance marketing for Klaviyo, an email and SMS marketing platform. “Essentially, in 2020 we saw multiple years of ecommerce growth.”

This trend toward ecommerce may continue. For example, Aisha Al-Muslim, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, noted that several bankrupt brick-and-mortar retailers — such as Lord & Taylor, Stein Mart, and the aforementioned Pier 1 — have been acquired in the hope that they could still sell online.

2. Money Will Be Spent

Americans spent money despite the pandemic, the election, the fire season, and the weather.

Statista confirms the overall data trends of the NRF and Mastercard SpendingPulse, noting that American retail sales in October 2020 alone grew by 8.5 percent over the same 2019 period.

If they have money, shoppers tend to spend it. There is likely always an opportunity if a retailer can find it.

3. Keeping Customers Is Vital

Shopping habits changed in 2020. When physical stores closed in March and April, shoppers had to find alternative channels and brands.

“Many people [shopped with an online retailer for the first time] out of need,” said Klaviyo’s McCarthy. “They couldn’t find a product from a traditional brand that they had purchased from, so they discovered new options.”

If a business acquired new customers, particularly during the Covid Christmas season, its continued success might depend on how well it retains those shoppers. Put another way, businesses that acquired customers because of the pandemic will need to find ways to keep shoppers loyal long term when it ends.

4. Not Everyone Can Win

Despite the increase in sales, not every retail ecommerce merchant can or will make money. The future could be treacherous.

Total year-over-year apparel sales (physical and online), for example, plummeted 19.1 percent from October 11 to December 24, 2020, compared to the prior year, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse. Clearly, apparel retailers were losing. But furniture and furnishings sales leaped 16.2 percent overall and 31 percent online for that same period compared to 2019.

5. Local Suppliers

Before the pandemic, sourcing foreign-made products made economic sense for many brands and retailers. But when those long supply chains failed, having a local option made a significant difference for many companies.

“The coronavirus pandemic snarled the world’s sprawling supply chains for months, shutting factories, disrupting shipping and making it difficult for companies to get products from factories to consumers,” wrote Mike Cherney in The Wall Street Journal.

“Now, many companies are considering changing the model to avoid future product shortages and transportation delays, even if it might increase costs. Some are looking at moving production closer to home. Others are considering spreading small factories around the world instead of putting all their manufacturing in one place.”

5 Ways to Boost January 2021 Retail Sales

For many retailers, January sales feel like a slump after the high-flying holiday season. But stores can still take steps to earn relatively more.

Here are five tactics to try.

Boosting January Sales

Feature buy now, pay later. In November, the National Retail Federation estimated that 2020 U.S. holiday spending would be up between 3.6 percent and 5.2 percent compared to 2019. That amounts to estimated retail sales of between $755 and $766 billion.

Thus consumers will have just spent a ton of money in November and December and could be short on cash in January. Buy now, pay later — from PayPal, Klarna, Affirm, more — could help shoppers acquire the items they need.

Consider email promotions in January that feature the BNPL option, including recommended products based on a recipient’s segments or shopping behavior.

Promote self-giving. Another January offer could encourage gift-givers to buy something for themselves.

The campaign could begin with identifying customers who gave the most in November and December, such as those who spent $500 or more.

In January, the business could email each of these customers, praising them for their holiday generosity and offering a $50 gift card to use toward a purchase of $150 or more. The card would expire on January 31, but they could give themselves a nice gift at an attractive price before then.

The campaign can be effective for a few reasons. First, sending this offer via email would be inexpensive. Next, the retailer doesn’t have to pay the discount ($50 in this example) unless a purchase is made. And finally, this sort of offer encourages purchases greater than the $150 minimum.

Try live streaming. The holidays are an excellent time to grow an email list. Most ecommerce retailers should strive for an email opt-in with every sale. Brick-and-mortar sellers should aim for this too, perhaps offering cashiers a bonus to obtain an email address (think 25 cents each) at the physical point of sale.

All of those addresses create strong promotional opportunities in January. For example, consider hosting a live streaming event that features overstock items and even product returns at deep discounts.

The retailer would use its email list to promote the live stream, creating a QVC-like environment.

Add clearance channels. Unless it’s wine, your inventory is not likely getting better with age. Packaging fades, dust creeps in, and manufacturers roll out new models.

Thus, it can make sense to get rid of older items (or returns) in January via Amazon, eBay, or similar channels. The aim is to generate as much profit as possible while freeing up cash and warehouse space.

Don’t give these products away. Experiment with various prices to find those that move the inventory quickly and still make a profit.

Keep marketing. Retailers sometimes cut expenses when sales fall, for good reasons. Spending a lot of money in a relatively small sales market is not wise.

However, there is a difference between right-sizing a marketing budget and eliminating it.

In January, look for ways to keep marketing to customers and prospects. Affordable options include email marketing, content marketing, and off-season advertising.

A Slow Month

Retail sales in January, if not the entire first quarter, will be lower than in November and December. But your business can still take steps to generate sales and profit.

Sales Report: 2020 Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday, Cyber Monday

The challenges of this unique holiday shopping season have made omnichannel commerce a necessity. With several states closing non-essential brick-and-mortar stores and others severely limiting the number of shoppers allowed inside, consumers embraced online shopping with gusto during Cyber Week — Thanksgiving Day to Cyber Monday — with a big surge in mobile ordering.

This is my sixth annual “Sales Report” for Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday, following installments from 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015.

Cyber Week Results

According to Salesforce, which collects data from over 1 billion global shoppers across more than 40 countries using its Commerce Cloud platform, digital sales grew substantially. Total digital sales for Cyber Week reached $270 billion globally and $60 billion in the U.S. Overall, ecommerce revenue in the U.S. was up 36 percent globally and 29 percent year-over-year. The number of online customers increased by 22 percent compared to 2019.

Globally, compared to last year, Thanksgiving Day experienced a 20-percent uptick in online sales, while Black Friday digital sales grew 23 percent. Cyber Monday digital sales in the United States shot up by 10 percent compared to 2019, according, again, to Salesforce.

Salesforce also reported that retailers with curbside, drive-through, and in-store pickup saw 32 percent higher online sales growth than retailers without those options during Cyber Week.

Thanksgiving Day

On Thanksgiving Day, when many physical retailers, including Walmart and Target, were closed, in-store U.S. traffic fell 94.9 percent year-over-year according to Sensormatic Solutions, a software and consulting firm that serves the retail industry.

Online U.S. sales on Thanksgiving Day rose 21.5 percent year-over-year to $5.1 billion, hitting a new record, according to Adobe Analytics data. The firm had originally projected $6 billion in sales. Adobe data is based on an analysis of 1 trillion annual visits to American retail sites, 100 million SKUs, and 80 of the country’s 100 largest retailers. Forty-six percent of the online purchases were made on a smartphone, according to Adobe.

Shopify, the ecommerce platform, reported that Thanksgiving Day’s peak sales-per-minute from global shoppers were about $919,000, an increase of roughly 34 percent compared with last year.

According to Salesforce data, global sales on Thanksgiving Day reached $62.2 billion, a growth of 30 percent over last year.

Black Friday

This year U.S. consumers skipped the pre-dawn line-up outside brick-and-mortar stores. Foot traffic was generally light owing to store closures, but it increased modestly in the afternoon and evening. Reduced inventories resulted in smaller in-store discounts, and many popular items such as game consoles either sold out early or were not available, most notably at Best Buy and Target, according to Coresight Research. Sensormatic Solutions estimated in-store store traffic to have declined by 52 percent from 2019.

American consumers spent $9 billion online on Black Friday, up 21.6 percent year over year, according to data from Adobe Analytics, which had originally predicted sales of $10.3 billion. Salesforce estimated global sales of $62.2 billion, 30 percent more than last year.

The peak sale hour on Shopify for the entire Cyber Week holiday occurred from 12:00 p.m. to 1 p.m. on Black Friday, with revenue of over $102 million.

On Black Friday, Adobe found spending on smartphones in the U.S. jumped 25.3 percent year-over-year to reach $3.6 billion, representing 40 percent of total online spending.

Hot items on Black Friday included Hot Wheels, Lego sets, Apple Air Pods, Apple Watches, Amazon Echo devices, and Samsung TVs, according to Adobe.

Retailers that offered curbside pickup had a 31 percent higher conversion rate of traffic to their sites — a reflection of how popular it’s become for people to buy online and retrieve purchases without stepping into stores. Adobe Analytics reports the number of orders fulfilled using curbside pickup has already grown more than 100 percent growth year-over-year for 2020 through the holiday week.

Cyber Monday

Based on Adobe Analytics data, American consumers spent a record $10.8 billion online on Cyber Monday, an increase of 15 percent over 2019. This made it the biggest online shopping day ever in the United States. However, revenue fell short of Adobe’s original forecast of $12.7 billion. In-store retail foot traffic declined by 23 percent from 2019.

Consumers wanting to take advantage of online deals drove nighttime shopping. Between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. Eastern Time, U.S. consumers spent $2.7 billion. These last four hours accounted for 25 percent of the day’s revenue, with the peak hour from 11 p.m. to 12 a.m., according to Adobe. Consumers scooped up discounted computers, sporting goods, toys, electronics, and appliances.

Mobile accounted for 37 percent of Cyber Monday sales, according to Adobe.

Amazon Marketplace

While it does not provide sales by day, Amazon reported that its third-party sellers exceeded $4.8 billion in worldwide sales from Black Friday through Cyber Monday, an increase of more than 60 percent compared to last year.

6 Tweaks to Streamline the Checkout Process

Ecommerce should see significant spikes this holiday season. However, merchants must consider the need for speedy, no-hassle checkout processes to lower abandons, especially from shoppers on mobile devices.

What follows are six tweaks to streamline an ecommerce checkout.

6 Tweaks to Streamline the Checkout Process

Address payment error messages. According to Paysafe, an electronic payments provider, about 10 percent of initial credit and debit card transactions fail. The most common reasons are:

  • Wrong card number,
  • Too many charges or attempts in a short time,
  • Limit reached on the card.

What occurs after a decline determines if the consumer finalizes the purchase. By default, most shopping carts display a simple “decline” message. But that’s neither clear enough nor encouraging for the shopper to try again.

While decline codes may not indicate the actual issue, a positive message can ease concerns, such as:

Oops, there’s a problem with your card number. Please re-enter your number, expiration date, and security code.

However, this doesn’t provide motivation to continue should the card decline again. That’s where offering an alternative payment method comes into play. Since many consumers have preferred payment methods, it’s ideal to offer at least two non-credit card options, such as PayPal and Apple Pay.

Thus, a better message could state:

Oops, there’s a problem with your card number. Please re-enter your number, expiration date, and security code. Alternatively, you can pay via PayPal or Apple Pay.

Baymard Institute, a research firm, says 2 to 5 percent of would-be customers receive a decline message. By modifying the alert, it was able to capture about 30 percent of those orders.

Checkout page with detailed payment decline message and alternative method.

Baymard Institute’s test provides a more detailed decline notice and link to an alternate payment method.

Ease the surprise of address verification fails. Pop-up messages from real-time address verification can be alarming. By explaining the reason for wanting the shopper to accept the suggested address, you can eliminate confusion.

For example:

We want to make sure your order reaches you. According to the USPS, this is your properly formatted address. Please confirm.

This verbiage changes the message from an alert to a helpful tip. It can also assist shoppers to identify typos that could route packages to the wrong destination.

Append delivery days to shipping methods. Customers want to know when they can expect delivery. By displaying transit times, you help them choose the best method and decrease order status requests. When disclosing “arrives in X days,” take into consideration processing time. Most shoppers consider the countdown to start once they place the order.

Eliminate all unnecessary fields. The trick to decreasing cart abandonment during checkout is to remove all distractions, including collecting info that’s unnecessary for payment or fulfillment. For example, most shoppers would prefer not to provide a phone number or details about how they found the store. Beyond unnecessary info, make as many fields optional as possible.

Define every error. Red asterisks can be hard to catch. Rather than displaying a top of page error, display messages next to or beneath each problematic field. This combats two common issues:

  • The top-of-page error may not appear on the screen, or the error that displays further down the page may be missed.
  • What’s wrong isn’t always apparent. Shoppers get frustrated if an entry appears correct and there’s no defined issue.

Include a discrete link to edit the cart. While you don’t want to promote leaving the checkout, making it easy for shoppers to edit the cart can save a sale. A simple link within the cart contents section will suffice.

7 Quick Tips to Drive 2020 Holiday Sales

Consumers will rely on online merchants more than ever during this year’s holiday season. Here are seven tips for retaining shoppers and closing more sales.

7 Tips for the 2020 Holidays

Integrate PayPal’s “Pay in 4.” The largest online payment provider’s latest offering lets customers pay for orders totaling $30 to $600 across four installments. Merchants receive the money upfront and pay only the standard PayPal rate. Plus, PayPal assumes all the risk.

Pay in 4 is one of several buy-now, pay-later options for merchants. Pay in 4 is available to PayPal business accounts and is automatically integrated with several ecommerce platforms.

Screenshot of PayPal's Pay in 4

PayPal’s “Pay in 4” allows customers to split the purchase amount into four payments, one every two weeks.

Show off your staff. Supporting smaller businesses and real people is more important than ever. By showcasing your staff working behind the scenes, you can humanize the shopping experience.

Include a photo or video on the home page and reference it throughout the website. Keep in mind that social distancing remains a priority for many shoppers. So focus on media that doesn’t convey too-close-for-comfort situations. If your staff is primarily working remotely, create a collage of them in their home offices.

Convey your generosity. A recent study by Zeno Group, a public-relations firm, revealed that consumers are four times as likely to buy from a brand they think has a strong purpose.

If your business gives during the holidays — money, products, services — make it known.  How you support causes is a step in establishing the purpose-driven connection. As a bonus, consumers are also at least four times more likely to defend the company and make referrals to friends and family. And supporting a reputable cause that aligns with your brand can also help build trust and loyalty.

Ease up on shipping restrictions. Expect to miss out on profits if you require that orders ship to the billing address on the card. An unprecedented number of people will not be traveling this year. That means more gifts being shipped directly to family and friends.

A better solution is to rely on a payment fraud monitoring tool and integrate trusted third-party payment platforms such as Amazon Payments and PayPal. Each of those provides more merchant protection over most credit card accounts.

Display a countdown timer for important deadlines. Rather than issue deadlines for standard shipping to arrive by Christmas, display a countdown timer for a better sense of urgency. When that date has passed, update the timer to reflect the deadline for expedited methods. After that, replace it with a timer for intangibles, such as gift certificates or services.

Incorporate real-time communication tools. Live chat remains an essential tool for ecommerce. Social media messaging is also a preferred method for many shoppers. This year even phone calls could be popular.

Shoppers want answers immediately. They don’t want to wait for an email response. They also don’t want to fill out lengthy online forms. They want to click or tap a button, ask a question, and get a quick response.

In short, you’ll likely gain more sales if you can allocate staff to monitor incoming requests and provide instant answers.

Test all trust badges. Now’s the time to click on all the trust icons displayed in your site’s footer, those that confirm security and safety. Make sure they all populate the correct content.

Winners on Prime Day 2020? Non-Amazon Sites

Amazon’s delayed 2020 Prime Day event ran for two days — October 13 and 14 — as it did last year. While it does not release total revenue for Prime Day, Amazon touted in 2019 that Prime Day sales exceeded the prior year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales combined. This year Amazon did not make such a claim.

However, an Amazon press release claimed that the marketplace sellers took in more than $3.5 billion during this year’s event, representing a higher year-over-year growth than Amazon’s own products.

Best Selling Products

Top-selling categories for third-party sellers were bedding, wireless accessories, and nutrition and wellness. In the United States, best-selling items overall — Amazon and third-party sellers — included iRobot Roomba Robot Vacuum, WiFi Enabled Smart Garage Door Opener, and LifeStraw Personal Water Filter.

Globally, across the 19 countries where the event took place, the best-selling products were Amazon’s Alexa-enabled Echo Dot and Fire Stick 4K. Other big sellers include iRobot Roomba Robot Vacuum, LifeStraw Personal Water Filter, and LEGO Star Wars Stormtrooper Helmet. Amazon ran a separate Prime Day in India in August.

Third-party Sellers

While Amazon boasted about the marketplace sales figures, many sellers were not so pleased. Some of them found that growth in sales did not convert to growth in profits because advertising costs on Amazon increased so much. Amazon ad-tech provider Pacvue’s data showed the average cost-per-click for sponsored brand ads increased 23 percent over Prime Day 2019.

Some Amazon marketplace sellers chose not to participate in Prime Day because of those increased costs. They instead focused on sales from their own sites. Some were also concerned about having enough inventory to last through the entire holiday season because Covid-19 is still disrupting the supply chain.

Other marketplace sellers reported disappointing results for Prime Day this year. Sample comments from the Seller Central forum are:

  • “10/13 sales were not outside of the range of the past 7 days. 10/14 sales are a bit better, but not outside of the normal range.”
  • “Prime day was not so good — did better but not enough to talk about.”
  • “To give you an idea of how much sales were down from last year. Prime Day [2019], we sold in excess of 7,000 units across all our SKUs last year on the first day. This year we sold 877.”
  • “No impact either day, despite extra advertising.”

Other Statistics

Market intelligence firm Numerator found that the average Amazon customer order size on Prime Day was $44.21, and 56 percent of consumers who shopped Amazon placed more than two orders. However, 45 percent of orders were under $20. The average order was $59.02 in 2019.

Amazon did not see an uptick in Prime subscriptions during the event. According to Numerator, only 1 percent of purchasers on Prime Day 2020 joined Prime during the event. Seventy-five percent of purchasers were Prime members for more than two years.

Other Merchants

According to Salesforce, which aggregates data from shoppers on its Commerce Cloud platform, on October 13 non-Amazon sites in the U.S. saw a 51 percent increase in online traffic compared with the first day of the 2019 event. Additionally, conversion rates on non-Amazon sites were up 16 percent compared with Prime Day 2019. Ecommerce sales for non-Amazon sites grew by 69 percent globally and 76 percent in the U.S. on October 13 compared with the first day of Prime Day 2019.

Major retailers Walmart, Target, and Best Buy all offered aggressive discounts and promotions on popular items during the 48-hour Prime Day sale.

Holiday Dash

Just two days after Prime Day, on Oct. 16, Amazon launched its next sale, called Holiday Dash. The promotion features different discounts each day. The objective is to offer deals similar to those available on Black Friday throughout the next six weeks.

The company issued a statement saying, “Amazon’s Holiday Dash deals event is serving up holiday cheer and epic savings early this year to give customers more time to shop and save. There’s no need to wait to secure great deals — with Holiday Dash, Amazon is making it easier than ever to find top gifts at amazing prices ahead of the holiday hustle — plus most items shipped now through December 31, 2020, can be returned until January 31, 2021.”

Amazon is not the only merchant to start early. Walmart announced it would spread its Black Friday deals over three consecutive weekends starting November 4 to reduce foot traffic in stores. Also, more of its doorbuster deals will be exclusively online to discourage in-store shopping.

Forget Black Friday Sales this 2020 Holiday

The upcoming holiday shopping season is bound to shake the ecommerce sector. If you haven’t yet finalized your holiday sales schedule, now’s the time to get it done. But you may want to rethink your strategy for November and December.

Some of the large retailers will kick off deals in early October when a newly proposed shopping event will reportedly launch. This, coupled with a lengthier sales season, could change everything.

Adios Black Friday?

Many big retailers will be closed Thanksgiving Day and limiting foot traffic the Friday following. To make up, several plan to launch aggressive sales much earlier. Home Depot, for example, plans to offer Black Friday prices from November 8 through the entire season; Best Buy says its sales will begin in October.

Bloomberg reported the launch of a new shopping event called 10.10 — a take on China’s 11/11 Singles’ Day, which was the world’s most profitable day for retailers in 2019. 10.10 would occur on — you guessed it — October 10. We know little more than the date and that 24 undisclosed retailers are working in conjunction with the Shopkick app.

Amazon has yet to announce when its delayed Prime Day will occur. Many observers speculate mid- to late-October.

Home Depot holiday header with announcement

Home Depot is running Black Friday 2020 deals for two months.

Focus on the Season

The Black Friday weekend is historically critical for many online stores. This latest shift could be an unwelcome disruption. Still, it’s necessary to compete with physical stores, who must follow local restrictions and accommodate the concerns of in-person shoppers.

Another reason for season-wide deals — versus the Black Friday weekend only — is to alleviate the stress on supply chains and shipping companies. By enticing consumers to shop earlier, merchants have time to restock and ensure that gifts will arrive on time.

Here are some tips to encourage shoppers to buy now rather than later.

  • Launch your holiday sales in early October. If 10.10 gains traction, give consumers a reason to browse your catalog. Regardless, we can expect other retailers to follow Best Buy’s lead of starting way early.
  • Switch things up. Even if you have a large inventory of a few sale items, swap out some of the deals each week. This keeps content fresh and consumers intrigued about what comes next.
  • Showcase your company. If you’re part of the small business sector — 99 percent of U.S. companies — get a little personal. Spotlight your employees and showcase your company’s history.
  • Display stock levels on products in limited quantity. This helps shoppers decide quickly about purchasing while emphasizing the “fear of missing out” — FOMO.
  • Disclose shipping delays. With most people shopping online this year, UPS, FedEx, and USPS will be stretched during December. Give your customers a heads-up during the shopping and checkout process. If possible, provide anticipated delivery dates in an “arrives by” format.
  • Focus on staying-at-home trends. Way fewer people are traveling this year, so promote products they can enjoy at home. Study sales by big retailers and smaller competitors. Monitor what your target audience is talking about online. Look at data — wish lists, site search— from your store over the past two months. Otherwise, think home entertainment, relaxation, backyard festivities, and housework items.
  • Feature accessories and add-ons on the product and cart pages. This can increase order totals without interrupting the checkout process. Restrict offerings to items related to what’s in the cart.

Pivot Quickly

You’ll be navigating uncharted territory in the 2020 holiday season, no matter the projections. Expect surprises. Take a proactive approach to products, sales, and shipping practices. Pivot quickly as conditions change. Consumers understand we’re in different times. How you manage the season, starting now, determines success.

2020 Holiday Shopping Is a Tale of 2 Consumers

Covid-19 has throttled the U.S. economy, dropping the nation’s gross domestic product 31.7 percent in the second quarter of the year. The economic effect, however, has impacted folks differently.

The onset of the pandemic created economic uncertainly for most worldwide consumers. Many were furloughed. Some are working from home for the first time.

Their trepidation was reflected in the U.S. stock market. On February 19, 2020, the S&P 500 Index stood at $3,386.15. A little more than a month later, the index had dropped more than a third to $2,237.40, just a few days before the CARES Act, the first U.S. stimulus package, was signed into law.

The economic effect, however, has impacted folks differently.

Stimulus checks and even unemployment stipends made stay-at-home orders and temporary business closures manageable. Many of these folks may be thriving in some ways. And many are the same people who have helped drive the S&P 500 back up to $3,401.20 on September 15, 2020.

Others have not fared as well.

For example, in August Fidelity, an investment firm, noted that roughly 711,000 individuals, or about 3 percent of eligible employees, had taken distributions from their retirement accounts to cover expenses related to the downturn. These distributions were permitted in the CARES Act.

While some 90 percent of Fidelity customers continued to contribute to their retirement savings, a FinanceBuzz survey in July 2020 found that “27 percent of Americans have decreased or stopped contributing to retirement savings due to COVID-19.”

The fate of these consumers may have a significant impact on retail sales in the next few months, including the holiday shopping season.

Holiday Spending

“This is a very unfortunate situation, but I think you got a tale of two cities in terms of consumer spend,” said Peter Sheldon, senior director of commerce strategy at Adobe.

“You got two categories of workers in the U.S. You’ve got the category that lost their job — the airline workers, the hotel workers, a lot of people in hospitality and restaurants. They are going to be in a very conservative spend mode. They are not going to buy big-ticket items. They are going to cut back considerably and look for bargains. As it relates to online [shopping], they’re certainly going to buy from merchants that offer installment plans.” Sheldon said, describing some of the trends that could impact holiday shopping in 2020.

“Then you got the flip [side] …. people who never lost their job. They may have had bonuses through some of the government programs, and they may have more disposable income. Plus, they’re not traveling. They haven’t planned a holiday for this winter. They’re not getting on a plane at Christmastime to see family. They’re staying at home.

“There is quite a considerable savings,” Sheldon continued, “and it’s not just happening in the holidays. It’s been building up over the last few months as those consumers have been spending less. A lot of those folks are well placed to spend quite heavily during the holidays.”

Holiday Marketing

Omnichannel and pure ecommerce retailers may want to consider which of these two economic categories encompass most of their core customers.

For example, businesses selling what Sheldon calls “hobby gifts” may benefit from shoppers with available funds and time on their hands.

“There’s going to be a lot of focus on … staying close to family and so forth,” Sheldon said.

“There is going to be a lot of investment in gifts that [help] people take on new hobbies. You know, musical instruments for the kids, family games, getting into woodworking, carpentry. And it’s not just buying a Lego kit for the kids. It’s buying a big Lego kit that keeps them occupied for a week instead of two days. It’s that type of thing,” Sheldon said.

Photo of a consumer building a puzzle

Retailers may want to consider which of two economic categories encompass most of their core customers. “Hobby” retailers that sell games and puzzles could have a strong season. Photo: Tabitha Turner.

Businesses in these spaces can emphasize just the sort of “new hobby” behaviors Sheldon is describing.

In other segments, merchants can cater to the opposite type of shoppers with limited income and savings. This might mean rolling out layaway or financing options or early discounts.

Thus holiday shopping in 2020 could be a tale of two consumers: bargain hunters without jobs and stable earners with pent-up demand.

4 Payment Methods to Integrate for the Holidays

Convenience and security increasingly impact online selling. That’s especially the case for the upcoming holiday season, as consumers will likely seek flexible, seamless payment options.

Here are four payment methods to consider for this year’s holiday selling.

4 Payment Methods

Buy now, pay later. Expect this method to gain momentum for the 2020 holidays. Unlike traditional layaway, where consumers make payments on products before taking delivery, BNPL allows customers to pay for purchases over time after receiving the goods. Merchants process these orders like any other.

The latest offering is PayPal’s “Pay in 4,” which lets customers pay for orders from $30 to $600 interest-free over six weeks. Merchants receive the money upfront and pay only the standard PayPal rate. PayPal assumes all the payment-acceptance risks.

There are other BNPL  options, such as Afterpay and Klarna. But Pay in 4 brings with it PayPal’s 300 million global users, which dramatically increases the chance of a customer already having an account.

Apple Pay. The number of iOS and macOS devices pales in comparison to Windows and Android OS. Still, on average, Apple users spend more money per transaction — up to three times as much. They’re also more apt to purchase nonessential items and luxury gifts.

Apple Pay is a preferred method for many consumers because of its efficiency and security. Consumers keep their credit card info on file with one source — Apple — and merchants receive the information needed to process the order. Apple Pay can also work on Macs. Thus consumers don’t have to use their iPhones to complete a transaction.

There’s typically no additional charge to merchants to accept Apple Pay. Merchants pay their normal credit-card rates. But merchants do need a shopping cart that supports Apple Pay.

MacBook laptop on iPhone working via Apple Pay on an online store

Apple Pay integrates with macOS and iOS devices for a quick and seamless checkout. Source: Apple.

PayPal, Venmo. PayPal and Venmo have been the most-used methods to send money to family and friends during the pandemic. Now, with many of those accounts having positive balances, consumers are more likely to pay with them rather than transfer funds to bank accounts.

While Venmo hasn’t yet rolled out business accounts, consumers can pay with Venmo funds via PayPal. For this to work for ecommerce purchases, merchants should integrate PayPal with their checkout. Instead of a Venmo button, consider making a “Venmo accepted” indicator.

Beyond Venmo, consumers can store credit card details with PayPal, paying merchants with a single tap.

Amazon Pay. Expect to see more shoppers using Amazon Pay this year. The reasons are three-fold: Amazon Pay ensures security and privacy; consumers have Amazon gift card balances to spend; and, for many, it’s convenient as, like Apple Pay and PayPal, their credit info is saved there.

Beyond Credit Cards

Traditional credit card payments require consumers to enter their shipping, billing, and payment information. But the methods discussed here transfer those details automatically. The customer does little more than confirm the shipping address and shipping method before the order is complete.

PayPal and Amazon Pay do more than credit-card providers to protect merchants, which decreases the risk of illegitimate chargebacks. That alone can save merchants time and money, making slightly higher discount rates worthwhile.

Moreover, Apple, PayPal, Venmo, and Amazon come with huge built-in audiences. Some of those users will likely seek out participating stores.

None of these methods will replace credit cards. But the benefits to merchants are substantial. Implement the ones you can to gain additional traction this season.