Holiday 2020 shopping starts now

Retailers are ready with inventory and omnichannel capabilities
Katherine Cullen
Sr Director, Industry and Consumer Insights
October 29, 2020

If 2020 has proven one thing, it is the retail industry’s resilience and adaptability despite the challenges presented by COVID-19. In the early days of the pandemic, retailers reacted quickly and implemented a number of protocols to ensure safe environments for both their customers and employees. Those innovations have translated online as well, as we have witnessed incredible growth in ecommerce since the start of the pandemic.

Winter Holidays

Check out more information on the 2020 holiday season here.

While retailers have been planning some changes to the traditional holiday shopping season for some time, the disruption of the pandemic put things into overdrive. As consumers begin to make their holiday wish lists, retailers have already undergone numerous preparations to ensure they can deliver for the busy holiday shopping season.

Imports reached an all-time high this summer, as retailers stocked up on inventory well ahead of schedule. Nevertheless, some have termed this holiday season “shipaggedon.” Retailers have planned ahead for an extended shopping season: 69 percent of retail respondents surveyed by NRF expected consumers to start their holiday shopping in October, and they were ready to meet this demand with seasonal inventory and promotions. 

“There’s a lot of news being reported about potential and expected holiday shipping delays,” says Jon Gold, NRF’s vice president of supply chain and customs policy. “We know the changes in consumer shopping behavior this year will certainly challenge the supply chain, but this is why retailers are starting their holiday promotions earlier and encouraging consumers to start their holiday shopping now to avoid the stress of potential shipping delay issues.” 

Amazon’s Prime Day, delayed from July because of the pandemic, kicked off the holiday shopping season in October. And customers responded; analysts said sales were up 36 percent over 2019. Other retailers jumped in with their own deals and events. Retailers like Target, Best Buy, Walmart, Kohl’s and Bed Bath & Beyond met Amazon Prime Day head on, with specific shopping events on the same days. Lowe’s began a “season of savings” in late October, offering daily online “cyber steals” through December 2. 

This year, we know customers want to avoid crowds and therefore digital will play an even more important role in 2020’s holiday shopping landscape. A record number of shoppers — 60 percent — said they planned to shop online in 2020, according to NRF and Prosper Insights & Analytics’ annual survey, up from 56 percent last year and the highest in the survey’s 17-year history.

Retailers are planning on growth in ecommerce this year: NRF’s research found the overwhelming majority of retailers expect to see an increase in online sales this holiday season across desktops, laptops and mobile. But even with the expected growth in digital, shoppers will venture into stores, and two-thirds of retailers expect to have their stores open for the holidays. They are ready with omnichannel services like curbside pickup and expedited delivery to meet consumers wherever and however they wish to shop.

But as always, it’s the bargains — not the date on the calendar — that will draw shoppers. Nearly all (87 percent) of holiday shoppers said they could be swayed to start their holiday shopping earlier this year. A great sale or promotion (53 percent) was the biggest reason, followed by a desire to avoid crowds (37 percent). Another 26 percent said they would shop early if they were worried about items selling out.

All this translates into more choice and more time for consumers to browse and buy and extend purchases out over a few paychecks. Let’s all start a new holiday tradition to shop safe and shop early this holiday season.

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