Retail Therapy: Staring into Our Crystal Snow Globe to Foresee the Holiday Shopping Season

By Laura Peck

Welcome to the first edition of Matter’s Retail Therapy, where our team of retail technology pros share industry trends and predictions straight from those who know best — our clients.

If you’re in the retail industry, you know every holiday season is as unique as a snowflake. Back in 2015, buy online/pick-up in-store (BOPIS for those in the know) was fairly new in the U.S. But now, it’s table stakes. In 2017, Christmas was on a Monday, meaning shoppers looking for last minute gifts on Christmas Eve saw limited Sunday shopping hours. 

However, we can all agree there is something historic about this holiday season (“unprecedented” wins the most overused word in 2020; consider this a PR professional’s formal apology). With a tense election cycle, a global pandemic, social justice protests and massive unemployment, the 2020 holiday season can seem hard to predict. Luckily, our retail technology clients have some great insights:

Holiday crowds will be smaller, but weekdays will be busier.

CNBC: Holiday crowds at the mall will be smaller this year: ShopperTrak predicts as much as 25% drop in shoppers
“What we’ve seen is a flattening of the week,” [
Sensormatic’s Brian] Field said, explaining the traffic patterns that have emerged during the pandemic. Shoppers are more often avoiding Saturdays, he said, choosing instead to head to stores midweek, when they perceive stores will be less crowded.”

Holiday shopping will be purposeful rather than social.

Newsday: Santa will be at the mall sporting a mask and sitting 6 feet away this year
“For 2020, the pageantry of the holiday shopping season may well give way to more purposeful shopping visits, and we expect that to flatten out in-store traffic activity throughout the season such that there will be fewer significant spikes in traffic during the top shopping days,” [
Sensormatic’s Brian] Field said. 

Holiday deals are starting even earlier

Associated Press: Walmart to spread out deals to avoid Black Friday crowds
The day after Thanksgiving has been losing its luster as the unofficial start to the holiday shopping season for the past several years. That’s because retailers started to usher in deals on Thanksgiving and then increasingly offering holiday discounts throughout the month. Still, despite the competition from other days, Black Friday has remained the busiest day of the year, according to 
ShopperTrak, which uses cameras in a range of stores to count traffic.

One Door Blog: Putting The ‘Visual’ Back In Visual Merchandising: Part V – A Consumer Futurist’s Take On Virtual Reality And The Speed Of Change In Retail Today
Walmart kicked the season off by announcing they are not going to be open on Thanksgiving Day and we quickly saw a lot of retailers follow suit. In our culture, we’ve really built up the Black Friday experience. This year because of the pandemic, Walmart made a decision that they didn’t want to create a frenzy, so they’re spreading Black Friday deals out over the season. 

Holiday gatherings will be smaller

Retail Touchpoints: 22% of Consumers Grocery Shopping for Holidays Will Use Delivery Services
More than one in five (22%) of consumers who will be shopping for turkey, ham and other traditional holiday dishes will use a delivery service this year. That’s more than 3X the 7% who indicated they would use a delivery service in a 2018 survey, and it’s another indication of how online grocery shopping has become part of more consumers’ lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A little more than half (52%) of consumers plan to host and shop for a holiday celebration this season, according to a survey of more than 1,000 U.S. consumers from 
Blue Yonder. That’s down from 76% of respondents who did so in 2019. Among those shopping for holiday celebrations, 44% expect to host medium-sized gatherings with six to 10 guests.